Brancacci Chapel
The Brancacci Chapel (in Italian, "Cappella dei Brancacci") is a chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, central Italy. It is sometimes called the " Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance" for its painting cycle, among the most famous and influential of the period. Construction of the chapel was commissioned by Pietro Brancacci and begun in 1386. Public access is currently gained via the neighbouring convent, designed by Brunelleschi. The church and the chapel are treated as separate places to visit and as such have different opening times and it is quite difficult to see the rest of the church from the chapel. The patron of the pictorial decoration was Felice Brancacci, descendant of Pietro, who had served as the Florentine ambassador to Cairo until 1423. Upon his return to Florence, he hired Masolino da Panicale to paint his chapel. Masolino's associate, 21 year old Masaccio, 18 years younger than Masolino, assisted, but during painting Masolino left to Hungary, where he was painter to the king, and the commission was given to Masaccio. By the time Masolino returned he was learning from his talented former student. However, Masaccio was called to Rome before he could finish the chapel, and died in Rome at the age of 27. Portions of the chapel were completed later by Filippino Lippi. Unfortunately during the Baroque period some of the paintings were seen as unfashionable and a tomb was placed in front of them.

The paintings
The paintings are explained in their narrative order.

The Temptation of Adam and Eve
By Masolino da Panicale.

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
Masaccio's Expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the first fresco on the upper part of the chapel, on the left wall, just at the left of the Tribute Money. It is famous for its vivid energy and unprecedented emotional realism. It contrasts dramatically with Masolino's delicate and decorative image of Adam and Eve before the fall, painted on the opposite wall.

Peter's Calling
By Masaccio.

The Tribute Money
The most famous painting in the chapel is Tribute Money, on the upper right wall, with figures of Jesus and Peter shown in a three part narrative. The painting, largely attributed to Masaccio, represents the story of Peter and the tax collector from Matthew 17:24-27. The left side shows Peter getting a coin from the mouth of a fish and the right side shows Peter paying his taxes. The whole appears to be related to the establishment of the Catasto, the first income tax in Florence, in the time the painting was being executed.

Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha
The upper scene on the right wall shows, on the left side, the Healing of the Cripple and, on the right side, the Raising of Tabitha. The fresco is generally attributed to Masolino, although Masaccio's hand has been discovered by some scholars. The scene shows two different episodes, with St. Peter appearing in both of them enclosed in a scenario of a typical Tuscan city of the 15th century depicted according to the strict rules of central perspective. The latter is generally regarded as Masaccio's main contribution, whereas the two central figures show Gothic influences.

St. Peter Preaching
By Masolino da Panicale.

Baptism of the Neophytes
By Masaccio.

St. Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow
Lower centre wall, left side, by Masaccio. The episode depicted is from a brief passage, Acts 5:15”“16.

The Distribution of Alms and Death of Ananias
Lower centre wall, right side, by Masaccio.

Raising of the Son of Theophilus and St. Peter Enthroned
Lower right wall, by Masaccio, completed by Filippino Lippi.

St. Paul Visiting St. Peter in Prison
By Filippino Lippi.

St. Peter Being Freed from Prison
Lower right wall, right side. By Filippino Lippi.

Disputation with Simon Magus and Crucifixion of St. Peter
Lower right wall, centre. By Filippino Lippi.

Masaccio's application of scientific perspective, unified lighting, use of chiaroscuro and skill in rendering the figures naturalistically established new traditions in Renaissance Florence that some scholars credit with helping to found the new Renaissance style. The young Michelangelo was one of the many artists who received his artistic training by copying Masaccio's work in the chapel. The chapel was also the site of an assault on Michelangelo by rival sculptor Pietro Torrigiano, who resented Michelangelo's critical remarks about his draughtsmanship. He punched the artist so severely that he "crushed his nose like a biscuit" (according to Benvenuto Cellini), which deformed Michelangelo's face into that of a boxer's.

The first restoration of the chapel frescoes was in 1481-1482, by Filippino Lippi, who was also responsible for completing the cycle. Due to the lamps used for lighting the dark chapel, the frescoes were relatively quickly coated in dust and dirt from the smoke. Another restoration was conducted at the end of the 16th century. Around 1670, sculptures were added, and the fresco-secco additions were made to the frescoes, to hide the various cases of nudity. Late 20th century restoration removed the overpainting and collected dust and dirt. Some critics, including professor and art historian James H. Beck, have criticised these efforts, while others, including professors, historians and restorers, have praised the work done on the chapel.

Notes and references

Building Activity

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