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Saints Simon and Thaddeus
Ugolino di Nerio
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This panel was once part of a multi-panelled altarpiece made for the Florentine church of Santa Croce. The altarpiece had four tiers of pictures; this would have appeared in the third.

An inscription, now quite faded and damaged, identifies the saint wearing a violet drapery: S.THA. (Saint Thaddeus). You can just see it to the left of his halo. Nothing remains of the inscription that named the other saint, but it is likely to be Simon – the altarpiece features the Twelve Apostles, and he is the only one not identifiable elsewhere.

The decorative shapes (quatrefoils) that run beneath the two apostles show two bearded older men and one younger man, beardless and quite plump. We don't know their identities, but they might be friars from the Franciscan Order who lived at Santa Croce. The portraits are interspersed with more abstract images of animals – a bird to the left and some kind of imaginary two-legged monster on the right.

Key facts
Artist Ugolino di Nerio
Artist dates documented 1317-27; died possibly 1329
Full title Saints Simon and Thaddeus
Group The Santa Croce Altarpiece
Date made possibly 1325-8
Medium and support Egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 70.4 x 62.2 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Henry Wagner, 1919
Inventory number NG3377
Location in Gallery Room 52
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The Santa Croce Altarpiece

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These panels were once part of a large altarpiece which adorned the high altar of the church of Santa Croce in Florence. It focused on the Passion of Christ (his torture and crucifixion) and the Resurrection – an appropriate theme, as the church was dedicated to the Holy Cross.

Drawings made in the late eighteenth century show how it was arranged originally. There were four tiers of images: the main tier had a central image of the Virgin and Child flanked by images of the saints within arches, which were decorated with angels (there are two sets of these in the National Gallery’s collection).

Above was a row of saints framed in pairs; we hold two pairs. The uppermost tier consisted of six pinnacle panels, three on either side of a central image which probably showed the Crucifixion, itself topped by an image of Christ making a blessing gesture. The predella (the lowest layer) consisted of seven scenes showing Christ’s suffering and death; we have four of these.

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