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Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011), “Agnolo Gaddi/The Coronation of the Virgin with Six Angels/c. 1390,” Italian Paintings of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, NGA Online Editions, (accessed July 16, 2024).

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The Coronation of the Virgin is the final episode in the story of Mary’s life. After her death, she ascended to heaven, body and soul, to be crowned queen by her son. Angels sang and played music in celebration. The subject of the Virgin’s coronation was especially popular in Florence during the last half of the 14th century. Often it appeared at the center of a tripartite altarpiece, flanked by crowded scenes of adoring saints on either side. Very likely, this painting was originally part of such an assemblage.

The subject of Mary’s coronation—an appropriate place for the display of regal finery—complemented a late-Gothic renewal in contemporary Florentine painting. During the later 14th century, artists explored the expressive potential of curvilinear contours and richly decorated surfaces in combination with the naturalistic approach pioneered earlier by the Florentine artist Giotto (Florentine, c. 1265 - 1337). The father of Agnolo Gaddi (Florentine, c. 1350 - 1396), in whose shop the painter had trained, had been a disciple of Giotto. But here Agnolo has departed from Giotto’s heavier and simpler forms in favor of more slender and refined figures. Mary and Jesus appear on, rather than in the space they inhabit. Profuse patterns appear in the gold brocades of their robes and the rich cloth of honor behind them fills most of the picture plane, drawing our eyes to it. Where Giotto had given his figures a certain solemnity to match their physical weight, the faces of Agnolo’s figures exhibit a gentle elegance and sweetness.


The iconography of the Coronation of the Virgin, the concluding stage of the glorification of the mother of Christ, developed relatively late in Italian art. The iconographic theme of Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven by her son developed from the concept of her bodily Assumption, recalled in ancient Christian literature from the fourth century onward,[1] but first appearing in pictorial representations no earlier than the twelfth century. The iconography began to spread in Italy from the late thirteenth century, in tandem with the development of theological trends that considered Mary the personification of the Church, mystic bride of Christ.[2] In the following centuries, it is often encountered as the main subject of altarpieces. In Florence, the model most frequently followed was that established by Giotto (Florentine, c. 1265 - 1337) in the Baroncelli chapel polyptych in Santa Croce,[3] but a throng of saints was not always placed at the sides of the central representation of the Coronation, as in Giotto’s altarpiece. What remained constant in the iconography was the presence of a group of angels, often playing musical instruments,[4] in the foreground of the central panel, and of at least two pairs of saints in the lateral panels.[5]

There seems no reason to doubt that Agnolo Gaddi likewise followed this scheme,[6] even if attempts to identify other panels of the multipart altarpiece of which the Washington painting would have formed the center thus far have not led to convincing results. The present writer previously had argued (Boskovits 1975) that the polyptych of which the Washington Coronation of the Virgin formed the central panel also comprised three small gable panels representing the Blessing God the Father, the archangel Gabriel, and the Virgin Annunciate, formerly in the Cook collection in Richmond.[7] Erling Skaug (2004) rightly rejected this hypothesis,[8] suggesting instead that these three panels formed part of Agnolo Gaddi’s Nobili triptych from Santa Maria degli Angeli, now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (no. 1039). More recently, Sonia Chiodo (2005) suggested that a figure of Saint Bartholomew (private collection) and two predella panels respectively representing stories of Saint Andrew (Richard L. Feigen collection) and stories of Saint Sylvester (Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art) were originally the companion panels of the Washington Coronation.[9] The stories of Saints Andrew and Sylvester undoubtedly were parts of the same predella and are securely attributed to Agnolo Gaddi, but given their size (respectively, 31.8 × 40 and 28 × 37.5 cm) they could hardly have been placed in a predella below a lateral panel that had the same dimensions as Saint Bartholomew (92.2 × 28.9 cm without its frame). This latter panel would seem rather too small to have fitted alongside the Washington Coronation, bearing in mind the customary proportional relation between central and lateral panels in other polyptychs by Agnolo Gaddi.[10] It may now be conjectured, albeit cautiously, that Gaddi’s panel representing Saints Julian, James, and Michael now in Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven [fig. 1], might have belonged to the same altarpiece, both on account of its close stylistic affinity and the presence of no less than three saints in a single panel. The presence of more than two saints in a lateral panel that has a width less than that of the central panel is rare, but this does occur in the laterals of Coronation scenes; see, for example, the four saints on each side in a triptych by Giovanni dal Ponte (Musée Condé, Chantilly).[11] Admittedly, the hypothesis is difficult to verify because of the Yale panel’s fragmentary nature and poor state of conservation.[12]

