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San Francesco: Cappella Paradisi

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This chapel, which is to the right of the apse of San Francesco, does not seemed to have formed part of the original construction of the church: the window on the right of the apse had to be closed when it was built.  The chapel was however complete and decorated by 1350.

The original frescoes were over-painted in the 15th century, although fragments survive.   These include the fragment illustrated above, which came to light after the loss of an architectural frieze across the back wall of the chapel during the bombardment of the Second Word War: the lost frescoes probably depicted the Crucifixion, with St Francis on the left and a crowned, female saint, perhaps St Elizabeth of Hungary, on the right.

By the time that the chapel was redecorated, it belonged to the Paradisi family:

  1. the Paradisi arms appear in the bottom register of the back wall; and

  2. the inscription [where?] records that the chapel belonged to the heirs of Giovanni Paradisi, and the date MCCC....

Last Judgement (ca. 1449)


This important fresco cycle was rediscovered in 1861, when the wall that had been built across the entrance to the chapel was removed.   The partial date in the inscription described above initially led scholars to assign the frescoes to the 14th century.  However, in 1926, Roberto Longhi attributed the work to Bartolomeo di Tommaso (died 1453), and this attribution has never been seriously questioned.  

The frescoes employ a sophisticated iconography to describe the Last Judgement, a theme that was particularly appropriate for the funerary chapel of the Paradisi family:

  1. On the left wall, the Risen Christ appears in the Second Coming, and angels drive the souls of the dead towards judgement.

  2. On the back wall,

  3. in the lunette, Christ sits in judgement and, below, flanked by the Virgin and St John the Baptist, with three angels below them; while

  4. in the lower scene, the saints congregate around the gates of Paradise, to which St Peter holds the key, while St Michael holds the scales of justice.

  5. On the right wall, angels drive the dead to Hell, which is inhabited by terrifying devils.

  6. On the entrance arch, prophets are depicted in tondi, and larger figures of Isaiah and Jeremiah are depicted on the entrance wall.

The lower fresco on the back wall contains what seem to be donor portraits:

  1. St Francis commends an old couple who wear religious habits to St Michael; and 

  1. a Franciscan bishop saint commends a magistrate to St Peter.

It is possible that the old couple are the deceased Giovanni Paradisi and his wife, who may well have been tertiaries, and the magistrate is usually identified as their son, Monaldo Paradisi.

The fresco cycle was probably inspired by sermons that St James of the Marches, who preached in the church in 1444, and with whom Bartolomeo di Tommaso had links.  The letters XXXX-VIIII appear after the passage from Isaiah that is written in the book that the prophet holds in the fresco on the entrance wall, which might imply a date of 1449.  This is consistent with the fact that Bartolomeo was documented in Rome, in the employment of Pope Nicholas V, in 1451: this important commission could account for the fact that the frescoes of the vaults of the Paradisi Chapel were never finished.

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