Paulo Uccello's Blessed Jacopone Da Todi is no exception – indeed, in many ways it is an excellent example of how one needs to be extra vigilant when discussing works from this period. Blessed Jacopone Da Todi is a fresco on canvas dating from c. 1436 measuring 181cm x 59cm and originally formed part of the frescoes in the Chapel of the Assumption, Cathedral of Santo Stefano, Prato (more famously known as Duomo Di Prato).
The other frescoes in the chapel by Paulo Uccello – Disputation of St. Stephen, Birth of the Virgin and Mary's Presentation in the Temple are very different creations as are the works of Filippo Lippi and (possibly) Adrea di Giusto. To have a painting of a lay Franciscan brother intervening in such circumstances is very unusual and has not been recorded happening elsewhere during this period.
The likely reason is that the Blessed Jacopone Da Todi was commissioned by a client who was aware that Jacopone's remains were rediscovered (possibly) in Todi in 1433 and his works formed part of the public sermons of St. Bernardino of Siena who was preaching in Prato at this time.
Jacopone ‘Crazy Jim’ Da Todi (c.1230 – Dec.25 1306), born Jacomo Di Benedetti, was a wealthy lawyer until his wife died suddenly. He then renounced his former life, became a lay brother in the Franciscan Order, sold his goods and, via his satirical verse, became a virulent critic of Pope Boniface VIII. Following Vatican intriques, he was excommunicated and imprisoned by Boniface at the age of 68. He was later released by Benedict XI but died three years later.
The image of Jacopone Da Todi created by Paulo Uccello, depicts the suffering of the mystical poet, saintly but not sainted. The palette used is extremely limited, reddish brown with tonal notes to accentuate the sculptured suffering / remorseful figure., The open text held by Jacopone is an extract from his poem Laudi LV which reads almost like an apology to the Vatican without really understanding the crime he has been accused of.
As regards perspective, the viewer is guided from the plinth (with feet partly obscured), via the underside of the robe, towards the angst-ridden face, rays of inspiration enclosed by the shell which gives the 3-D effect of being in an alcove / niche. It is almost as if the viewer has to be knee-bent in adoration, always looking up.
The work was removed from Duomo Prato in 1967 and relocated to Museo Dell’ Opera dell Duomo Prato. Since then, it has been moved often and is most likely to reside in ‘I Tesori della cita’ at the end of The Cloister of San Dominico, Prato (currently under reconstruction).