(b. 1836, Galatina, d. 1891, Napoli)
Italian painter. He was orphaned at the age of six and spent an unhappy childhood and adolescence in convents and poorhouses; these experiences would later provide subjects for his paintings. He was first taught drawing at the art school in the hospice for the poor in the Adriatic town of Giovinazzo, but in 1855 he moved to Naples, where he worked for an ornamental painter named Alessandro Fergola. In 1857 he was mistakenly arrested for conspiracy and exiled to Piedimonte d'Alife, 60 km from Naples, where he was initiated into the secret society of the Carbonari by some local liberal aristocrats who also became his first patrons. His paintings for them were mainly still-lifes, largely in the traditional Neapolitan style.
On his return to Naples in 1858 he became a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti, attending the classes of Domenico Morelli, who influenced such early works as Erminia (1859; Naples, Palazzo Reale). Toma fought for two years with Garibaldi in the campaign for the unification of Italy, then returned to painting, exhibiting A Revolutionary Priest at the Esposizione Nazionale in Florence in 1861 (untraced). In 1862 Toma participated in the first exhibition of the SocietÓ Promotrice di Belle Arti di Napoli, showing the Children of the People (Bari, Pinacoteca Provinciale), a political allegory, and St Peter's Pence (Naples, Capodimonte).
His work began to treat themes, whether historical or contemporary, from a domestic, everyday viewpoint, focusing more on sentiment and psychology than on the representation of events as such. This youthful phase, influenced by the work of Filippo Palizzi, terminated with A Stern Cross-examination by the Holy Office (1864; Naples, Palazzo Municipio). Through it the characteristics of Toma's mature style began to show themselves: a harsh perspective, severe composition and the use of all elements for symbolic, never merely decorative, purposes. These elements combined, in the maturer works produced up till 1880, with a control of light achieved through the modulation of cold tones. They keep his paintings from the triteness his chosen themes.