Triptych of San Giovenale

The attribution to Masaccio of the Madonna Enthroned with Child, two Angels and Saints Bartholomew and Blaise, Juvenal and Anthony the Abbot, better known as the Triptych of San Giovenale, is very recent. Only in 1961 did Luciano Berti find the splendid painting inside the small Church of San Giovenale, in the Cascia area, and he immediately attributed it to the Master.

The Triptych, which was in very bad repair, with severe and widespread colour loss and raised areas, was immediately entrusted to the Superintendency of Florence that undertook the restoration. On this occasion it was possible to study more closely this work by a very young Masaccio, just over twenty years of age. The date, probably placed by the artist himself under the central panel, is certain: 23 April 1422. Even if this work is not cited in the sources, the Triptych undoubtedly belongs to the artist’s earliest works, during his training years, and today it is considered the absolute incipit of Masaccio’s production.

This first known work by Masaccio, as is well illustrated by Caterina Caneva in the catalog of the Renaissance in Valdarno exhibition, “has been identified as the dawn of a new style in painting, profoundly subverted in its traditional values which however emerge especially in the left panel. This revolutionary vision was transmitted to the provincial youth - who had gone to the city - by Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello, both of whom had already provided authoritative examples”.

Brunelleschi, the architect who was about to build the cupola of the cathedral in Florence, and the Saint George by Donatello are present in the perspective outline of the floor, marked by the converging lines that unify the space of the three panels. It is just hinted at in the left panel, gradually reinforced in the central one and fully outlined in the right panel.

They are present again in the naturalistic and “corporeal” rendering that makes the figures stand out like living bodies. Here they are again in the wise and well measured use of perspective which is not only applied to the architectural elements, but also to the limbs and faces, highlighting a strong but elegant physicalness, bodily but at the same time divine and contemplative.

Masaccio, Triptych of San Giovenale (The Madonna Enthroned with Child, two Angels and Saints Bartholomew and Blaise, Juvenal and Anthony the Abbot); dated 1422, 23 April; tempera on a wooden panel; 108 x 65 cm (central panel), 88 x 44 cm. Parish Church of San Pietro, Cascia di Reggello