QUERCIA, Jacopo della
(b. ca. 1367, Quercia Grossa, d. 1438, Siena)

Trenta Altar with tomb slabs

San Frediano, Lucca

The main alternative to work on the Fonte Gaia came from Lorenzo Trenta, a wealthy merchant from Lucca, who contracted Jacopo to design his family chapel in San Frediano, Lucca. Work on the Trenta Chapel (1412-22) continued concurrently with the Fonte Gaia over the next decade, being interrupted in December 1413 when Jacopo and his assistant Giovanni di Francesco da Imola (d before 1425) were denounced, in a letter sent to the city's ruler Paolo Guinigi, for theft, rape and sodomy. Jacopo somehow escaped punishment altogether, but his assistant was imprisoned for three years. Perhaps these circumstances explain why Jacopo was suddenly available to begin work on the Fonte Gaia in Siena in 1414. He returned to Lucca in March 1416, but only after he had been supplied with a letter of safe conduct.

Jacopo's first work in the Trenta Chapel consisted of an intricately carved marble altar dedicated to the patron saints of the chapel: Richard, Jerome and Ursula. This is basically a conservative sacra conversazione with the Virgin and Child enthroned against a cloth of honour in a shallow central niche. To the viewer's left and right, standing in self-contained niches framed by pilasters, are Sts Ursula and Lawrence and Sts Jerome and Richard. All the niches are surmounted by steeply pitched gables. Half-length figures of the Prophets are located on pinnacles above the saints; some sort of decorative element once also rose above the niche containing the Virgin and Child. Likewise missing are the Gothic finials planned to complete the elaborate frame. At the base is an elaborate historiated predella with scenes from the Lives of the Saints enframing a central Lamentation.

The saints of the Trenta altar bear a striking resemblance to the Virgin and the Virtues from the Fonte Gaia, having the same small oval heads with pointed chins and thick necks. The remoteness of expression harks back to the Ferrara Madonna, but now the figures are wrapped in heavy draperies with elaborate convoluted folds.

While some parts of the work are Giovanni da Imola's, most scholars assign to Jacopo the major share of the execution. The inscription at the base has the date of 1422, which may apply to the completion of the predella. The predella scenes, especially the bold Martyrdom of St Lawrence, are clearly more complex and more dependent on dramatic tension. Conceivably they could belong to this later date.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.