Sant’Anna Metterza by Masaccio is one of the first Renaissance paintings and, at the same time, a connection with Gothic
Why? Read more
NAME Sant’Anna Metterza
LOCATION Uffizi Gallery, Florence
YEAR 1424 circa
DIMENSIONS 175×103 cm (68.8×40.5 in)
MATERIAL Tempera on panel
In the last post I promised I would have talked about Renaissance painting and here we go with Sant’Anna Metterza by Masaccio. It is a tempera on panel painted around 1424, that means one of the first Renaissance paintings.
Why did I pick that work of art? There are many interesting reasons that I am sure they are going to surprise you, so let’s start.
Who is Anna?
I want to start with the original Italian name: Sant’Anna Metterza. In English it is “Madonna and Child with St. Anne” in fact it is exactly what we have on the painting: Madonna with a young Jesus and Saint Anne behind, all of them sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. Anne was Mary’s mom, so a very significant figure in the Catholic tradition, therefore it was not rare to see her in some religious painting back then.
Deriving from the Tuscan dialect of the 13th and 14th centuries, the term “Metterza” is formed by “mettere” (to put) and “a fare da terza” (to be the third), so “put in the third position”, but not in a “mean” way. Anne is actually very important and loved by the churchgoers and her position on the throne and the aureole’s size help us to understand her role, but for some reason our attention falls mostly on Mary and Jesus right? I am going to explain soon why 😉
Gothic or Renaissance?
The 3 main characters are surrounded by 5 angels, two of them with the incense and the other three holding a highly decorated drapery. The five angels are clearly painted on the Gothic tradition of the hierarchical proportion and they have also the role of “filling” the golden space on the top made by a pointed arch. All the last elements are clearly Gothic features, but Masaccio was moving forward really fast adding many innovations.
One of the first is for sure the drapery. Once again, what it could seem a detail is actually an important element since, in this painting, it “breaks” the Gothic tradition of the gold background helping to give a sense of depth to the entire work of art.
Masaccio & Co.
And the genius of Masaccio is actually the attempt on reaching a perspective that is one of the main purposes of the Renaissance. And here another surprise: Masaccio worked on this painting with Masolino da Panicale who was considered for centuries, mostly because of the age difference (18 years), his master. We know that the relationship between the two artists was actually a partnership and they painted this tempera on panel in 1424 (circa) when Masaccio was just 23 and Masolino 41.
We know also that Masolino painted Anne, while Masaccio did Mary and Jesus. And it is amazing to analyze the differences! Anne’s dress is still on a late-Gothic style: the folds and shades are clear, but the diffuse light make the dress look flat. Even the attempt of suggesting depth thanks to Anne’s right arm on Mary’s shoulder and the left one almost on Jesus head don’t help on giving volume to her figure.
The result is that Anne’s red dress seems to be an almost flat drapery behind Mary that instead has a perfect volume made with the chiaroscuro on the dark blue dress. Masaccio shows his skills on making real forms and realistic texture using wisely the light. Light is one of the foundations of the Renaissance painting and Masaccio seems to have a perfect idea of how to use it! That is evident also on Jesus: on his body there are many shades that give him volume.
A note: probably you are thinking that Jesus‘s body is really muscular, well actually that was a style at that time, but it is important to notice also the attempt of making his look and pose like a “real” child. A more natural pose for the young Jesus was another important goal in Renaissance.
In conclusion, this work of art is amazing because all the features we discovered, but it is very useful because Masaccio and Masolino’s collaboration give us the opportunity to understand the different approaches and styles. This painting is almost a comparison between the Gothic style and Renaissance and an evidence that the step forward was not so easy to make and it was a consequence of attempts and hard work. I hope you enjoyed the post and in the next episode of the series we’ll read one of the most famous Renaissance paintings. Ciao!