July 2010: Taddeo Gaddi "Death of a Nobleman from Celano"

Published on: 30 / 06 / 2010

Authors of this entry:
  • Magdalena Palica

Giorgio Vasari so alluded in the „Life of Giotto”, about the cycle of paintings decorating the sacristy shrine in one of the Florentine churches: "in the St. Cross Church [...] in the sacristy, scenes from Life of Christ and St. Francis [have been painted]". The presently accepted attribution, had been suggested no sooner than in the second half of the 19th century, by an Italian art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle.

The researcher emphasized the perfect composition of individual pictures, suggesting according to him, the paintings had been based on drawings by Giotto. Also other experts, including Henry Thode, recognized the composition among the best Gaddi's achievements, created, as Thode defined it, “under Giotto’s sight”.

The presented painting depicts St. Francis giving blessing to the deceased at the supper by a nobleman from Celano. In the upper part of the painting the spirit of the deceased has been symbolically depicted, while being carried by angels and receiving salvation due to the Saint’s intercession. The quatrefoil-lozenge painting reveals entirely the artistry of Gaddi who has been justly regarded as one of Giotto’s most gifted pupils. Despite the painting’s small dimension and its golden background the painter succeeded in gaining the effect of depth. The figures, variegated in their physiognomy, seem to converse mutely with gestures expressing diverse emotions. Simultaneously, by reducing the amount of figures, unlike in Giotto’s composition which had inspired the artist, Gaddi introduced significant intimacy to the scene. The artist’s paintings also reveal his particular attention to details: the chamber’s walls are adorned with thoroughly rendered coats of arms, whereas the victuals consumed at the supper are easily recognizable. The painter had also cared for proper costume selection regarding separate figures: the nobleman’s garb adorned by lapels of fur, the women’s faces edged by typical head shawls.

Twenty-six paintings executed between 1335 and 1340 enclose depictions from lives of Jesus Christ and St. Francis. The cycle depicting live of the poverello, from which derives the presented painting, treats a quite newly introduced subject (the Saint was canonized in 1228). The iconographical scheme of the picturesque illustration of Francesco Bernardone’s lot, had been formed in the pioneering cycle of murals in the Upper Church of St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, whereas the direct inspiration for Gaddi were the murals by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel of the same Florentine Church for whose sacristy the painter had executed the presented works. In addition to the scenes from lives of Christ and St. Francis the shrine’s door might have been adorned by depictions of St. Mary and Archangel Gabriel forming the Annunciation.

The paintings were housed in the Basilica of Santa Croce till 1810, as the monastery had been profaned. In late October of that year they were deposited in the Florentine monastery San Marco, whence the series' major part appeared in 1814 in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Four paintings were devolved to the antiquarians Brogi and Volpi, operating in Florence. In 1816 the count Gustav Adolph von Ingenheim, under the way of completing his private collection of paintings, accompanied by Aloys Hirt, a great connoisseur of Italian painting, visited Florence. The collector mentioned afterwards he had owed the proficient Hirt’s eye, having searched two small-scale pictures, depicting the scenes from life of St. Francis: “Death of a nobleman from Celano” and “Fire proof by the sultan” (the two remaining compositions from the same series of paintings which both appeared at the antiquary market, were purchased by another Prussian collector and researcher of Italian painting, Karl Friedrich von Rumohr). Ten years afterwards the described paintings were presented in Dresden, at the exhibition of Ingenheim’s collection. The noble collection of paintings and antique objects, formed by Ingenheim in the second half of the 19th century, was transferred by the collector’s descendants to Silesia, to the palace in Rysiowice by Nysa, as well as to the villa in Jeleina Góra. The Gaddi’s paintings were housed in the Rysiowice palace and were for several decades locked out for any researchers. Only the period of economical crisis of 1930’s forced owners of the remaining collection to sell precious artworks. In 1935 the German scientist Klara Steinweg got in contact with the Ingenheim family, with a question about treasures that had been housed in the Rysiowice palace. Among the images that the Ingenheim family had sent her, were also photos of both paintings by Gaddi, to which she dedicated a monographic article. In 1940 both paintings appeared in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, where they have been housed till now.

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