Analysing Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio

Masaccio, the first artist to bring realism to artworks, painted Expulsion from the Garden of Eden as a commission for the Brancacci Chapel.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

During the Renaissance, art became spiritually elevated, so one could gather in his mind that there is always God near us, surrounding us and that we can communicate with him in any form we choose. In this league, many artists showed their viewpoints through a spectacular command of colours, but one of them miraculously transplanted his ideas to the frescoes with his detailed paintings and quite a glory. You might be surprised knowing that with a great diversity of styles, which now seems long and devious, the artist filled the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Carmine, remaining the inspiration for Florentine painting of the Renaissance over a century or more. Vasari’s list of those influenced by these frescoes includes from Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi to Boticelli, Verrochio, and even Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Perugino. Hence, it becomes a must for us to know this artist. For all those who still wonder about the name, it is Masaccio who gave a legacy through his artworks on the Brancacci Chapels. And one of the crucial paintings we are to study today of the same renowned palace is the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

General Information.

1. Artist’s Statement.

As the centuries passed, we do not possess the quotes from Masaccio. However, I have something from the High Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci,

“Tomaso of Florence. Known as Masaccio, showed by his perfect works how those who took their nourishment from anything but nature, mistress of masters, were labouring in vain.”

2. Subject Matter.

The subject matter of this painting includes an angel bloating in the air with her sword to guard the law and order of Paradise with a sweet face, Eve with an expression of anguish and despair due to rejection from heaven and Adam hiding with his hands in melancholy and grief.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio

3. Artist.

Born at Castel San Giovanni di Valdarno, Masaccio, who was most careless in external matters with his fixed mind on art, painted this Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Masaccio, a diligent artist, was never induced to care about any worldly things. He never gave a thought to his clothing and collecting debts who owed him until he actually needed it. Always called Slovenly Tom, he was one of the most friendly artists, so ready to oblige and be in service of others that even a kinder man could not imagine.

4. Date.

In the chapel, the painting was the last fresco painted by the artist. We do not know the exact date of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a 208 x 88 Fresco, but perhaps it was after the summers of 1427 when the artist and Masolino resumed their work. However, in 1670 when further alterations carried out, in 1674, the composition included leaves to conceal the nudity of Adam and Eve.

Unrestored version of Expulsion from the Garden of Eden painting

Note that many texts do refer that it may belong to the time before 1419 by seeing the movement of crossed legs of Eve.

5. Provenance.

A little history we know about the fresco is that Masaccio had only a narrow vertical surface to paint this composition. However, this area was further reduced in height compared to the other scenes because of the Gothic capital, which crowned the support of the lower arch pillar.

6. Location.

The fresco is in Brancacci Chapel of the Santa Maria del Carmine Church in the Florence. In the Renaissance, the Church pronounced the works of three crucial artists- Masolino, Filippo Lippi and Masaccio.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in Brancacci Chapel

7. Technique and Medium.

Masaccio painted this composition giving subtle lights on some parts of the fresco, using the Linear perspective method. With colours, he also gave a symbolic representation of the work.

ArtistMasaccio (real name Tommaso)
Year Paintedc. 1419-27
PeriodItalian Renaissance
GenreHistorical Religious Painting
Dimensions208 x 88 cm
WorthPriceless, Not on sale
Where is it housed?Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine Church, Florence

Now that we have a brief knowledge on the composition, let us learn it in detail.

In-depth Description of the Artwork.

About the Artist: Who was Masaccio?

Born on 21 December 1401, on the Feast day of St Thomas, in Castel San Gionacci in Florence, Masaccio was the son of Giovanni and Monna Lacopa. His family lived with his grandfather, Mone di Andreuccio, who ran the business of making chests, coffers and boxes of various kinds.

At the end of the fourteenth century, the Mone family was still searching for a full surname. It was believed that their last name was not Guildi, and it was the name chosen by Masaccio’s brother, Giovanni, during a period when families used to choose their own surnames. Then at the beginning of the Quattrocento period, he and his brother took Cassai (chest-makers) as their last name, but it soon dissolved.

Some critics said that Masaccio’s whole life faced great poverty, but one must understand that he did not experience it in his childhood as he lived in the homes of his father or stepfather but unlikely faced it much later when he had extremely crucial commissions.

We do not know anything about the early youth of the artist, but the only information, proven to date is that in 1422, he became a member of the Florentine Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries. A fresco found in Montemarciano near San Giovanni Valdarno may have been painted by the artist when he was young, but there is no real evidence to support the claim. Now, let me take you to the history of the painting, which forms the basis of the analysis.

History and Background of the Painting.

Before we dive into the provenance of the composition, let me take you to the history of the Brancacci Chapel first.

So the chapel is in the righthand direction of the transept of the Church of the Santa Maria del Carmine and is a consecration space to the Madonna del Popolo and a painting of the Virgin standing on the altar. From the 14th century until 1780, it had patrons Brancacci family, but after 1780, the Riccardi family took over. A two-light window illuminated the chapel, originally from a cross-vaulted ceiling; the last story of Peter’s life, his Crucifixion, probably appeared on the wall below the window, but this fresco was destroyed soon after Brancacci was declared a rebel to remove all traces of a patron who became politically embarrassing. And similarly, numerous artworks, including Madonna del Popola, an ancient painting of the Virgin, were damaged but recently restored and attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo.

