The optimism and confidence in human potential that characterized the Renaissance produced an extraordinary number of exceptional artists. The painters showcased here reveal key aspects of the development of Renaissance art. Each was informed by the Christian faith that undergirded their society, and each, in turn, shaped the Christian tradition for centuries to follow.

Masaccio

(1401-c.1428)

His name may not be known to most people today, yet little more than a century after the painter Masaccio's death, the 16th-century biographer Giorgio Vasari identified him as a key figure in the history of Renaissance art, writing that "he gave birth to that modern style which has been followed from those [Masaccio's] times down to our own day by all our artists."

Masaccio rejected the artistic conventions of grace and idealized beauty for sacred subjects in favor of representations that were, in the words of Vasari, "lifelike, true, and natural." He wanted to make the Christian faith more tangible and accessible to the common person. Like many Renaissance artists, he painted grand human dramas that emphasized the dignity of humankind. His skillful use of simple forms, colorful figures with emphatic gestures and expressive faces, three-dimensional perspective, and shadows made his subjects seem almost palpable. In his famous fresco depicting the Trinity in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Masaccio employed many of these techniques to portray the central mystery of the Christian faith—the one God who is three persons.

Though Masaccio's rough, natural style went against prevailing tastes in his time, he had an enormous influence on later Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. Not a shabby legacy for someone ...

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