The panel, with the frontal figure of the standing saint, who is not accompanied to the sides by a series of superimposed narrative scenes of his legend as in so-called biographical icons, belongs to a type of image that began to appear in Florence and in other cities in Italy in the thirteenth century and remained widespread throughout the following century: narrow and elongated in format, these paintings were probably intended to be hung against a pillar in a church. Paintings of this kind, however, were more frequently painted directly onto the pillar or onto the wall of the church with the more economical technique of fresco. Panels with single figures of saints were realized either with a votive intention, as for instance the one by Daddi himself representing Saint Catherine of Alexandria and a kneeling donor, now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, or as an expression of the cult of a confraternity or a religious lay company that met to pray and sing before the image at particular times. Both the number of the minuscule kneeling figures below the saint — six men and six women — and the absence of any name or coat of arms of a donor family make it likely that a confraternity commissioned our panel.
The composition of the painting is decidedly archaic: the device of placing the inscription of the name of the saint over a red groundThe layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint. against the gold on both sides, divided into two syllables by the figure, is especially found in paintings dating to the last decades of the thirteenth and early decades of the fourteenth centuries. Also archaizing seems to be the exclusive use of decorations incised by hand, without any punched motifs, in the ornament of the halo [fig. 1] [fig. 1] Tracing of halo, Bernardo Daddi, Saint Paul and a Group of Worshippers, 1333, tempera on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. (Joanna Dunn, National Gallery of Art, Washington): in the years in which Bernardo painted this panel, major Florentine painters preferred to use the more rapid and labor-saving as well as more showy method of decorations impressed with punches in the gold ground. On the other hand, ornamental motifs very similar to those that decorate the halo of Saint Paul in this panel are also found in the lateral panels of the polyptychType of object with several panels, usually an altarpiece, although it may also fulfil other functions. The polyptych normally consists of a central panel with an even number of side-panels, which are sometimes hinged to fold. Although in principle every object with two panels or more may be called a polyptych, the word is normally used as a general term for anything larger than a triptych. As with diptychs and triptychs, the size and material can vary.
—Victor M. Schmidt, Grove Art © Oxford University Press painted by Bernardo Daddi for the Ospedale della Misericordia in Prato only a few years later. So the incised decoration, if it is not a deliberate archaism, is at any rate somewhat demodé, though it would recur throughout the painter’s work. Clearly, this archaic character of the image, the form itself of the panel with the triangular gable (without the inscribed Gothic arch and other decorative elements that usually embellished painted panels from the 1330s on), and the severity of expression of the frontally standing saint misled art historians, who failed for so long to recognize the master who painted it. Osvald Sirén’s attribution to the Master of Santa Cecilia, or to Buonamico Buffalmacco, with whom the art historian thought he could identify the anonymous master (1919, 1920), was the first attempt to establish an authorship. Raimond van Marle (1924) accepted his reference to the Master of Santa Cecilia, but Richard Offner (1927, 1931, 1947) firmly rejected it, though without suggesting an alternative name. By 1931, Bernard Berenson(June 26, 1865–October 6, 1959)
Art historian and connoisseur. Son of a Lithuanian timber merchant who emigrated to the United States with his family in 1875, he was educated at the Latin School, Boston, and at Harvard University, where he studied Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and German. In an unsuccessful application for a traveling fellowship to Europe, he wrote, ‘Art prevails in this programme because it is there that I feel myself weakest. One can study literature here . . . but art not at all.’ On his subsequent visit to Europe in 1885, financed by friends, his rapid visual self-education led to the decision to settle in Italy and to devote his life to the study of Italian art.
