The Virgin is crowned by Christ, her son, after her ascension to heaven. The episode was very popular in Florentine painting, where it formed the central panel of polyptychs (multi-panelled altarpieces), usually flanked by images of saints. It has been suggested that two panels showing two standing saints – Peter and James on one, and Bartholomew and Anthony Abbot on the other (now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa) – were the original right-hand panels in this altarpiece. They may have been painted by a member of Gaddi’s workshop.
If you look closely at the angels‘ wings you’ll see that individual feathers have been drawn by scratching through the pastel paint shades with a very fine sharp tool, revealing the gold leaf beneath.
The Virgin Mary is crowned by Christ, her son. Her glorious reception in heaven after her death, where she takes her place on a throne by Christ’s side, is not described in the Bible but in the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century compilation of lives of the saints.
The episode was very popular in Florentine painting where it formed the central panel of polyptychs, usually flanked by images of saints. It has been suggested that two panels showing two standing saints – Peter and James on one, and Bartholomew and Anthony Abbot on the other (now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa) – were the original right-hand panels in this altarpiece. They may, however, have been painted by a member of Gaddi’s workshop. A pointed arch topped with a tall gable featuring roundels frames each panel; the roundels show the Virgin at the Annunciation and a bishop saint. Our panel has been cut down at the top but it’s likely that it too originally ended with a pointed gable. The left-hand panels of the altarpiece have not been identified.
Like many of the city’s artists, including Bernardo Daddi, Gaddi probably modelled this work on versions of the scene made by the renowned Florentine painter Giotto for an altarpiece in the Baroncelli chapel in the church of Santa Croce. Gaddi may also have known Nardo di Cione’s version painted for the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which has very similar poses. Another version of the picture by Gaddi in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., is almost identical except that the angels at the foot of the throne turn towards the viewer.
Gaddi has used a variety of techniques to achieve the decorative effects. The cloth of honour – the textile pinned to the back of the throne, the red lining of which curls over at the edges – is decorated with mordant gilding (gold leaf applied over a sticky substance called bole). The angels kneel on a decorative textile painted in the sgraffito technique. The effect is coarse by comparison to the delicacy of the angels‘ wings, which were made using the same technique. If you look closely, you’ll see that the individual feathers have been drawn by scratching through the pastel paint shades with a very fine sharp tool to reveal the gold leaf beneath.
When the picture entered our collection it was said to have been made for a Franciscan convent in Miniato near Florence – but there were no Franciscan convents there until the fifteenth century. It is possible that it was painted for the church of San Miniato al Monte, where Gaddi had painted an altarpiece for the sacristy in 1388 and another in the mid-1390s, and then moved to the Franciscan convent San Francesco al Monte, which was founded in 1417–18.
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