Would it be an exaggeration to say that, in Masaccio’s Trinity, the most valuable and important nail in the painting (even more than those bearing the weight of Christ on the cross) is a nail that you cannot see but whose mark remains visible over 600 years after? What nail am I talking about? It’s a nail he used to render a realistic perspective, for which many historians regard him as the first proper Renaissance painter.
The nail used by Masaccio to mark the vanishing point in his ‘Trinity’, the egg cracked by Brunelleschi to win the competition for building Florence’s legendary dome, the chalk used by Giotto to paint his sheep on a rock: a nail, an egg and a piece of chalk, mundane objects that, otherwise, would be of no particular interest to art historians and enthusiasts, but without which incredible masterpieces would never be possible. Art gives life to the mundane, makes it history, just as 4 million bricks became the dome of Florence at the hands of Brunelleschi.
It was in Rome that Bernini (Baroque) stood in front of a mirror one day, contemplating an unthinkable deed. He was already decided. He wanted to sculpt the face of a man suffering excruciating pain, he wanted this to be as real as real could be. Probably all Rome must have heard him scream as he held a burning piece of charcoal while looking at his own face in the mirror. The expression was imprinted in his memory and, eventually became immortalized in marble: the bust showing his self-portrait as a ‘Damned Soul’.
How many other ‘moments’ of pain and passion must have gone unnoticed and undocumented? How many strokes of genius did it take Nature to fear to be conquered by the likes of Raphael and Rembrandt? and as someone once said, what kind of world would we have inherited if it hadn’t been colored by the likes of Botticelli, Gozzoli and Michelangelo?
Art, at times, is a baptism of the mundane. The artist, in his capacity as creator, considers an object, and thinks: Thou shalt be art. Or he contemplates the moment and decides: thou shalt mark history.