The Church of S.Maria del Carmine was begun in 1268, finished in 1476, devastated by a fire in 1771, and rebuilt in a rather grandiose Baroque style in 1792, by G. Ruggieri and G. Mannaioni.
It has been recently restored, and is worth a journey by itself. The chapel has been separated from the rest of the church, both to limit the number of visitors at any one time (breathing increases the humidity in the air, and can thus damage frescoes), and to put a stop to the steady stream of visitors that used to disrupt the services.
In 1425 Felice Brancacci decided to redecorate the family chapel, and commissioned Masolino. The artist painted a couple of panels before asking his pupil, Masaccio, join him. Masaccio ended up taking over the job, and in two short years, from 1425 to 1427, sparked a revolution in art.
Indeed, unlike his contemporaries, most of whom still followed the stylistic conventions established by Giotto more than a century before, depicting people as moving mountains set before fantastic backgrounds, Masaccio rendered his figures convincingly, giving them the expressions and gestures of the people on the streets, and painted equally convincing backgrounds. It's a great pity that Masaccio was called to Rome (where he died) in 1428, leaving the chapel uncompleted.
The Brancaccis clearly realized they had something unique, because they left the chapel as it was, and so it remained following their exile, in 1436, the classroom of all the great masters of the Renaissance (Michelangelo got his nose broken when he told Pietro Torrigiani, who was copying one of the frescoes, that he was devoid of talent and would never amount to much).
The chapel was finally completed in the early 1480's by Filippino Lippi, who must have been flattered by the commission, but also at least a little nervous about having to match brushes with Masaccio. However, he handled the task brilliantly, and now the chapel offers an unparalleled opportunity to compare the early, middle, and high Renaissance styles, especially since several panels were worked on by more than one artist.
Main art works:
You enter the Brancacci Chapel through an exquisite cloister, go up a flight of stairs, and find yourself face to face with Masaccio's masterpieces, Scenes from the "Life of Saint Peter", and the "Original Sin". And masterpieces they are. Beginning on the right hand side, there is the "Temptation of Eve" by Masolino (compare the figures and their expressions with those of Masaccio's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, to the left).
The large upper right panel shows "Saint Peter healing a cripple", by Masolino, though the cripple may be Masaccio's; the background, an accurate rendition of Florence, is almost certainly Masaccio.
The panel below it, the "Crucifixion of Saint Peter", is by Filippino Lippi; the first person in profile on the left side of the fresco is Botticelli, Filippino's teacher. The panels on the back wall, which were separated by the altar that is presently in the center of the chapel (it was moved during the restoration) show Saint Peter preaching (upper left), by Masolino, and Peter baptizing converts, Peter berating Ananias for withholding personal property when the community was giving alms (the man falls dead at his feet), and Peter's shadow healing the sick, all by Masaccio; again, his figures are far more vigorous and lifelike than Masolino's.
The upper left hand panel is Masaccio's masterful rendition of Jesus' command, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's (Mat. 22.21), with Jesus indicating the lake, and Peter plucking the coin from the fish's mouth and giving it to the tax collector. According to Vasari, the young man on the extreme right of the central group of figures is Masaccio's self portrait.
The panel below, "Saint Peter Enthroned", and "Saint Peter reviving Theophile, Prince of Antioch", was Masaccio's last; and was finished by Filippino Lippi.
The rightmost of the three people kneeling before "Saint Peter Enthroned" is said to be Brunelleschi; Filippino completed the decorative elements of the scene, and did the revived prince and the people to the right of him.
The two panels below the "Temptation and Expulsion" are Filippino's: Peter visited by Paul while in jail, supposedly based on Masaccio's drawing, and the Angel freeing Peter.
Where: Piazza del Carmine - Firenze
Opening hours: 8:00-12:00/16:00-18:00