By Costanza Beltrami

Renaissance painter Masaccioreceived the first payment for the so-called “Pisa Altarpiece” on 19 February 1426. The last payment to Antonio di Biagio, the Sienese wood-carver in charge of the painting’s frame, is recorded on the same day: apparently, the wooden structure constructed by Antonio determined the composition designed by Masaccio. In a strange turn of fate, the frame has now completely disappeared, and the altarpiece’s various panels are scattered around European museums in Naples, London, and Berlin. Art historians have offered many possible reconstructions of the polyptych, without reaching an agreement on its original design.  

The altarpiece was probably finished on 26 December 1426, date of the last known payment to Masaccio. Two days before, Andrea Giusto, Masaccio’s pupil or garzone, had also been paid for some work, a payment generally associated with the scenes of the life of St Julian and St Nicholas in the predella, the narrow rectangular panel at the bottom of the altarpiece. Another scene in the predella is the Adoration of the Magi, where the painter included a standing profile portrait of the painting’s patron, the Pisan notary Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi da San Giusto, and his son. Giuliano commissioned the altarpiece for a purpose-built chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine.

Reference: Hellmut Wohl, “Masaccio.” Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 18, 2016.

Crucifixion, c. 1426, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.

Madonna with Child and Angels, 1426, National Gallery, London.

Saint Jerome and a Carmelitan saint, 1426, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Predella panels: Adoration of the Magi, lives of St Julian and St Nicholas, Crucifixion of St Peter and Beheading of St John the Baptist, 1426, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

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