Luca di Tomme: A Sienese Fourteenth-Century Painter

By Sherwood A. Fehm Jr. | Go to book overview
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The Later Works (1374-ca. 1390)

The final phase of the career of Luca di Tommè covered a span of nearly two decades, from 1374 to around 1390. A substantial body of works survives from this period, including six polyptychs--of which four are complete--and a number of smaller paintings. However, when compared to his output of the preceding ten years, this seems greatly diminished. On the one hand it can perhaps be explained simply in terms of the various factors that would be more favorable to the survival of art works from one period than from another. On the other hand, this apparently reduced production may have been due to Luca's involvement in the governmental affairs of the commune of Siena. His role in civic activities seems to have increased substantially after 1373, as did that of a number of his fellow artists-- notably Andrea Vanni and Paolo di Giovanni Fei. Yet the volume of their work, insofar as we can determine, seems not to have been affected, or at least not to the same extent as in Luca's case.

On the evidence of some of his paintings, it seems that Luca maintained an active shop during this period. Contrary to what one might assume, the quality of the work is, for the most part, consistently high. He continued to deal with composition, space, and subject matter in an imaginative way, and his innovative experiments in articulating the relationship of his figures to their surrounding frame bear witness to a changing aesthetic. In addition to brightening his palette, he began to handle figures in such a way that they became highly stylized, flattened, and exaggerated anatomically. He seemed more concerned with such superficial considerations as the ornamentation and embellishment of his figures than with their substance. Finally, the increased feeling of tension in a number of his compositions from this period reflects a growing predilection for crowding and compressing his figures into their compartments and making them seem to press against their frames.

In 1374 the commune of Siena commissioned Luca to paint an altarpiece commemorating the defeat of the Company of the Hat and honoring Saint Paul, the patron of the successful expedition against the brigands.1. We do not know with any great degree of certainty whether or not the specific altarpiece mentioned in the documents survives, or even that it was completed. A likely candidate, however, is a polyptych, now in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria in Perugia, depicting the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Apollinaris, and in the pinnacles Christ Blessing, with Saints Catherine, Anthony Abbot, Leonard, and Lucy (Cat. 39, Pls. 39-1-39-4). Although its original location is unknown, evidence both internal

Documents 18a and 18b. The Saint Paul altarpiece was commissioned by the Sienese government to commemorate the defeat of the Breton Company of the Hat a decade earlier. Disobeying orders from the commune, which ordinarily met the demands of such bands, Roman Orsini, the general of the Sienese forces, defeated the mercenaries. For an ac count of the Sienese position with respect to mercenary bands in the trecento, see Professione, 1898. The Company of the Hat is discussed by Schevill, 1964, p. 246, and a firsthand report of the conflict is available in the Chronicle of Neri di Donati (Cronica Sanese) in Muratori, 1738-42, vol. XV, pl. 183E.

The government that took over in 1368 seems to have had a particular interest in this victory for they also commissioned in 1373 a large fresco of the battle, which took place in the Val di Chiana, for the Sala del Mappamondo of the Palazzo Pubblico. This fresco has often been attributed to Luca but is signed and dated by Lippo Vanni. It was first attributed to Luca by Perkins, 1909b, p. 49.


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