The art of painting in the Santa Croce 3/6

Taddeo Gaddi in the Baroncelli Chapel in Santa Croce 1/2

Click here for an overview of the Santa Croce: architecture, sculpture and painting.

Taddeo, presumably born in Florence in the year thirteen hundred, was tutored early on in the art of painting by his father: Gaddo Gaddi. He was apprenticed to Giotto, with whom he stayed as an assistant for twenty-four years, at least according to Cennino Cennini, who had written a painter’s manual.43 Taddeo Gaddi enjoyed an important position in Giotto’s painting studio, but he also worked outside Giotto’s studio. His son Agnolo Gaddi later also painted frescoes in the choir chapel in the Santa Croce (Here shown at Web Gallery of Art). Taddeo Gaddi made the frescoes for the burial chapel of the wealthy Baroncelli family during Giotto’s lifetime.

For many pictures of the Baroncelli chapel, please see Wikipedia’s Italian version

Baroncelli Chapel      Front side     Altar Wall     Lay out church withe Baroncelli Chapel
Taddeo Gaddi Baroncelli Chapel Santa Croce

photo: jean louis mazieres

The Baroncelli chapel has never been painted over with a white brush like the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels. In 1961, however, there was a major restoration. Some parts that were painted later have been removed. These places are left open. The original condition must have been considerably more colourful. Many of the colours applied a secco are blistered. This is clearly visible on the west wall at the meeting of Joachim and Anna and the birth of Mary. Yet, the entire design has been much better preserved than the frescoes by Giotto in the Santa Croce.

The burial chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and this hardly goes unnoticed to the churchgoers. For example, stories of Mary are depicted on the east wall, the adjoining south side with the altar and the stained-glass window. The entire iconographic program is very extensive. At the front there are frescoes, and inside the arches and also on the front, the virtues, prophets, figures from the Old Testament and the evangelists are shown.

Left Wall       Vaults 
Taddeo Gaddi Baroncelli Chapel Left Wall S. Croce

photo: CJ74

Rejection of Joachim’s Sacrifice

At the top of the lunette, the story begins with Mary’s parents: Joachim and Anna. In the left part of the lunette Joachim is driven out of the temple and on the right is the Annunciation to Joachim. Taddeo bases himself on the texts of James de Voragine in his Legenda Aurea. Here you can read: “A priest saw him and sent him out of the temple, giving him a big scolding that he dared to come so close to God’s altar. Joachim holds the lamb he wanted to sacrifice pressed against him, as he flees and looks back at the priest. Giotto, who had already painted this story in the Arena Chapel in Padua, used only rudimentary forms to indicate a temple.

Taddeo Gaddi ‘Rejection of Joachim’s Sacrifice and Giotto
Taddeo Gaddi 'Rejection of Joachim's Sacrifice' Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce

Taddeo paints a real temple in which, according to art historian Gardner, the spectator’s position in the chapel has been accounted for: di sotto in su.44 However, the perspective is incorrect. The altar in the temple is very remarkable when compared to the space in which it stands. The floor of the temple is also not right. The different poses of the three figures directly to the right of the altar are reminiscent of ‘the Ascension of John’ in the neighbouring Peruzzi chapel. The back figure, a priest, stands upright. The figure in front of him is slightly bent over while the front figure is almost lying down.

Taddeo Gaddi  Rejection of Joachim’s Sacrifice and the Annunciation’ Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce
Taddeo Gaddi 'Rejection of Joachim’s Sacrifice and the Annunciation' Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce Santa Croce

Luckily for Joachim it goes well as can be seen in the right part of the lunette. While rejected a sacrifice in the hope that his wife would become pregnant, the angel does announce the gospel to him. Like Giotto, Taddeo is a good storyteller. With a few simple postures, gestures and directions of view, it becomes crystal clear what the scene is about. The shepherd makes clear to his companion the important divine intervention that is taking place. He points his hand at Joachim while looking at the other shepherd. The angel who arrives at Joachim with his outstretched arm, makes it clear at a glance what is happening. The shepherd by the animals is unaware This also applies to the animals with the exception of one. The dog raises his head and looks up at the angel. Under the lunette two scenes are painted: the meeting at the golden gate and on the right the birth of Mary.

