Taddeo Gaddi

Tree of Life and Last Supper, about 1350

Artist: Taddeo Gaddi (Florence c. 1300 - 1366)
Title: Tree of Life and Last Supper
Band decorated with foliage and geometrical motifs with hexagonal clypei containing Manfredi crests (Gules, a lion rampant double tailed argent), busts of saints and the Holy Ghost; 
on the left: Stigmatisation of St. Francis; St. Louis of Toulouse serves the poor at table;
in the centre: Tree of the Cross; The Virgin supported by the pious women; St. John the Evangelist; The donor Vaggia Manfredi (?); St. Francis; St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, St. Anthony of Padua; St. Dominic, St. Louis of Toulouse;
on the right: An angel orders a priest to bring food to St. Benedict in the hermitage; Jesus sups in the house of the Pharisee;
below: Last Supper  
: c. 1350
Material and tecnique: detached fresco
Dimensions: 11,20 x 11,70 cm  
Position: Refectory

Almost as though it were the setting for a huge altarpiece, the whole of the back wall of the Refectory is taken up by a complex painted scene comprising the Last Supper surmounted by the Crucifixion and flanked by the Stigmatisation of St. Francis and three religious stories associated with food on account of the hall's early use as the refectory where the friars ate in silence and were urged to engage in individual meditation.

Taddeo Gaddi, St. Louis of Toulouse serves the poor at table, detail of the Tree of Life and Last Supper, c. 1350. Basilica of Santa Croce, Refectory

The Crucifixion was standard iconography for early convent refectories, but this is the first instance of a fresco also containing the Last Supper, which was to dominate the scene in refectories in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In the iconography of the Cross as the "tree of life", inspired by an ascetic pamphlet written by Franciscan Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio entitled Lignum Vitæ, twelve branches spring from the Cross to form medallions in which busts of prophets bear scrolls urging the reader to contemplate Christ's sacrifice. Below, St. Francis embraces the Cross, with the patron who commissioned the fresco kneeling close by. Beside them, Bonaventure is seen writing, while on the left we see the Virgin with the so-called "pious women" and St. John the Evangelist, and on the right the most important Franciscan saints (Anthony of Padua and Louis of Toulouse) with St. Dominic.

It is worth highlighting the fact that the patron is a woman, possibly Franciscan Tertiary Vaggia Manfredi who died in 1345. The Manfredi family crest appears four times in the fresco's painted frame and a gravestone on the north side of the church testifies to the burial of at least one of the family's members here.

Taddeo Gaddi, The donor Vaggia Manfredi (?), detail of the Tree of Life and Last Supper, c. 1350. Basilica of Santa Croce, Refectory

The frescoes are by Taddeo Gaddi, who worked with Giotto for 24 years and was his first and most immediate pupil. The date of the frescoes, still a matter for academic debate, lies somewhere between 1333 and 1360. The apostles, larger than all the other figures, occupy space with sculptural realism. The damage caused by the flood of 1966 made it necessary to detach the huge fresco in October 1967 in one of the boldest operations in the history of restoration, but it was returned to its place in December 1968.