The Virgin’s recoupling followed renovations and the installation of several lamps. Now in 1670, there were further alterations carried out, which included the division of the two-level frescoes by the four sculptures. Then in 1674, again, the chapel witnessed furnishing with marble balustrades and the rebuilding of the altar. During this same period, to conceal the nudity of Adam and Eve in the two frescoes- Temptation by Masolino and Masaccio Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, leaves were ornamented. But one must remember that only after the reign of a notorious bigoted Cosimo III a censorship operation started, making this change in the epic composition.

Unrestored (Left) and Restored (Right) versions of Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio

And that completes this part of history in the section. Now you must know the entire painting plan for the walls of this Chapel, so let me give you the required information.

  1. Adam and Eve standing beneath the tree of knowledge, round which the serpent is entwined.
  2. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.
  3. The Apostle Peter raised Tabitha, and the Apostles Peter and John healing the cripple at the gate of the Temple.
  4. S. Peter, baptising.
  5. S. Peter, preaching.
  6. S. Peter, distributing alms.
  7. S. Peter and S. Joliii curing the infirm and the sick.
  8. Christ directing S. Peter to take the tribute money from the mouth of a fish and the payment of the tribute money.
  9. S. Peter restoring the King’s son to life, and the Apostle enthroned.
  10. S. Paul, addressing S. Peter in prison.
  11. The Angel delivering S. Peter from prison.
  12. S. Peter and S. Paul before the Proconsul, and the Martyrdom of S. Peter.

Let us now see the provenance of how Massacio and Masolino divided their spaces to form works as a part of provenance. You must understand that we do not know how Masaccio got this commission, and what his life included and what not, as per the official records. So, we are extracting the most out of the information from each documentation to understand the story behind this composition.

Masolino was entirely responsible to compose the paintings- The Healing of the Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha and the Fresco of the Temptation, whereas, Masaccio painted The Baptism of the Neophytes, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, St Preaching and Tribute Money. Now, they divided their wall space equally by painting their frescoes together and equal division of labour. It was an excellent division of labour and space, but Masolino abandoned the project, and Masaccio departed for Rome before its completion. People waited with bated breath for this commission to be completed, and then heard the terrible news that Masaccio died at just twenty-seven.

The Healing of the Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha by Masolino Brancacci Chapel
The Temptation Fresco by Masolino in the Brancacci Chapel
The Baptism of the Neophytes by Masaccio
Expulsion from Garden of Eden Masaccio
St Preaching by Masaccio
The Tribute Money by Masaccio

Now that you know a brief history of the artwork, let us learn its meaning.

Understanding the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden Meaning.

The composition roots itself from the story of the book Genesis 3:22-24 KJV, which says,

“22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

Here is a simple explanation for those who did not understand.

The Book of Jubilees states that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden for seven years and were in a state of innocence and purity. By tricks and cunning, the serpent, who was “more cunning than all the animals that the Lord God created in the field,” persuaded Eve to eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. As God forbade them to eat from this tree and promised death to anyone who ate this fruit, Eve refuses. The serpent tempts Eve with a promise that those who taste the fruit will not die, instead becoming Gods who know good and evil. Eve fell victim to the temptation and committed the first sin. And she made Adam eat. It opened their eyes and caused the development of shame in them, and covering themselves with the fig leaves. With the wrath of God, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden as punishment for their sin and desire to be like God or above him. We understand that Devil only excites you for the sin and not forces it upon us.

Now, let me take you to the painting.

Subject Matter Analysis of Masaccio’s Masterpiece.

In the painting Expulsion from Garden of Eden by Masaccio, we see three crucial figures, Adam, Eve, and an angel guarding heaven, as I explained earlier. Therefore, let’s take an in-depth look at the subject matter and the components of the composition one by one.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden Analysis subject matter

1. Eve.

Before we start analysing the art, let me first take you behind the inspiration. In the 14th century, Masaccio took Eve from an earlier interpretation of the Graeco-Roman Venus Pudica, such as Temperance in Pisa Cathedral by Giovanni Pisano. In addition, Masaccio’s Eve reminds the Expulsion relief on the fountain in Perugia, also by Pisano; it is also impossible to ignore the resemblance, especially in her expression, to Isaac on Brunelleschi’s panel for the Baptistry Doors competition. The body of Eve, however, reflects all the suffering in the world, just like that of Venus Pudica, only in her gesture.