As for the artist who painted The Coronation of the Virgin, scholars have been unanimous, with the exception of an attribution to Orcagna in the sale catalog of 1934, in identifying the master as Agnolo Gaddi ever since Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti first published it in 1937.[13] On the other hand, views differ concerning the panel’s dating. It is placed in the period c. 1370–1380 by the older literature and, with the exception of Fern Rusk Shapley (1979), by the catalogs of the National Gallery of Art.[14] Beginning with Miklós Boskovits (1968), the date now generally accepted is somewhat later than this, c. 1380–1390; Bruce Cole, in turn, suggested the period c. 1388–1393, pessimistically adding, “There is no way to make further or finer positional distinctions.”[15] Despite such misgivings, some attempt to clarify the sequence of works produced in Gaddi’s bottega in the last years of his life will perhaps not be entirely futile. 

We may begin by examining the composition that Gaddi adopted for the groups of angels that appear in the foreground in front of the throne of Mary in various altarpieces. In Agnolo’s Berlin triptych, datable to 1387,[16] as in the triptych in Washington (see Saint Andrew and Saint Benedict with the Archangel Gabriel [left panel]; Madonna and Child Enthroned with Twelve Angels, and with the Blessing Christ [middle panel]; Saint Bernard and Saint Catherine of Alexandria with the Virgin of the Annunciation [right panel]), the three music-making angels on the left side seem virtually mirror images of the group facing them on the opposite side — ​​in composition, pose, gesture, and details; the only variation is in the musical instruments in the hands of the pair of angels in the foreground. As it can be argued that the Berlin and Washington paintings are chronologically close, we can perhaps infer that this trait is characteristic of a moment in Gaddi’s career. The Coronation discussed here, however, differs from this scheme in various respects. Though the number of angels remains the same, their arrangement and pose differ, each reacting in a different way to the scene of the Coronation [fig. 2]. Even their physique is different: their bodies are longer and more slender; the oval of their faces is more elongated; and their aristocratic features and ecstatic expressions are wholly attuned to and absorbed in the music they play. In comparison with the two above-cited triptychs, their garments, moreover, seem more simplified in design, their draperies less minutely ruffled than before; articulated with deep folds, they confer a certain grandeur on these secondary eyewitnesses of the scene. 

In the Gallery’s panel, not only the groups of music-making and chorister angels but also the central protagonists themselves, and the very composition of the scene, display innovative features in comparison with the triptych of 1387. The bodies of Christ and his mother [fig. 3], enthroned side by side in close juxtaposition and bowing their heads to each other, form a single monolithic bloc, integrated below by the two choirs of angels. The closely interwoven group of Mary and Christ recalls the Coronation frescoed by Agnolo Gaddi in the chapel of the Sacro Cingolo in Prato Cathedral,[17] at least with respect to their close proximity and the arrangement of the wide, undulating folds that furrow their mantles. However, comparison to the cycle of frescoes in Prato, realized with the participation of many studio assistants and, apparently, completed in considerable haste,[18] does not do justice to the far higher quality of the panel being discussed here [19] —the delicate chiaroscuro that models its forms; the subtlety of its color combinations; or the elegance of its facial features, characterized by high cheekbones, elongated pointed noses, and narrow almond eyes. These are characteristics that recall works of the artist’s final phase, in particular such passages as that of the mourning saint John the Evangelist in the crucifix of the Pieve di San Martino at Sesto Fiorentino [20] or the two full-length panels of Saints Giovanni Gualberto and Miniato in the Cappella del Crocifisso in San Miniato al Monte in Florence.[21] The latter comparison is especially telling, since that altarpiece was begun in 1394 and probably completed only in the immediate aftermath of the artist’s death in 1396. 