Meeting at the golden gate and the birth of Mary

After Joachim heard from the angel that his wife was pregnant, he went to see her. They meet at the gate. Here, too, you can immediately see what it’s all about. The woman directly behind Anna makes clear to the other two women what is happening. Anna and Joachim are in the middle of the picture plane. Taddeo paints the moment before the embrace. Taddeo’s teacher, Giotto, who painted the same story in Padua, showed the actual embrace. A comparison between these two frescoes with the same subject shows why Taddeo never surpassed his teacher. Giotto knows how to paint deep human emotions in a simple and effective way. This is something that Taddeo doesn’t succeed in doing. The way in which the Anna and Joachim come together is rather strange. It looks like they will bump their heads together.

Taddeo Gaddi ‘Meeting between Joachim and Anna’
Taddeo Gaddi 'Meeting Joachim and Anna at the gate' Baroncelli Chapel Santa Croce

Very different from Giotto where the couple embraces each other in an intimate moment of deep happiness. The reactions of the bystanders are also more complex in their psychology with Giotto. The old woman modestly turns her head away, but the other four younger women shamelessly marvel at this encounter. The next step, the gossip, is looming. In comparison, the three women of Taddeo at the golden gate are more casual spectators or extras who show no emotion at all.

Taddeo Gaddi   Giotto
 

 

Taddeo Gaddi ‘Meeting at the gate Joachim and Anna’ detail Baroncelli Chapel
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Giotto'Meeting at the gate Joachim and Anna' detail Scrovegni Chapel

The answer to why Giotto shows the embrace of Joachim and Anna and Taddeo does not probably lies in the source that Taddeo used: the Legend of Aurea. In this work, we read about the meeting of the parents of Mary and that they shared their joy from “face to face.’46 The Franciscans of the Santa Croce probably did not give Taddeo a free hand in this respect. According to the art historian, Meiss, Taddeo did this because it clearly emphasises the immaculate conception.47 

In Giotto’s case, the intimate embrace distracts too much from the divine intervention. At that time, the Franciscan Order stressed the dogma of immaculate conception.

Another notable difference is that Taddeo’s encounter takes place in front of a city wall. This is what Giotto did in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapel as well as in the revival of Drusiana or in the death of Francis. The paintwork in the Peruzzi chapel took place at the time when the Baroncelli chapel was under construction. Both Giotto and Taddeo place the figures so that they resemble a frieze. Despite this agreement, there is a remarkable difference. While Giotto leads the viewer’s eye to the central figures and the background requires little attention, with Taddeo you quickly look at the detailed city behind it. According to the author, Janson-La Palme, Taddeo is strongly influenced in this respect by Pietro Lorenzetti and his Entry into Jerusalem.45

The adjoining scene showing the birth of Mary is conveniently separated from the encounter. The figures are, as it were, mirrored in both scenes, only separated from each other by a painted column. This makes the transition from one story to another easy to read.

The women take you to the central event: the birth of Mary. Unfortunately, this scene has suffered the most over time. As mentioned earlier, the parts painted later were removed during the restoration in 1961. As a result, there are a number of large bald spots. For example, Anna is unfortunately no longer to be seen on her bed. The space in which Taddeo places the figures was taken from the fresco cycle that Giotto painted in Padua. Buildings resemble doll’s houses just like Giotto’s, Annunciation to Anna’, where the front has been removed so you can look inside.

Birth of Mary
Taddeo Gaddi fresco 'Birth of Mary' Baroncelli Chapel Santa Croce
 

The presentation of Mary and her engagement

On the bottom band are two episodes from the story of Mary. On the left it starts with the presentation of Mary. This fresco is the most famous work of Taddeo Gaddi.

Taddeo Gaddi Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce two episodes from the story of Mary engagement and presentation

It quickly became popular not only in Italy, but also north of the Alps. The composition can be found, for example, in Duc de Berry’s famous book of prayers, ‘Très Riches Heures’. Mary’s presentation also impressed Giovanni da Milano. This is clearly demonstrated in the Rinuccini chapel (chapel of the sacristy), not far from the Baroncelli chapel. In his work, Giovanni da Milano relies heavily on the presentation of Taddeo Gaddi.

Gebroeders van Limborch ‘Presentation of Mary’ Très Riches Heures
Giotto ‘Presentatieon of Mary’ c. 1305 before Taddeo Gaddi

The daring way in which he painted the temple was completely novel for that time. Here, the student surpasses his teacher. This can be clearly seen in the presentation of Mary that Giotto painted some twenty years earlier in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The impressive building is placed diagonally on the picture plane. This creates an x-shape in which the priest forms the point where the two lines cross. There is no central axis along which the figures or the architecture are symmetrically arranged.

