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
Terms that refer broadly to the study of subjects and themes in works of art. Iconology, which is based on the results of iconography, is the more wide-ranging and comprehensive. One of the principal concerns of iconography is the discovery of symbolic and allegorical meanings in a work of art. —Willem F. Lash, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Frank L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London and New York, 1958), 96–97.
On the iconography of the Coronation of the Virgin in general, see Philippe Verdier, Le couronnement de la Vierge: Les origines et les premiers développements d’un thème iconographique (Montréal and Paris, 1980); Ulriche Liebl, “Krönung Mariens,” in Marienlexikon, ed. Remigius Bäumer and Leo Scheffczyk, 6 vols. (St. Ottilien, 1991), 3:680–683; and, especially as regards Italian painting, Richard Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting: The Fourteenth Century, sec. 3, vol. 5, Bernardo Daddi and His Circle, ed. Miklós Boskovits, Ada Labriola, and Martina Ingendaay Rodio, new ed. (Florence, 2001), 531–539.
An image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar, abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum. The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history. —Alexander Nagel, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Giovanni Previtali and Giovanna Ragionieri, Giotto e la sua bottega, ed. Alessandro Conti, 3rd ed. (Milan, 1993), pls. 114–115, fig. 354.
According to Terence Ford, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Inventory of Music Iconography 1 (New York, 1986), 1, no. 4, the angels in the Gallery painting are playing a lute and a gittern, respectively.
While Giotto’s composition prescribed the presence of far more numerous groups of saints to the sides of the Coronation depicted in the central panel, Florentine triptychs and polyptychs of the fourteenth century often show only two saints to the sides of the scene; cf. the polyptych by Puccio di Simone now divided between the museums of Ghent and Berlin, in Richard Offner, A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting: The Fourteenth Century, sec. 3, vol. 5, Bernardo Daddi and His Circle, ed. Miklós Boskovits, Ada Labriola, and Martina Ingendaay Rodio, new ed. (Florence, 2001), 421–429, or that by Giovanni di Tano Fei, dated 1394, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, no. 50.229.2.
There seems no reason to doubt that Agnolo Gaddi likewise followed this scheme,
Bruce Cole, Agnolo Gaddi (Oxford, 1977), 90, wrote that the Gallery Coronation “may have originally had side wings, but this is by no means certain.” In fact, no panel of the Coronation of the Virgin that has the form and proportions of the one discussed here can be shown to have been a self-standing, single-panel painting.
Miklós Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400 (Florence, 1975), 303.
Erling S. Skaug, “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): 245–257.
A horizontal band, cut from a single plank, below the main panels of an altarpiece. The appearance of the predella can be seen as part of the development of the altarpiece from a single panel to a large, multilevel polyptych. The small figures or scenes painted on the predella formed part of the integrated program of the altarpiece, providing a visual commentary on the major images above and at the same time physically raising the main panels, thus improving their visibility. —Ronald Baxter, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Sonia Chiodo, “Gaddi, Agnolo,” in Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, ed. Günter Meißner, 87 vols. (Munich, 2005), 47:113. See also Gaudenz Freuler, ed., Manifestatori delle cose miracolose: Arte italiana del ’300 e ’400 da collezioni in Svizzera e nel Liechtenstein (Einsiedeln, 1991), 202–203; and Laurence B. Kanter and John Marciari, Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection (New Haven, 2010), 26–28.
Type 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
For this panel, see Ada Labriola, in The Alana Collection, vol. 1, Italian Paintings from the 13th to 15th Century, ed. Mikós Boskovits (Florence, 2009), 8–11.
Cf. Richard Fremantle, Florentine Gothic Painters from Giotto to Masaccio: A Guide to Painting in and near Florence, 1300 to 1450 (London, 1975), fig. 739. On the other hand, three saints appear to the sides of subjects other than the Coronation of the Virgin, as in the case of a triptych by Niccolò Gerini with the Crucifixion in the center, now in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence (no. 3152).
The Yale panel of Saints Julian, James, and Michael (no. 1871.20) measures 86.8 × 74.6 cm but has been slightly cropped along the sides and more substantially cut along the top and bottom; originally it must have measured between c. 110 and 130 cm in height, thus achieving dimensions that would be consistent with a triptych having the Washington Coronation at its center. The Yale panel is not easy to assess, however, given its present state of conservation. After a nineteenth-century restoration had completely regilded the heavily worn gold ground, including new halos with inscriptions bearing the names of the saints, the painting was subjected to a rather brutal cleaning in 1959, which stripped it of its previous additions and retouches and left visible a heavily abraded paint surface with all its lacunae. Cf. Charles Seymour, Early Italian Paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven and London, 1970), 37–38.
