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Masaccio, Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy, ca. 1424--1427. Fresco, 7' x 2' 11". Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Video transcript
(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: In the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine just to the left of Masaccio's great painting the Tribute of Money is another painting by Masaccio, the Expulsion from Eden. Dr. Harris: The fresco's in this Chapel all tell the story of the life of St. Peter except for the expulsion. We could ask what is the Expulsion doing here? This is the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. They've eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and God has discovered that transgression and has banished them from Eden and we see a foreshortened Angel. Dr. Zucker: That's an armed Angel, it looks like the Marshall to me. Dr. Harris: Chasing them out of the Garden of Eden. Dr. Zucker: Their being evicted. Dr. Harris: What follows from this is that mankind knows then and ... Dr. Zucker: And death. Dr. Harris: Exactly. This is the moment from which everything else comes in terms of Catholic understanding of man's destiny. Dr. Zucker: That's right because it is from this fall from grace that Christ is required. Dr. Harris: It makes Christ's coming necessary to redeem us, but it also makes necessary the Church that St. Peter found. Sometimes Mary and Christ are seen as the second Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve who caused the fall into sin and Mary and Christ who make possible salvation. Dr. Zucker: That idea is something that everybody in this church would be familiar with. I love the architecture on the extreme left, the gate of Heaven itself, that they've just left, reminds me of the indebtedness that Masaccio has to people like Giotto in the previous century where architecture is sometimes used, simply as a foil, as a kind of stage set. Dr. Harris: There's so much emotion. Dr. Zucker: I'm especially interested in the contrast of emotion. Adam is covering his face, there is a kind of shame and a real awareness of his sin. His body is exposed to us and actually that's interesting. This whole Chapel was fairly recently cleaned and for a very long time there was a vine that covered up his genitals. Dr. Harris: That someone had painted over it. Dr. Zucker: That's right, long after. But we've been restored to the original nudity that Masaccio gave us, which is absolutely era appropriate, but he's not covering his body, he's covering his face; it's a kind of internal sense of guilt. Whereas Eve seems to have been taken directly from the Ancient classical prototype of the modest Venus. She's shown in a beautiful contrapposto covering herself, but it's her shame which seems more physical, but because her face is exposed we can see the real pain that she expresses through it. Dr. Harris: You said beautiful contrapposto, but I think about contrapposto as a standing, relaxed pose and these figures are in motion. Dr. Zucker: They are, they're moving forward. Dr. Harris: Masaccio is first artist in a very long time to attempt to paint the human body naturalistically. Dr. Zucker: Yup. Dr. Harris: And as a result he hasn't quite gotten all of it perfectly. Dr. Zucker: No, there's some awkward passages there. Dr. Harris: Yeah, Adam's arms are a little bit too short, Eve's left arm is a little bit too long. Given that Masaccio's the first artist to really attempt this naturalism in 1,000 years, some of that is to be forgiven. Dr. Zucker: I have to say that I think he's done an extraordinary job. If you look at Adam's abdomen, for example, it is really beautifully rendered. There is a physicality here, there's a sense of weight and there's a sense of musculature that I can't remember seeing in earlier painting. Dr. Harris: Masaccio's employing modeling very clearly from light to dark. He's so interested in modeling because that's what makes the forms appear three dimensional and also that foreshortened Angel is helping to create a sense of space for the figures to exist in, even though, as you pointed out, that architecture is more symbolic than real. Dr. Zucker: Yeah, it's just totally schematic isn't it? Dr. Harris: Yeah. Dr. Zucker: A couple of changes that are probably worth noting. One is that you can really see the giornata. You can see that Adam was painted separately from Eve and you can see the darker blue and back of Adam that really highlight those different patches of plaster. Dr. Harris: Those were not differentiatable in the 15th Century. Dr. Zucker: Right, no that's changed over time. Dr. Harris: By giornata you mean that the different days, the different parts of the fresco were painted in? Dr. Zucker: Right, giornata means a days work. Dr. Harris: This is buon fresco, which means that it was painted onto wet plaster and so an artist could only do a small section at a time because the plaster would otherwise dry. Dr. Zucker: Other changes that have taken place in the painting that I think are worth noting are that the sword and the rays of light that are emanating from Eden are now black, but that's oxidized silver and it would have been very shiny initially. I think it's importantalso to note that the Expulsion is the first scene that we look at as we enter into this Chapel, they literally walk into this story. Almost like a panel in the cartoon it is leading our eye from left to right so that we can read through this story of St. Peter. (piano playing)