Niccolo' di Tommaso

(Active in Florence, Tuscany and Campania, 1350 c. – 1376)

The Last Judgment, 1360- 1365

tempera on panel, gold ground, 87 x 54 cm (34.25 x 21.26 inches)

  • Reference: 809
  • Provenance: Private collection
  • Note:

    No Italian Export License


R. Longhi, Vitale da Bologna e i suoi affreschi nel Camposanto di Pisa, Sitzung of 5 December 1931, in Berichte über die Sitzungen des Institutes,«Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz», IV, 2-3, 1933, pp. 135-137
R. Offner-M. Boskovits, Master of San Martino alla Palma; Assistant of Daddi; Master of the Fabriano Altarpiece, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, Sec. III, Vol. V, New York 1947; new edition by M.Boskovits, assisted by A. Labriola and M. Ingendaay Rodio, Florence 2001
R. Offner, A Ray of Light on Giovanni del Biondo and Niccolò di Tommaso, «Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz», VII, 1956, pp. 173-192
U. Schlegel, Beiträge zur Trecentomalerei, «Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz», XI, 2-3, 1964, pp. 63-70
M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370-1400, Florence 1975
R. Fremantle, Florentine Gothic Painters. 
From Giotto to Masaccio, London 1975
M.T. Lazzarini, Apparati decorativi e collezionismo nelle residenze de Larderel ; Note all’inventario e Inventario della “Galleria e oggetti di Belle Arti”, in Frattarelli Fischer L. – Lazzarini M.T., Palazzo de Larderel a Livorno, Milan 1992, pp. 135-186 and 200-206
A. Tartuferi, Per la pittura fiorentina di secondo Trecento: Niccolò di Tommaso e il Maestro di Barberino, «Arte Cristiana», LXXXI, N. 758, 1993, pp. 337-346
J. Tripps, Tendencies of Gothic in Florence: Andrea Bonaiuti, “Corpus of Florentine Painting”, Sec.IV, Vol. VII (part I), Florence 1996
V. Lucherini, Niccolò di Tommaso, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 78, Rome 2013
A.Tartuferi - E. N. Lusanna - A. Labriola, Medioevo a Pistoia. Crocevia di artisti fra Romanico e Gotico, exhibition catalogue, Pistoia Musei Civici, 27 November 2021 – 8 May 2022, pagg. 268-269, no. 51

This painting, which is in absolutely superb condition, marks a major event because even though scholars have known of it for a long time, this is the first time that it has even been shown in public. The panel was meticulously restored by Loredana Gallo and a number of fascinating peculariaties emerged in the course of her work. The original support, with vertical grain, consists of three panels, the central panel being three times wider than the two side panels; but even more interestingly, the central panel is poplar wood whilst the two side panels are conifer. The upper side areas of the front of the painting bear clear traces of the small Corinthian capitals that formed part of the original frame and that were covered by new gilding when the frame was remade, most probably several centuries ago judging by the two figures comprising the Annunciation in sexalobate roundels at the two upper extremities. The announcing angel and the Virgin annunciate are very obviously by another hand in stylistic terms and of considerably poorer quality than the figures in the main scene, also on account of the punched decoration of the halos and the different pigments used. They are also of a later date than the main scene and can be tentatively dated, in my view, to some time between the turn of the 14th century and the first few years of the 15th. This later intervention, which "respected" the framing of the original, makes it impossible to discover whether there are any traces of side hinges in the (unquestionably plausible) eventuality that the panel may originally have been the centrepiece of a tabernacle with doors. Nevertheless, the suggestion[1] that the painting was originally the central part of a portable altar which included the Madonna and Child now in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon (inv. 1728) is not borne out by any evidence whatsoever. In fact, it is probably the result of a simple error in interpreting the list of works by Niccolò di Tommaso provided by Richard Offner[2]. The refitting of the frame also allows us to glimpse a change prompted either by conservation concerns or by changing tastes, which appears to suggest that the work was displayed for public devotion for a considerable length of time. The exquisite refinement of the brushwork and the precious nature of the materials used, the gold, the silver, the lapis lazuli, the vermilion and the lacquers with their translucent effect, together with the no less sumptuous handling of the gold ground, the punch marks, the abundant graining and the extremely dense rays emanating from the figures of the Virgin and Christ all point unmistakably to a commission of the greatest prestige. 

The painting is listed with an attribution to “Orgagna sic. Orcagna” and an estimated value of 1,333 Tuscan lire in an inventory drafted on the death of Count Francesco de Larderel in 1858, when it hung in the Hall of Columns in the family's imposing palazzo in the heart of Livorno[3]. Roberto Longhi was the first to argue that the panel was probably by the hand of Niccolò di Tommaso in the course of a Sitzung at the Istituto Tedesco di Storia dell’Arte in Florence on 5 December 1931, highlighting its iconographical affinity with the Last Judgment in Bonamico Buffalmacco's frescoes in the Camposanto in Pisa, which were attributed to Vitale da Bologna at the time. Longhi's suggestion was accepted by Offner[4], who identified the panel as the picture attributed to Orcagna in the de Larderel collection. Yet it remained unpublished until it appeared in a book by Ursula Schlegel[5] who, from an iconographical viewpoint. underscored the artist's depiction of the Apocalypse combined with the vision of St. John on Patmos, just as Buffalmacco had done in the fresco in Pisa. 

