Knights of the Art
It must have been about the same time when Fra Angelico was covering the walls of San
Marco with his angel pictures, that a very different kind of painter was working in the
Carmine church in Florence.
This was no gentle, refined monk, but just an ordinary man of the world--an awkward,
good- natured person, who, as long as he had pictures to paint, cared for little else. Why,
he would even forget to ask for payment when his work was done; and as to taking care
of his clothes, or trying to keep himself tidy, that was a thing he never thought of!
What trouble his mother must have had with him when he was a boy! It was no use
sending him on an errand, he would forget it before he had gone a hundred yards, and he
was so careless and untidy that it was enough to make any one lose patience with him.
But only let him have a pencil and a smooth surface on which to draw, and he was a
It is said that even now, in the little town of Castello San Giovanni, some eighteen miles
from Florence, where Tommaso was born, there are still some wonderfully good figures
to be seen, drawn by him when he was quite a little boy. Certainly there was no
carelessness and nothing untidy about his work.
As the boy grew older all his longings would turn towards Florence, the beautiful city
where there was everything to learn and to see, and so he was sent to become a pupil in
the studio of Masolino, a great Florentine painter. But though his drawings improved, his
careless habits continued the same.
`There goes Tommaso the painter,' the people would say, watching the big awkward
figure passing through the streets on his way to work. `Truly he pays but little heed to his
appearance. Look but at his untidy hair and the holes in his boots.'
`Ay, indeed!' another would answer; `and yet it is said if only people paid him all they
owed he would have gold enough and to spare. But what cares he so long as he has his
paints and brushes? ``Masaccio'' would be a fitter name for him than Tommaso.'
So the name Masaccio, or Ugly Tom, came to be that by which the big awkward painter
was known. But no one thinks of the unkind meaning of the nickname now, for Masaccio
is honoured as one of the great names in the history of Art.
This painter, careless of many things, cared with all his heart and soul for the work he
had chosen to do. It seemed to him that painters had always failed to make their pictures
like living things. The pictures they painted were flat, not round as a figure should be,
and very often the feet did not look as if they were standing on the ground at all, but
pointed downwards as if they were hanging in the air.