Presentation of Mary in the temple large detail
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Taddeo Gaddi 'Presentation of Mary in the temple' Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce

The effect of this composition is a strong dynamic and a large spatial effect. This is the first time that there is a story taking place in a room.48 As a viewer, you first look at the lunette where Joachim is driven out of the temple and then at the temple where the young Mary comes to make her sacrifice, and you see that Taddeo has taken the spectator’s angle of view into account. In this context, there is even talk of the first important step towards real perspective as we can for the first time see around 1425 in the Trinity of Masaccio in Florence.49

The number of stairs, three in total, each with five steps, reinforces the spatial effect, but is also based on the Legenda Aurea. Voragine writes about a temple with fifteen steps. The same number that the Van Limburg brothers painted in their presentation of Mary in the Très Riches Heures. Mary hesitates to continue her way to the priests in the temple. She looks back at her parents. In this drawing, Mary holds a book in her right hand.

Preliminary study and “presentation of Mary’s” detail
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Taddeo Gaddi Preliminary study and "presentation of Mary's Louvre

In Taddeo’s ‘Presentation of Mary’ there is no peace and quiet as with the birth. It’s very lively with many figures. No less than twenty-three people have been painted. Everyone’s watching with excitement. One woman watches from her window. The three children in the lower right corner of the picture are very small in relation to the adults. They are reminiscent of the children Giotto painted in the Bardi chapel in the story of Francis who rejected the earthly goods. The boy who reaches out his hand and stands with his right foot on the first step, was painted in one part of the day. Despite his small stature, it was still a big challenge for the painter. The two kneeling women, who seem to come straight from an altarpiece, are probably the mothers of these children. Even the priest who waits for Mary with his arms outstretched, is far too small in relation to the other figures. Taddeo was likely struggling with the building where the priest is standing. This made it impossible for him to make the priest much bigger. Mary and Joseph are depicted in a very large way. Does this still reflect the old medieval tradition? In the Middle Ages it was customary to depict important figures such as saints larger than, for example, the patrons who are often depicted very small on an altarpiece. One glance at the altarpiece from the studio in this chapel illustrates this well. God who crowns Mary in the central panel and Mary are both much larger than the angels and saints.

The presentation of Mary detail
Taddeo Gaddi 'The presentation of Mary' detail Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce Presentatie van Maria in de tempel detail

In the last scene, to the right of the presentation of Mary in the temple, Taddeo painted the engagement of Mary. Research has shown that Taddeo painted this fresco earlier than Mary’s presentation.51 There is no spectacular spatial effect here. Rather, we see a rather shallow space with a wall that runs parallel to the picture plane while the persons are painted as if they were a frieze. In this limited space there are no less than twenty-six people. What makes this fresco by Taddeo so special is that he does not paint an obvious central composition as Perugino or Raphael would later do. Yet it is immediately clear what everything is all about: Mary.

Engagement of  Mary large size
Taddeo Gaddi ' Engagement of Mary' Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce

Movement of the figures to the right leads the eye to Mary. Of course, she stands higher than her fiancée and the priest only has eyes for her. According to Ladis, who wrote a monograph and a catalogue raisonnè about Taddeo Gaddi, this fresco also depicts an old custom from that time, the so-called mattinata.52 Three days before and after the wedding, a noisy crowd of musical instruments and singing would be the undesired entourage to a couple wanting to get married. This entourage would persist even in church and of course at night.53 This only happened with weddings that were not seen as a real marriage. With Joseph and Mary, it’s not just the big age difference. The virginity of Mary, which she also kept after the wedding, meant that such a marriage was not taken seriously. Trumpet sound, bagpipes and organ sounds would haunt such a couple. These are exactly the instruments that we see in the fresco at the wedding of Joseph and Mary.

A couple chased by the mattinata with noisy music and all kinds of mocking remarks could only end this in one way:  with money. Taddeo represented this light jest in an inventive way. According to the story, the fiancée of Mary was indicated by a branch that blossomed spontaneously.

Taddeo Gaddi ' Engagement of Mary' detail Baroncelli Chapel S. Croce

A dove above the blossoming branch emphasizes this divine intervention even more. Behind Joseph’s back, a number of men who were not chosen are arguing. In the foreground, a man angrily breaks a branch under his foot. Next to him comes a young man with a twig that is somewhat out of proportion. He hasn’t yet figured out he’s late. The man next to Joseph puts his hand on his back as if he could use his support. On the right, women comment on this marriage, as do the two children before them. You can also hear the noise and commentary of the crowd and the sounds of the musical instruments. Music and singing also play an important role on the altarpiece in the Coronation of Mary.

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