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Europe 1300 - 1800

Unit 3: Lesson 3

Painting in central Italy

Masaccio, Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden

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.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Qrious
    At , when removing the vine and restoring the picture, why didn't they restore the black rays and the sword back to its original silver?
    (7 votes)
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    • aqualine seedling style avatar for user Rachel Coburn
      Great question, Qrious!
      I used to work as an apprentice furniture restorer, and similar questions came up all the time. We used to have long discussion with the patrons over just this issue - and a lot depends of the intent of the patron. If the patron wanted to actually use the item - say a bed that people would actually sleep on - we'd be a bit more heavy-handed with the restoration work - though it was hard sometimes to practically gut some 17th century baron's bed so that Ms. Modern could fit her fancy space mattress on it.
      If we were lucky, we'd get work from someone who wanted us to take away any "repairs" or older work from the piece, leaving just the parts of the furniture that were there originally.
      Looks like the restorer got a customer who choose the latter idea of restoration than the former.
      (13 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user Emily Mickel
    Why does Eve make an effort to 'cover' herself, but Adam only covers his face? The commentators confused me.
    (5 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user FinallyGoodAtMath
    At , what is "modeling"? Is it all the techniques that makes an object look three dimensional? What are some of the characteristics of modeling?
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user noodle352
    At Dr. Steven mentions cartoons. Since many people were illiterate during this period, would these paintings have been considered a tool to help people grasp what they have leaned orally?
    (4 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Luigi Giuliano
    Why is there a different shade around Adam and Eve? Did the artist intend that? Was it a mistake? Or was it just inevitable after the restoration?
    (4 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Nicole
      The difference in shade around Adam is explained @ and is a result of his being painted at a different stage than the rest of the painting. Because of the nature of buon fresco painting, in which paint is applied to wet plaster, the artist has to work in sections determined by how much can be completed in a day's work, referred to as giornata. The size of a giornata is determined by how complex the painting planned will be, so as you can see, the giornata around Adam and Eve, respectively, are distinct from the rest of the piece as they were each painted at different times. It is also worth noting that it's specified in the video that the distinction of the giornata was not always distinguishable.
      (2 votes)
  • starky tree style avatar for user Hillary
    At , Dr. Steven Zucker refers to the architecture at left as the, "gate of heaven itself." Would it not be the gate of Eden, because then were exiting Eden and not heaven? (... although, I could see how Eden could be considered a sort of 'heaven' because there was unity/companionship with God?)
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Barbara Kuchau
    Why do each of them have navels? They were not born of woman....
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf grey style avatar for user Casius Cool
    @ Does oxidized silver remain silver or does oxidation convert it to a different element?
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Stuart W
    At , when we are looking at Adam's covered face, it seems to me like you can't faintly see his eye peaking over his hand. First of all, is this the case or am I being tricked by my eyes which are too keen for observation? Second, if this is the case, it would be subtle - barely noticeable from the ground; what sort of meaning can we attach to this detail of his expression?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user John
    Why wouldn't Masaccio do a better job of hiding the seams of the giornata around the contours of the figures instead of so obvious a halo surrounding them?
    (1 vote)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user Keith
      At around they mention that at the time the fresco was painted they were not so noticeable. The paint oxidizes and fades with age and so all the colors that we see today make the image look quite different from when it was first created.
      (2 votes)

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)