To judge from the stylistic evidence, The Coronation of the Virgin in Washington ought to be placed in the phase of Gaddi’s career in which he embarked with ever greater determination on the pursuit of the elegance of form, preciousness of color, and decorative richness typical of the late-­Gothic style that was becoming increasingly fashionable in Florence; the panel’s surface patterning and elaborate tooling are also indicative of this. Yet the Washington panel shows that Agnolo Gaddi cannot have remained unaware of the alternative current of Florentine painting headed by Niccolò Gerini, which in the years 1385–1400 tried to revive motifs and forms associated with painters of the school of Giotto in the first half of the century.[22] It seems to me reasonable, therefore, to suggest that the Washington Coronation is close in date to the San Miniato altarpiece, dating to c. 1390 or shortly after.

Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)

March 21, 2016


The Hon. William Keith Rous [1907-1983], Worstead House, Norfolk; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 29 June 1934, no. 58, as by Orcagna); purchased by (Giuseppe Bellesi, London)[1] for (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence); sold October 1935 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[2] gift 1939 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, 1939, no. 128.
Arts of the Middle Ages: A Loan Exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1940, no. 59.

Technical Summary

The wooden support is a three-member, vertically grained wood panel that Stephen Pichetto cradled in 1935–1936.[1] It was probably thinned to its present thickness of 0.7 cm at that time. Traces of the original barbe still remain along the pointed arch above, indicating the painting would have had an engaged frame. The barbe is not present along the vertical sides and bottom, signifying that the painting was probably cropped slightly in these areas. Originally, the panel may have been of rectangular shape and only later obtained its present form. Evidence of two nail holes at the top of the center board supports this theory, because they most likely corresponded to a batten. A batten would not be necessary in this area, where the arched panel consists of only one board, unless the panel was rectangular and all three boards extended to this height. The panel’s shape probably was altered when it was inserted into the nineteenth-century frame still visible in the earlier photo of the painting, taken c. 1934; at the same time, no doubt, the painted surface was cropped slightly along its vertical and horizontal edges. Fine woven fabric, visible in the x-radiographs, was applied between panel and gesso as an interleaf. Lines were incised in the gesso to mark the boundaries between the gilding and paint, and areas to be gilded were prepared with red bole. The crowns and halos were decorated with punched and incised designs. The brocade was created using sgraffito technique. The paint is applied with small, discrete brushstrokes, with green undermodeling in the flesh areas.[2] The gold decoration on the drapery is mordant gilded.

The panel has been damaged by woodworm, requiring the replacement of lost wood and strengthening of the joins. Stephen Pichetto removed discolored varnish and inpainted the losses when he applied the cradle in 1935–1936.[3] Twenty years later, in 1955, Mario Modestini removed discolored varnish and inpainted the losses again.[4] Photographs taken before the inpainting process [fig. 1] show considerable damage along the right side join, obliterating the features of the second angel at this side and resulting in narrow losses along that join from the bottom edge to the elbow of Christ. There are also losses in the shoulder and nearer wing of the angel on the extreme right and small inpainted lacunae in the draperies and in the gold ground. The red lake pigments have faded significantly. The varnish is somewhat yellowed, and some of the inpainting has discolored.


