LUCA DI TOMMÈ
(active 1356-1389 in Siena)
Tempera on panel, gold ground in an engaged frame, 41 x 19 cm
This painting belongs to the early part of the artist's career, when his figures were endowed with an emotional intensity inspired by Lippo Memmi and Simone Martini. It depicts the Crucifixion with the two thieves, the Madonna, Saint John and Mary Magdalene, and a pelican piercing its breast above. The panel was intended for private devotion.
The miniature like detail of the pelican's nest above the cross is an interesting motif: according to legend, the pelican pierced her own breast with her beak to feed her chicks with blood from her own heart. This image of self-sacrifice was used in medieval art as a symbol of Christ's sacrifice for humankind and a parallel for the Eucharist.