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Analyzing Visual Rhetoric Masaccio’s 1427 Trinity

In the selection from Perspective as Symbolic Form that has been assigned for this course, Erwin Panofsky maintains that the vanishing point in Renaissance painting served as a pictorial device to represent the infinite within the image. In lecture, we have been exploring how specific paintings (Perugino’s Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter and Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation) utilize that hint of infinity implied by the vanishing point to formulate different sorts of relationships between the viewer and the divine.
Masaccio’s Holy Trinity of 1427 employs the vanishing point in much the same way. The painting’s linear perspective creates an illusion of depth; indeed, the space it appears to carve out is rather complex, with several distinct subdivisions and layers (which Professor Herbert describes in lecture). It fills these spaces with four groups of human figures: the three “persons” of the Trinity (God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), the Virgin Mary and Saint John at the foot of the cross (as if at the site of the Crucifixion on Golgotha), a pair of donors to the church (contemporaries of Masaccio), and a skeleton laid out on a sarcophagus below. Linear perspective in The Holy Trinity posits one additional subject for this picture: the viewer, nominally standing at the viewpoint directly opposite the vanishing point.


In this essay, 5-6 pages in length, you will analyze the pictorial dynamics of Masaccio’s Holy Trinity of 1427. Your task is to formulate a thesis and marshal specific visual evidence to show how The Holy Trinity deploys its spaces, its depicted figures, and its posited viewer for the sake of establishing a connection—but also a distance—between that viewer and the divine.

Successful essays will include these critical elements:

a) Arguable claims. A successful essay will include a nuanced, highly arguable thesis. The body paragraphs will not merely describe the painting but will analyze how the visual elements posit a specific relation between the viewer and the divine.

b) Well-articulated evidence culled from careful looking at the painting. The visual elements of the painting must first be described before being analyzed as projecting a particular attitude about the relationship between the viewer and the divine. Only the visual elements that structure your analysis should be included in your descriptions of the visual evidence. More specific and controlled descriptions of the visual elements will lead to better analysis of the painting.

c) Well-developed warrants.

d) A successful incorporation of Panofsky’s ideas about Renaissance perspective to support your thesis about Masaccio’s painting.

e) A developing argument, where each paragraph is progressing toward a culminating “view” of the painting that coincides with your thesis.

As you begin the drafting process for Assignment 3, you should also devote substantial attention to the concepts and arguments in the following chapters: HCC Reader: “Perspective as Symbolic Form” (Panofsky); Writer’s Handbook: “How to Analyze and Write About a Work of Art” (Herbert), and The Craft of Research: “Revising Style” (249-269).

My thesis is : the holy trinity, by Masaccio, use vanishing points, arrangement of figures, depiction of figures, and linear perspective to illustrate the DISTANCE between divine and men.(I am going for the Distance) feel free to change and add thing into my thesis.

vanishing point in the painting separate God (on the top of painting) and the mortal(skeleton), suggest there is a infinite distance between divine and men.

arrangement: God is above men(skeleton), suggest God is above men(hierarchy), therefore creating distance.

depiction: Jesus in the painting, pale, no hair, clean, non-human like, therefore create distance.

linear perspective: the representation of the trinity is a 3D illusion, suggesting God is hard to grasp, not real for human, create distance.


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