As for the artist who painted The Coronation of the Virgin, scholars have been unanimous, with the exception of an attribution to
(Orcagna; Orgagna; Arcagnuolo) (born 1315–20; died Florence, 1368) Painter, sculptor, and architect, thought to have also been active as a poet. He was trained as a painter and referred to himself as “pictor” on the tabernacle in Orsanmichele. Details of his training are not known, but his first surviving works reveal various influences, especially of Maso di Banco and Taddeo Gaddi. —G. Kreytenberg, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Christie’s, Pictures and Drawings by Old Masters (London, June 29, 1934), no. 58; Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, “Su Agnolo Gaddi,” Critica d’arte 2 (1937): 185–189. Apart from the authors cited in the Bibliography, the attribution to Agnolo Gaddi was also confirmed in manuscript opinions by Bernard Berenson, Giuseppe Fiocco, Roberto Longhi, F. Mason Perkins, Wilhelm Suida, Raimond van Marle, and Adolfo Venturi. Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:194–195, reported as the only dissenting voices the hypothesis of Hans Dietrich Gronau, “A Dispersed Florentine Altarpiece and Its Possible Origin,” Proporzioni 3 (1950): 42, in favor of an anonymous “companion of Agnolo,” and the one formulated by the present writer in the early days of his studies on Trecento painting, in 1964, and communicated to the Gallery (letter to Perry Cott, January 14, 1964, in NGA curatorial files). I had at that time proposed to unite the Washington Coronation with a group of paintings isolated by Roberto Salvini, but I have long since come to the conclusion that this group represents paintings belonging to the final phase of activity of Gaddi himself. Cf. Roberto Salvini, “Per la cronologia e per il catalogo di un discepolo di Agnolo Gaddi,” Bollettino d’arte 29 (1935–1936): 279–294; and Miklós Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370 – 1400 (Florence, 1975), 295–304.
Cf. Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:194–195.
Cf. Miklós Boskovits, “Some Early Works of Agnolo Gaddi,” The Burlington Magazine 110 (1968): 210 n. 5; and Bruce Cole, Agnolo Gaddi (Oxford, 1977), 31.
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,
Erling S. Skaug, in Lorenzo Monaco: Dalla tradizione giottesca al Rinascimento, ed. Angelo Tartuferi and Daniela Parenti (Florence, 2006), 106–110; Erling S. Skaug, “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): 245–257.
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
Bruce Cole, Agnolo Gaddi (Oxford, 1977), 32 – 39; Giuseppe Marchini, La Cappella del Sacro Cingolo nel Duomo di Prato (Prato, ); Marco Ciatti, “Gli affreschi della Cappella della Cintola,” in La Sacra Cintola nel Duomo di Prato (Prato, 1995), 163–223.
Though he admitted the participation of assistants in some scenes, Bruce Cole, Agnolo Gaddi (Oxford, 1977), 39, was highly positive in his evaluation of the frescoes of the Cappella del Sacro Cingolo: “At Prato there is a harmony between fresco and frame, narrative and background, and figure and architecture. . . . The style of the Cappella . . . is, in a word, mature.” Yet the crowded compositions of the Sacro Cingolo frescoes often seem somewhat confused, and the individual passages, repetitive in kind and perfunctory in technique, rarely achieve in this cycle the quality of the frescoes in the cappella maggiore of Santa Croce, not to mention Gaddi’s most important panel paintings.
Although the quality of execution is generally high, details like the foreshortened arms of the angels playing their instruments reveal some weaknesses in design.
Bruce Cole, Agnolo Gaddi (Oxford, 1977), 16–17, 89, pl. 80, though he erroneously cited the painting among “Gaddi’s first recognizable works.” See also, following its recent restoration, Maria Matilde Simari, ed., La Croce di Agnolo Gaddi della Pieve di San Martino a Sesto Fiorentino (Florence, 1995).
Miklós Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400 (Florence, 1975), 123–124; Bruce Cole, Agnolo Gaddi (Oxford, 1977), 51–56, 72, pls. 87–96; Angelo Tartuferi, “Le opere d’arte e la decorazione pittorica della chiesa,” in La Basilica di San Miniato al Monte a Firenze, ed. Francesco Gurrieri, Luciano Berti, and Claudio Leonardi (Florence, 1988), 1986. In contrast to most art historians, Cole did not believe that the documents of 1394–1396 referred to this work and considered it a product of Gaddi’s followers.
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.
On the neo-Giottesque current in Florence that influenced many painters between the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, cf. Miklós Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370–1400 (Florence, 1975), 87–88, 100, 223 n. 37.
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) for (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence); sold October 1935 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1939 to NGA.
- 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.
The wooden support is a three-member, vertically grained wood panel that Stephen Pichetto
Attaching a woodent grid to the reverse of a panel to prevent the panel's warping.
Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII–XV Century (London, 1966), 40. A Cooper photograph (W. 8161) shows the state of the painting at the time of the 1934 auction. The rather rough retouching, evident especially in Christ’s tunic and in the profile of the second angel on the right side, proves that the panel had been restored sometime earlier, probably in the late nineteenth century.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
A mixture of finely ground plaster and glue applied to wood panels to create a smooth painting surface. —Grove Art © Oxford University Press
The pigments were analyzed using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF). The analysis was performed by the NGA scientific research department (see report dated February 13, 1988, in NGA conservation files).
The panel has been damaged by woodworm, requiring the replacement of lost wood and strengthening of the joins. Stephen Pichetto removed discolored varnish and
Application of restoration paint to areas of lost original paint to visually integrate an area of loss with the color and pattern of the original, without covering any original paint.
See note 1 above.
See Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:195, and several photographs in the NGA curatorial files, taken either during or after Modestini’s treatment.
- 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.
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- Ford, Terrence, compiler and ed. Inventory of Music Iconography, no. 1. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York 1986: 1, no. 4.
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