It is unquestionably one of the finest and most important panel paintings by this Florentine painter to have survived. His masterpiece in the field of fresco painting, on the other hand, is the vast cycle in the former church of the Tau in Pistoia[6], which he is likely to have completed by 1372. He may have been working in the city as early as in 1360[7] and on a more stable basis from at least 1370, in San Giovanni Fuorcivitas for a now lost panel painting (of which a panel depicting Saints in Adoration formerly in the Albrighi collection in Florence has been thought to have been a part[8], though it has also been more plausibly dated to the artist's final period[9]) and also for a number of frescoes in the celebrated Chapel of St. James in the Cathedral, to which certain fragments now in the Baldi Papini collection Quarrata belong[10]. On completing all these commissions, the artist was summoned to Naples by Fra' Giovanni Guidotti, who had previously commissioned from him both the frescoes in the church of the Tau and a triptych signed and dated 1371 for the church of Sant’Antonio Abate a Foria, now in the Pinacoteca di Capodimonte, which in all likelihood he had despatched from Florence. 

Guidotti is almost certainly responsible for the artist's journey to Naples in 1373 where he painted various frescoes and panel paintings[11], a journey borne out also by the fact that the final payment for the panel in San Giovanni Fuorcivitas recorded for that year was made to a representative of his, a certain “Jachopo Ciani [sic]”, who it is tempting to identify as Jacopo di Cione[12], thus further confirming his fundamental relationship with the Orcagna family. This dazzlingly successful picture, however, is more likely to have been painted in the mid-1360s, with its clear and still vibrant echo of his formative years under the very strong influence of Nardo di Cione and its unashamed nod to the grandiose frescoes of the same subject in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella in Florence on which he is generally acknowledged to have worked as an assistant, even though it has recently and quite rightly been pointed out that identifying his share of the work with any certainty is a far from simple task[13].

[1] V. Lucherini, entry for Niccolò di Tommaso, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, 78, Rome 2013, p. 434-437.
[2] R. Offner, A Ray of Light on Giovanni del Biondo and Niccolò di Tommaso, in “Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz”, VII, 1953/1956, 3-4, pp. 173-192.
[3] M. T. Lazzarini, Apparati decorativi e collezionismo nelle residenze de Larderel. Note all’inventario e Inventario della “Galleria e oggetti di Belle Arti”, in L. Frattarelli Fischer, M. T. Lazzarini, Palazzo de Larderel a Livorno, Milan 1992, pp. 135-186 (p. 165) and 200-206 (pp. 200, 205).
[4] R. Offner, Master of San Martino alla Palma, Assistant of Daddi, Master of the Fabriano altarpiece, “A critical and historical corpus of Florentine painting”, III, V, New York 1947, ed. Florence 2001. Ibid. op. cit., 1953/1956, p. 190.
[5] U. Schlegel, Beiträge zur Trecentomalerei, in “Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz”, XI, 1964, 2-3, pp. 63-70.
[6] See L. Gai, Nuove proposte e nuovi documenti sui maestri che hanno affrescato la Cappella del Tau a Pistoia, in “Bullettino storico pistoiese”, V, 1970, pp. 75-94; E. Carli, Gli affreschi del Tau a Pistoia, Firenze 1977; U. Feraci, L. Fenelli, Gli affreschi di Niccolò di Tommaso nella chiesa del Tau. Una rilettura iconografica, in Il museo e la città. Vicende artistiche pistoiesi del Trecento, Pistoia 2012, pp. 81-119.
[7] M. Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento 1370-1400, Florence 1975, pl. 33.
[8] A. Ladis, A high altarpiece for San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Pistoia and hypotheses about Niccolò di Tommaso, in “Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz”, XXXIII, 1989, 1, pp. 3-16.
[9] E. S. Skaug, St Bridget’s vision of the Nativity and Niccolò di Tommaso’s late period, in “Arte cristiana”, LXXXIX, 2001, 804, pp. 195-209 (pp. 203-204).
[10] See Carli op. cit., 1977, pp. 8-11; U. Feraci, Precisazioni su Bonaccorso di Cino e sulla pittura toscana di metà Trecento, in “Arte cristiana”, XCIV, 2006, 833, pp. 89-104 (p. 102, note 51).
[11] See A. Tartuferi, Appunti tardogotici fiorentini: Niccolò di Tommaso, il Maestro di Barberino e Lorenzo di Bicci, in “Paragone”, XXXVI, 1985, 425, pp. 3-16; Ibid., Per la pittura fiorentina di secondo Trecento: Niccolò di Tommaso e il Maestro di Barberino, in “Arte cristiana”, LXXXI, 1993, 758, pp. 337-346; P. Leone De Castris, entry for Niccolò di Tommaso, in Enciclopedia dell’Arte Medievale, VIII, Rome 1997, pp. 674-675.
[12] Skaug op. cit., 2001, p. 206, note 12.
[13] G. Ravalli, L’egemonia degli Orcagna e un secolo di pittura a Santa Maria Novella, in Santa Maria Novella. La basilica e il convento, I, Dalla fondazione al Tardogotico, ed. A. De Marchi, Florence 2015, pp. 157-245 (p. 181).

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