Masolino was born in Panicale, in the Valdarno. The exact date of his birth is not known, but a likely date of around 1383 or 1384 can be deduced from documents. In 1422 he was living in Florence, where he rented a house and workshop. In 1423 he enrolled in the guild of doctors and pharmacists, which also included painters. In 1428, at the age of about forty-four or forty-five, he was liberated from his father's authority, assuming the legal status of head of family. His fresco cycle of 1435 in the baptistry of Castiglione Olona affords the last date recorded for him.
According to Vasari, Masolino's training began in Ghiberti's workshop and continued at the age of nineteen under Gherardo Starnina. Both pieces of information appear likely; Masolino may have been associated with Starnina about 1402-1403, when that artist, after his return from Spain, became a leading painter in Florence.
To explain the complete lack of record of Masolino in the first two decades of the fifteenth century, scholars have hypothesized the artist's long absence from his city; possibly he was in Hungary, were a sojourn is documented between 1425 and 1427. A Virgin and Child (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence) and a fragmentary Bust of the Virgin (private collection, Milan) could belong to an early undocumented period of activity in Florence at the beginning of the second decade.
A subsequent influence on Masolino's style was the subtle naturalism of Gentile da Fabriano. Nonetheless, the Bremen Madonna (1423), the Carnesecchi triptych for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence (of which only one panel remains in the Museo Diocesano in Florence), and the Madonna of Humility in Munich attest to his progress toward a more complete understanding of the physical density of forms and their convincing placement in pictorial space. The evolution of his idiom toward Renaissance models can also be seen in the frescoes in Santo Stefano and at the Collegiata in Empoli (1424), where the late Gothic tradition and new classical ideals are melded with extraordinary results.
It was probably in late 1424 or early 1425 that Masolino began to collaborate with Masaccio, who completed his Virgin and Saint Anne (Uffizi, Florence) and would work with him in the Brancacci chapel in the Carmine, also in Florence. It seems likely that the two painters began the cycle at the end of 1424 and interrupted their work definitively when Masolino left for Hungary.
Documents prove that Masolino reappeared in Florence only in May 1428, remaining in the city until March 1429. He then went to Rome, where he painted the Miracle of the Snow triptych in Santa Maria Maggiore (whose panels are now divided among the National Gallery, London; Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; and John G. Johnson collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art). In Rome, Masolino also frescoed the chapel of Saint Catherine in San Clemente and executed the (lost) frescoes representing famous men in Palazzo Orsini on Monte Giordano. In 1432 he painted a fresco of the Virgin and Child in the church of San Fortunato, Todi.
By 1435 Masolino was in Castiglione Olona near Varese, where he frescoed the Collegiata and the baptistry at the request of Cardinal Branda Castiglione, who had earlier commissioned the paintings for the chapel in San Clemente in Rome. The frescoes of the Collegiata were completed, presumably after Masolino's death, by Paolo Schiavo and Vecchietta in the late 1430s. Masolino's experience working with Masaccio resulted in a more rigorous sense of perspective and a search for effects of monumentality and compositional balance. After their collaboration was interrupted, Masolino's natural tendency toward a lively, colorful narrative style re-emerged, as proved by the Castiglione Olona frescoes where the artist pays tribute also to the art of Pisanello. [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Toesca, Pietro. Masolino da Panicale. Bergamo, 1908.
Longhi, Roberto. "Fatti di Masolino e di Masaccio." CdA 5 (1940): 145-191. Reprinted in Edizione delle opere complete di Roberto Longhi. 14 vols. Florence and Milan, 1956-2000. Vol. 8, 2 parts. Part 1 (1975). Fatti di Masolino e di Masaccio....