Comparison of Masaccio's The Holy Trinity and Grunewald's The Isenheim Altarpiece

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Comparison of Masaccio's The Holy Trinity and Grunewald's The Isenheim Altarpiece

The Holy Trinity by Masaccio was a painting done in approximately 1428. It is a

superb example of Masaccio's use of space and perspective. It consists of

two levels of unequal height. Christ is represented on the top half, in a

coffered, barrel-vaulted chapel. On one side of him is the Virgin Mary,

and on the other, St. John. Christ himself is supported by God the Father,

and the Dove of the Holy Spirit rests on Christ's halo. In front of the

pilasters that enframe the chapel kneel the donors (husband and wife).

Underneath the altar (a masonry insert in the painted composition) is a

tomb. Inside the tomb is a skeleton, which may represent Adam. The

vanishing point is at the center of the masonry altar, because this is the

eye level of the spectator, who looks up at the Trinity and down at the

tomb. The vanishing point, five feet above the floor level, pulls both

views together. By doing this, an illusion of an actual structure is

created. The interior volume of this 'structure' is an extension of the

space that the person looking at the work is standing in. The adjustment

of the spectator to the pictured space is one of the first steps in the

development of illusionistic painting. Illusionistic painting fascinated

many artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The proportions in this painting are so numerically exact that one

can actually calculate the numerical dimensions of the chapel in the

background. The span of the painted vault is seven feet, and the depth is

nine feet. "Thus, he achieves not only successful illusion, but a rational,

metrical coherence that, by maintaining the ...

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... wearing a small robe around his waist. The other

forms are depicted superbly. Their bodies are not lost behind the drapery

which they wear, yet they are not seen exactly either. The folds are more

delicate, which create a calmer mood. (Christ's description was already

given). The forms are three dimensional, and also have weight. They

clearly take up space, and where they are is clearly defined.

As in The Holy Trinity, the composition is generally symmetrical,

centered around the body of Christ. It is a frightful composition,

because of the events taking place. Expression is shown on all of the

figures, who grieve Christ's death.

Overall, the two works are very similar. Masaccio, however, was

more interested in the mathematical aspects of painting than Grunewald.

Both works are superb, and have their own distinct qualities.

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