Being orphaned so early in life is a devastatingly lonely experience. It would be many years before I met anyone else who had gone through a similar loss. Back then, I filled my time by pretending to be just like any other gap-year student: learning the stories behind the art, trying every box of wine I could find, and flirting with cute boys who teased me by mocking my accent. I completely refused to engage with my grief—with what made me different from the other twentysomethings. I was out in the wilderness, but acted as though I wasn’t. I hoped that would make it true.
Masaccio was born on December 21, 1401, in Tuscany. His frescoes mark the transition point from Gothic art to a more natural, humanist style. He even places Adam and Eve’s shadows behind them, as though they are being lit by the same chapel window that let in the autumnal Italian sunshine for me, while viewing his work nearly 600 years later. Masaccio shows us Adam and Eve walking out into the light, not the darkness; there’s hope for them.
It was verging on chilly in the chapel that September day. The high windows directed the sunlight into the center of the room, where visitors were not allowed to step. The rules of medieval art preservation meant that we had to remain in the shadows, around the edges. Seeing Masaccio’s Adam and Eve in their natural habitat felt like traveling backwards in time. Some fig leaves
had been painted onto the figures around 1680, in accordance with the more prudish style of Cosimo III de’ Medici; they were removed in 1988, as the painting was cleaned of soot damage
. Other than that, the Expulsion
is in place exactly as Masaccio had painted it, back in the late 1420s.