Medici Venus inspiring Masaccio's Eve

In this case, Eve’s body is squarish and stubby, reminiscent of the late Romansque-Gothic sculpture, which also appears in the work of Brunelleschi. In this picture, you can see that a catastrophic use of light was used to create contrasts, also known as the Chiaroscuro technique, that brings about a more appealing appearance. Now with this, Eve, who pours in an anguished mask down to cry spurting from her mouth, is caught up in shadow. Hence, you can see that the artist created a brilliant drama through the expressions of Eve with the appropriate shadows and lights. As the light whips across the bodies of Adam and Eve, it symbolizes the new earthly existence to which they are condemned, and the shadows of mankind’s first steps on the endless road are stained on the hard soil behind their legs as criss-cross movements suggest cinematography.

2. Adam.

Perhaps Adam was inspired by the late Hellenistic model since he had his chest inflated and belly consecrated with weeping. With the inflated Thorax of Adam, one might see the reminiscences from Donatello’s Crucifix in Santa Croce. Unlike a mass and robust male nude in The Baptism of the Neophytes, the artist took a great approach to add anatomical details, which were then studied with the classical statues. Hence, the concept of the male nude of Masaccio was more spiritual than physical, which we can see from Adam in the artwork, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. With the addition of shadows on the buttocks and behind the legs, Adam seems more voluptuous with the play of light. With the sham-wracked remorseful face buried in his hands, Adam looks more sinful, intensifying the drama of the painting.

Crucifix by Donatello

3. Angel.

The face of the angel is serene and calm, floating in the sky with a sword. The figure is foreshortened, enriching the composition and colour with an arm stretched out a circle, seeming to embrace the two figures below. The symbolic red of the angel gown and wings introduces a single and brilliant note in a restricted chromaticism.

4. Background.

Behind the bodies of Adam and Eve, there is a tall and narrow opening of the gate to Paradise, which is steeped in deep shadows with bright rays of light streaming out. It emblematizes God’s will to expel the man after his sin, and the angel commands indicate the way out with her left hand. The landscape outside Paradise is barren and covered with mounds. One side has a steeper slope, echoing the movement of Adam’s left leg, while the other has a rounded shape reflecting Eve’s left leg, reinforcing the idea that they are walking away in a direction guided by God.

5. Restoration.

In the 18th century, the fresco was cut-off at the top due to architectural alterations, and the painting Expulsion from Garden of Eden had an immense loss. Compared with the height of Tribute Money, you can see how much it has been reduced since originally they were separated by painted pilaster strips. Therefore, we can say that it suffered the most damage and that the blue sky created by the artist was lost. As it got restored, it was found that underneath the sky was the grey-blue primer which Masaccio applied on the fresco before adding azurite a secco.

Studying Expulsion from the Garden of Eden Analysis.

1. Line.

In the figures of Adam and Eve, there is a presence of contour lines which give them a powerful look with clear separation from the surroundings. Also, if you see two naked bodies, they do not form any fusion, instead, the brightened body overpowers the shadowed one. Further, there is a movement of legs through a cross position or diagonal, suggesting instability in the environment.

Line Analysis of Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

The only vertical line we see here is in the form of a long pillar of Paradise’s Gate, which shows the stability of heaven under God’s rule.

2. Light and Value.

As we studied earlier, there are parts of shadows and lights to show the volume of naked bodies. For instance, if you look carefully at the body of Adam, then the front part is in light, whereas the spine, buttocks, and back of the leg are in darker shadows to give it a form of three-dimension. Similarly, there is the presence of a chiaroscuro effect on the female body. The composition shows a dark contrast setting with extra saturation.

3. Colour.

The colours before renovation were somewhat different, but we can see that there is a use of a grey-blue sky with a red-coloured dress of an angel, showing symbolism. Furthermore, there is a brown colour of the earth’s landscapes and the dark skin-coloured bodies of Adam and Eve.

Opinions and Conclusions.

Masaccio showed an exemplary depiction of manhood in the painting, showing a man with a tinge of shame and sin. The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden composition showed a terrific portrayal of the biblical passage with initial use of perspective, realism, and chiaroscuro effect with better anatomical bodies. If any artwork could have spiritual and physical values, then it is this composition.


1. Raphael by Knackfuss, H. (Hermann), 1848-1915; Dodgson, Campbell, 1867-1948.

2. Raphael by Strachey, Henry.

3. The Sistine Madonna: a Christmas Meditation by Bradford, Amory H. (Amory Howe), 1846-1911.

4. Raphael by Konody, Paul G, 1972-1933.

5. The Story of the Masterpieces by Charles M.Stuart.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who made the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden?

Masaccio solely painted the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden as part of his commission to paint frescoes on the walls of Brancacci Chapel in Florence. The artist worked alongside Masolino during this project and took inspiration from several existing sculptures to paint the figures of the composition with utmost realism.

What type of art was the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden?

Fresco, Renaissance and Historical Religious painting.

What is the meaning of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden?

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden depicts a story from the Book of Genesis 3:22-24 KJV. The story states how a cunning serpent persuaded the innocent Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. A fruit that God forbade them to eat, making Eve the first sinner. Further, Eve made Adam eat the fruit as well. Following this, God angrily expelled them from the Heaven. Masaccio’s painting represents an excellent representation of the biblical scene with realistic facial and bodily expressions as well as a convincing background through the use of linear perspective.

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