Luca di Tomme: A Sienese Fourteenth-Century Painter

By Sherwood A. Fehm Jr. | Go to book overview
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Niccolò di Ser Sozzo and Luca (1362-1365)

The year 1362 marked the completion of one of the largest and most important altarpieces created in Siena during the trecento.1. Dedicated to Saint Thomas, it must originally have enjoyed a prominent place in the Cathedral or in one of the major religious foundations in the city. Fifty years ago, a routine cleaning brought to light the names of Luca di Tommè and Niccolò di Ser Sozzo on the molding of the work, thus sparking a lively debate that is still going on.2. It revolves around the question of the design of the painting, the role that each artist had in its execution, and the nature and duration of their collaboration. Addressing these questions involves an examination of some of the working methods followed in a proto-Renaissance Italian workshop in a case where two masters collaborated on a more or less equal footing.3. Moreover, as far as we know, this altarpiece was the most important commission in the early career of Luca di Tommè, and it is useful to establish the extent to which the stylistic influence of the older master manifested itself in Luca's later work.

One of the earliest of the surviving works of Niccolò di Ser Sozzo is found within a manuscript that has come to be called the Caleffo dell' Assunta after the artist's depiction of the Virgin's ascent into Heaven (Fig. 10). 4. His signed miniature has been dated between 1332 and 1336 on the supposition that it was completed at the same time as the transcription of various imperial privileges, papal bulls, and pacts with feudal families that accompany it. As further support for the 1336 date, it has been suggested that the hand of one of the three scribes employed

There are no known documents in either the Archivio dell' Opera del Duomo or the Archivio di Stato in Siena that mention the 1362 altarpiece or refer to the collaboration of Luca di Tommè and Niccolò di Ser Sozzo.

All of the components of the altarpiece, except the pinnacles, have survived and been identified, with Zeri making the initial reconstruction in 1958 (see Zeri, 1958, pp. 3-16).

A portion of this chapter dealing with the 1362 altarpiece has already appeared, in different form, in Fehm, 1973a, pp. 5-32.

The inscription was uncovered and published by Brandi, 1932, p. 230.
The approach to this kind of investigation has significant methodological implications. A literary and more expansive approach has developed in recent Italian criticism, while a more rational and analytical view has emerged in the United States. This dialogue, the essence of criticism, is healthy so long as it functions to develop further understanding of the artists and works involved. For an example of Italian criticism, see De Benedictis's study, which appeared in 1979 (especially pp. 38-40). For a different view see Meiss, 1963, pp. 47-48, or Fehm, 1973a, pp. 5-32.
There has not been a comprehensive study made of Niccolò di Ser Sozzo's life and work. The standard articles are those by Brandi, 1932, pp. 223-36; Zeri, 1958, pp. 3-16; Meiss, 1963, pp. 47-48; and De Benedictis, 1974, pp. 51-61; 1976a, pp. 74-76; 1976b, pp. 103-120; 1976c, pp. 87-95; 1976d, pp. 67-78. To this list the following studies may be added, which, however, ought to be used with caution: Bucci, 1965, pp. 51-60; and Rotili, vol. II, 1968/69, pp. 15-18.

A large number of documents is presented in Brandi's study, with additional documentary material supplied by Moran and Fineschi, 1976, pp. 58-63. These last two pointed out the confusion of two separate personalities and suggested dropping the name "Tegliacci" from the painter Niccolò's name.

Niccolò's illumination is found on folio 8 recto of the Caleffo dell' Assunta, and is the only one in the manuscript. It is not dated, although an inscription on the verso of folio 8 states that the job of compilation and copying was finished in 1336. However, there is no specific reference to the miniature itself.

In a personal communication Professor Mirella Levi d'Ancona suggested to me that a cut illumination initialed "N.T." representing Saint Paul in the John Frederick Lewis Collection in the Free Library of Philadelphia (M:46.5) might be another signed work by Niccolò (if indeed the name "Tegliacci" can be appended to that of " Niccolò di Ser Sozzo"). The miniature may have been produced in Niccolò's shop, but the initials appear to have been tampered with, and may be a modern addition.


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