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Saints Mamas and James
Francesco Pesellino and Fra Filippo Lippi and Workshop
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These saints come from a large pala (an altarpiece with a single, unified surface) which was sawn into pieces in the eighteenth century and later reassembled in the National Gallery. Look closely and you can see lines where the fragments were put back together. The altarpiece was begun by Francesco Pesellino and finished by Filippo Lippi after Pesellino’s death in 1457. It took five years to complete.

It was commissioned by a confraternity of priests in Pistoia, and the saints shown are those who were special to them. Saint James, behind, with his pilgrim’s staff, was patron of Pistoia cathedral, while the youthful Saint Mamas was the favourite saint of Per ser Landi, the confraternity’s treasurer, who managed the commission and oversaw the work.

Key facts
Artist Francesco Pesellino and Fra Filippo Lippi and Workshop
Artist dates 1422 - 1457; born about 1406; died 1469
Full title Saints Mamas and James
Group The Pistoia Santa Trinità Altarpiece
Date made 1455-60
Medium and support Egg tempera, tempera grassa and oil on wood
Dimensions 142 × 64.5 cm
Acquisition credit On loan from Her Majesty the Queen
Inventory number L15
Location in Gallery Room 59
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The Pistoia Santa Trinità Altarpiece

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This large altarpiece – one of the few in the National Gallery which is almost complete – has had an eventful life. It was commissioned in 1455 from the Florentine painter Francesco Pesellino, and is his only surviving documented work. He died in 1457 and it was finished by Fra Filippo Lippi and his workshop. We know a lot about how and why it was made from the records of the confraternity who commissioned it.

From 1465 it sat on the high altar of the church of the Holy Trinity at Pistoia, but in 1793 the confraternity was suppressed and the altarpiece was taken apart, with the main panel sawn into pieces, and dispersed. Most of it was gradually acquired by the National Gallery and the altarpiece reassembled.

This is the earliest pala (an altarpiece with a single main panel) in the National Gallery.