Maso di Banco (ca. 1305 – ca. 1350)
Though he only worked for a short period in the first half of the 14th century, Maso di Banco is considered one of the greatest students of Giotto. Despite his illustrious teacher and accomplished personal career, almost no information remains about his life. Though it is known that he worked in Florence circa 1330-1350, none of his work was ever signed or dated, a fact which has furthered the mystery surrounding his brief career.
The frescoes of the Bardi di Vernio Chapel in the Franciscan friary of S. Croce are the only works attributed to him without question, a tradition informed by Ghiberti’s early writings that describe Maso’s impressive skill as both a painter and sculptor, and attribute the frescoes of the chapel to him. The frescoes primarily depict scenes from the Life of St. Sylvester, but also include images of the Resurrection of Christ and the Last Judgment. The Life of St. Sylvester includes the prominent image of St. Sylvester and the Dragon on the south wall, a dramatic scene which exemplifies his clear style and illustrates the direct influence of Giotto. Both painters used a similar palette of pinks, greys, reds, and whites, as well as light and dark contrasts to convey a sense of naturalism. The legacy of Giotto can also be seen in Maso’s figures, which share the same individuality of expression. Credited with being more restrained and simpler that Giotto, Maso’s scenes dilute drama in favor of illusionistic depictions of deep space and connections to surrounding architecture. In creating these deep spaces, Maso places his figures in a way that helps suggest a certain kind of three dimensionality.
These stylistic tendencies reappear in the fresco on the opposite wall of the Bardi di Vernio Chapel. In the image of the Resurrection on the north wall, Maso placed the painted figure of the Resurrected Christ rising up over a sculpted tomb, making it seem as though the event happens before our eyes. This blending of art and its setting allows for a consistent narrative, further fueling the story and the importance of its characters, which in turn enhances the holiness of the space.
The little information we have about Maso includes the mention of him in guild records and registers, such as his matriculation into the Arte de’ Medici e Speziali guild in 1346 and the appearance of his name in the Register of the Compagnia di S. Luca in 1350. But there is no mention of him at any time after this. Given this lack of documentation, Maso di Banco’s legacy relies chiefly on Ghiberti’s accounts of his skill and range, his status as a pupil of Giotto, and most importantly his frescoes in the Bardi di Vernio Chapel.
Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osborne, and Dennis Farr. “Maso Di Banco.” The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Turner, Jane, ed. The Dictionary of Art. Vol. 20. New York: Grove, 1996.
Wilkins, David George. Maso di Banco: A Florentine Artist of the Early Trecento. University of Michigan, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969.