frescoes of the Cappellone
of San Nicola in Tolentino
San Nicola of Tolentino died in 1305 and the canonization process began
in 1325, under Pope Giovanni XXII. In the absence of documents relating
to the execution and painter of the frescoes of the Cappella of San
Nicola, this information helps us date the work, most likely completed
between 1335 and 1345. Reinforcing this theory, a document dated August
1348, testifies that in this period the Cappella was officiated by a
For a long time critics have debated over the painter of the frescoes’
identity but are in agreement that it was a representative from the
school of Rimini. This takes us to the beginning of the 13th
century when Giotto was employed in Rimini on the frescos of the San
Francesco Church (today the Malatestiano Temple).
The Rimini masters assimilated their lessons and took their art
to various localities along the Adriatic coast from Emilia Romagna to Le
The painter who executed the frescoes of the Cappellone of San Nicola
most likely belonged to this school and was a fine example of it. Many
people refer to Pietro of Rimini, the greatest exponent of the school,
yet still today one prefers to talk of the Maestro di Tolentino.
The series of frescoes is divided and occupies the cross vault and the
walls of the chapel in a vast narrative display, almost like a huge book
in which the faithful, often the poor and illiterate having arrived on a
pilgrimage, are able to learn the story of Saint Nicholas, of Christ and
of the Virgin Mary.
The cross vault displays the four Evangelists with their symbols
associated to the four Doctors of the Church: Marco (the lion) and
Ambrogio; Giovanni (the eagle) and Agostino; Luca (the bull) e Gregorio;
Matteo (the angel) and Girolamo.
On the walls the scenes are distributed on three levels: in superior
order, the story of the Virgin Mary which starts with the scene of the
Annunciation, and is displayed on the wall opposite the entrance.
The median order portrays the Story of Christ, with the beautiful
representation of the Wedding of Cana, with the festive table companions
placed on three tables and the servants holding huge wine jugs: a
theatrical scene which is rich in detail and demonstrates the high
quality and expressive capability of the Maestro
Finally the inferior order tells the life of Saint Nicholas, starting
with the pilgrimage of his parents, Amata and Compagnone, to the tomb of
S. Nicola of Bari, from where they received the announcement of the
birth of the son.