The Early Works (1356-1361)
The late Middle Ages and Renaissance saw a revival and radical development of all the arts in central Italy, and nowhere else was this greater than in Tuscany, where her two principal cities, Florence and Siena, were in the vanguard.1. Soon different traditions--as well as rivalries--were established as each vied with the other in the beautification of their cathedrals, palaces and parish churches. The high quality of what these Tuscan artists created is attested to in introductory art history surveys in which the names of Giotto, Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers inevitably appear. But between them and the achievements of such early Renaissance masters as Masaccio, Donatello, Ghiberti and Brunelleschi there is an interval of some six or seven decades during which painting and sculpture continued in Tuscan workshops to meet the ongoing requirements of institutions and the public alike. That the artists of the latter half of the trecento have, however, been largely overshadowed by their more illustrious colleagues is due of course to the fact that they were men of lesser talent, as well as the more hieratic and conservative nature of their art.2. Nonetheless they were men of considerable ability and skill who deserve to be appreciated on their own merits, and Siena was gifted with several such artists.
Among the most successful was Luca di Tommè He is recorded in Siena during the mid-1350s, and over the course of the next decade he established a shop that continued to operate, under his direction, for a generation.3. Working in his native city almost continually from the 1350s onward to at least 1390, he journeyed elsewhere only occasionally as commissions would require. He seems to have had continual dealings with the Siena Cathedral authorities throughout his career, both as an art consultant and as a painter in his own right. His connection with the local government is more difficult to establish given the paucity of the record, but it is clear that after 1373 he was almost constantly involved in communal affairs. Furthermore, we know that he married twice--his first wife having died in an outbreak of the plague--and also that he resided at a number of different locations throughout the city over the course of his lifetime, although we hear nothing of children. Judging from his links with the local Cathedral and government, and the volume, quality and content of his surviving works, he must have been one of the most influential and sought- after artist-entrepreneurs in Siena during this period.
Luca's artistic "persona" as revealed in his work owes a good deal not only to his predecessors but also to the cultural milieu of Tuscany in the period following the disasters of the 1330s and 1340s, which culminated with the advent of the plague in 1347 / 48. Before evaluating the paintings, however, it is worth our while to survey briefly some of the earlier scholarship in order to see how our perception of Luca has developed.4.____________________