Christie, Manson, & Woods. Pictures and Drawings by Old Masters. London, 29 June 1934: no. 58.
Ragghianti, Carlo Ludovico. "Su Agnolo Gaddi." Critica d’arte 2 (1937): 188, pl. 134, fig. 1.
Valentiner, Wilhelm R., and Alfred M. Frankfurter. Masterpieces of Art. Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Official Souvenir Guide and Picture Book. New York, 1939: no. 8, pl. 6.
National Gallery of Art. Book of Illustrations. Washington, 1941: 105 (repro.), 240.
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 70, no. 314.
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 246, repro. 107.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. The Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1944: 18, repro.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 21, repro.
Gronau, Hans Dietrich. "A Dispersed Florentine Altarpiece and its Possible Origin." Proporzioni 3 (1950): 42.
Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 23 n. 1.
Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. 2nd ed. New York, 1955: pl. 27.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 23, repro.
Labriola, Ada. "Gaddi, Agnolo." In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Edited by Alberto Maria Ghisalberti. 82+ vols. Rome, 1960+: 51(1998):146.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Florentine School. 2 vols. London, 1963: 2:69, pl. 350.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 54.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII-XV Century. London, 1966: 39-40, fig. 98-99.
Klesse, Brigitte. Seidenstoffe in der italienischen Malerei des 14. Jahrhunderts. Bern, 1967: 344.
Boskovits, Miklós. "Some Early Works of Agnolo Gaddi." The Burlington Magazine 110 (1968): 210 n. 5.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 46, repro.
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 77, 308, 645, 661.
Boskovits, Miklós. Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370-1400. Florence, 1975: 118, 303, 304, fig. 267.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 140, repro.
Cole, Bruce. Agnolo Gaddi. Oxford, 1977: 28-30, 35, 36, 89, 90, pls. 83-85.
Boskovits, Miklós. "Review of Agnolo Gaddi by Bruce Cole." The Art Bulletin 60 (1978): 708, 709.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. Washington, 1979: 1:194-195; 2:pl. 135.
Cole, Bruce. Sienese Painting from Its Origins to the Fifteenth Century. New York, 1980: 14-16, fig. 8.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 73, no. 13, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 163, repro.
Ford, Terrence, compiler and ed. Inventory of Music Iconography, no. 1. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York 1986: 1, no. 4.
Ricci, Stefania. "Gaddi, Agnolo." In La Pittura in Italia. Il Duecento e il Trecento. Edited by Enrico Castelnuovo. 2 vols. Milan, 1986: 2:572.
Davies, Martin, and Dillian Gordon. National Gallery Catalogues. The Earlier Italian Schools. Rev. ed. London, 1988: 28.
Bellosi, Luciano. "Gaddi, Agnolo." In Dizionario della pittura e dei pittori. Edited by Enrico Castelnuovo and Bruno Toscano. 6 vols. Turin, 1989-1994: 2(1990):471.
Eisenberg, Marvin. Lorenzo Monaco. Princeton, 1989: 56 n. 56.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 179, color repro.
Petrocchi, Stefano. "Gaddi, Agnolo." In Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale. Edited by Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana. 12 vols. Rome, 1991-2002: 6(1995):426, 427.
Chiodo, Sonia. "Gaddi, Agnolo." In Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker. Edited by Günter Meissner. 87+ vols. Munich and Leipzig, 1992+: 47(2005):113
Gagliardi, Jacques. La conquête de la peinture: L’Europe des ateliers du XIIIe au XVe siècle. Paris, 1993: 100-101, fig. 99.
Skaug, Erling S. Punch Marks from Giotto to Fra Angelico: Attribution, Chronology, and Workshop Relationships in Tuscan Panel Painting with Particular Consideration to Florence, c. 1330-1430. 2 vols. Oslo, 1994: 1:262, 263; 2:punch chart 8.2.
Gold Backs: 1250-1480. Exh. cat. Matthiesen Fine Art, London. Turin, 1996: 74, repro. 76.
Ladis, Andrew. "Agnolo Gaddi." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 11:892.
Rowlands, Eliot W. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Italian Paintings, 1300-1800. Kansas City, MO, 1996: repro. 63.
Frinta, Mojmír S. Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998: 132, 481.
Skaug, Erling S. "Towards a Reconstruction of the Santa Maria degli Angeli Altarpiece of 1388: Agnolo Gaddi and Lorenzo Monaco?" Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 48 (2004): 255.
Splendeurs de la peinture italienne, 1250-1510. Exh. cat. Galerie G. Sarti. Paris, 2005: 62, 64, repro. 66.
Boskovits, Miklós. Italian Paintings of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2016: 131-37, color repro.

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