—William Mostyn-Owen, Grove Art © Oxford University Press had given the painting to “a contemporary and close follower of Giotto,” and George Martin Richter was “inclined to feel [the painting] is too good for Maso, and [thought it] could be by Orcagna.” Lionello Venturi’s alternative proposal (1931, 1933) of the authorship of Maso di Banco was probably formulated after the restoration commissioned by Duveen Brothers, Inc., a treatment that attenuated the grandeur and softened the rather rough character of the original image. Wilhelm Valentiner (1933, 1935) accepted the proposed attribution to Maso, as did Luigi Coletti (1942, 1946), at least initially; Ugo Galetti and Ettore Camesasca (1951) endorsed it, and Walter Paatz reported it skeptically (1941) before the later literature jettisoned it for good. Emilio Cecchi gave the panel to Giotto (Florentine, c. 1265 - 1337) himself (1937). The more cautious definition “School (or follower) of Giotto,” with which the painting was first labeled in its present location (“The Mellon Gift” 1937), was promulgated by the earlier catalogs of the National Gallery of Art (NGA 1941, NGA 1949) and by the volume Duveen Pictures (1941), in which an attribution with a question mark to Giotto himself was hazarded; the postwar studies also abandoned it (Salvini 1952, Vigorelli and Baccheschi 1966). David George Wilkins (1969, 1985), however, did not exclude the possibility that it might have been “a product of the late Giotto workshop,” while Arno Preiser (1973) preferred to speak vaguely of “Florentine school.” Richter (1941) returned to the old identification proposed by Sirén and conjectured an attribution to Buffalmacco, a point of view that remained without any following. So, too, did the hypothesis of Richard Offner (1958), who compared the panel in the Gallery with four lateral panels of a dismantled polyptych in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence (nos. 8704, 8705, 8708, 8709), subsequently given to Lorenzo Monaco (Florentine, c. 1370 - c. 1425) by Federico Zeri and by most modern authorities. Berenson, in letters to Edward Fowles and Joseph Duveen, had altered his opinion in favor of Daddi by 1935, and the dealer recorded it on the 1936 bill of sale to the Mellon Trust while describing the painting as “attributed to Giotto.” Coletti (1950) reproposed Daddi’s authorship, perhaps independently and with considerable caution. This view finally achieved almost unanimous acceptance after being cited in the posthumous edition of Berenson’s Lists (1963) and then in the catalogs of the Gallery from 1965 onwards.
How, then, can this panel be inserted in the sequence of the painter’s works, assuming that the date in the inscription should be transcribed as 1333? Observing the imposing figure of Saint Paul and especially his brooding face, rigidly frontal, dilated eyes, as well as the forms modeled (as the old photo testifies) with extreme delicacy, we may at first be reminded of certain paintings by Giotto himself, especially in his earlier phase. But the elements that exclude a Giottesque authorship are too many to be ignored. The proportions of the figure (in which the ratio between head and overall height of the figure lies between 8:1 and 9:1) are without parallel in Giotto’s oeuvre, with the exception of the final phase in his career, for example in the frescoes in the chapel of the Bargello, Florence, where the scenes painted by the artist (or by his pupils) are populated by very tall figures. The subtle detailing of the garments and the saint’s furrowed brow are also quite alien to Giotto. The works most closely related to the Saint Paul in Washington are to be found, instead, in the output of Bernardo Daddi, especially among those paintings that reveal affinities with Giotto’s pupil Taddeo Gaddi, with whom Bernardo seems to have established a kind of collaborative venture around 1333 – 1334. In his cycle of frescoes in the Baroncelli Chapel in Santa Croce, Florence, Taddeo adopted extremely tall figures of powerful monumentality. On the other hand, the rhythm of the draperies in the Washington panel is too refined, too static, and the chiaroscuro modeling of the forms too delicate for an artist trained exclusively in the school of Giotto. Admittedly, the physiognomic type of the saint is rather unusual in the production of Daddi’s shop; nonetheless a Saint Paul with a youthful face framed by a short and silky beard does occasionally appear in Daddi’s paintings dating to the early 1330s. The delicately calligraphic pictorial modeling of the face can be compared with that of the frontal bust of Christ in the votive Madonna, now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, executed in February 1335. The soft fabric of our saint’s mantle, breaking into sweeping folds that further emphasize the figure’s corporeal substance, seems very similar to that presented by Daddi in the already cited figure of Saint Catherine, dated 1333. In conclusion, that Bernardo Daddi was the artist of the Gallery panel can, I think, be unhesitatingly confirmed.
Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)
March 21, 2016