Origins of Medieval Tuscan Painting IV. Tuscan painters of the first generation after Giotto.

Taddeo Gaddi’s main work is the cycle of Stories of the Virgin in the Baroncelli Chapel (Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence), painted between 1328–1338.

 

 

In Padua, Giotto worked with several disciples, and in his Assisi frescoes is clear the collaboration of assistants. One of the most prominent was Bernardo Daddi (ca. 1280-1348), whose deep “giottism” was oriented towards pictorial preciousness. But the favorite of these collaborators seems to have been Taddeo Gaddi (ca. 1290-1366). Taddeo was a member of Giotto’s workshop from 1313 to 1337 and, according to Giorgio Vasari, he was considered Giotto’s most talented pupil. It is often difficult to specify whether a work is by Giotto or Gaddi. From Taddeo learned his own children, Agnolo, Giovanni and Nicola, who continued their father’s workshop for several years. The Gaddi family was not, like Giotto’s, entirely popular: Taddeo’s father was a painter and a mosaic artist, and from the Gaddi lineage came notable merchants, politicians and even cardinals.

The scene of the Presentation of the Virgin, ca. 1330 by Taddeo Gaddi, one of the frescoes on the life of the Virgin in the East wall of the Baroncelli Chapel (Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence). These series of frescoes show Taddeo’s mastery of the style pioneered by Giotto, to which he added a personal interpretation in the representation of architectural backgrounds, such as in the staircase of this particular scene with a bold portrayal of the tri-dimensionality of an object and his interpretation of perspective.
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints, tempera on wood, ca. 1355, by Taddeo Gaddi (Uffizi Gallery, Florence).

The generation led by Taddeo Gaddi was followed by Andrea di Bonaiuto (active 1343-1377) and the last painters of the 14th century who worked in the Campo Santo Monumentale of Pisa. We have seen in previous essays that the cloister destined for a cemetery in Pisa included a wide gallery of Gothic arches, like a monastic cloister, in which sarcophagi and ancient marbles were accumulated. The exterior walls don’t have any window that breaks the wall structure, and therefore lend themselves admirably to be decorated with large frescoes. The decoration of the cemetery lasted more than a century: started by Giotto’s disciples who painted the East wall, it was finished in the 15th century by Florentines, Benozzo Gozzoli (ca. 1421-1497) and his disciples. These last paintings, mostly destroyed during World War II, will be discussed later; instead, the frescoes of the eastern wing must be cited among the works of the disciples of the second generation after Giotto.

General view of the East wall frescoes of the Camposanto Monumentale (Pisa). The earliest fresco has been attributed to Francesco Traini, painted ca. 1336/41 in the south-western corner.  On 27 July 1944, a bomb fragment from an Allied raid started a fire that lasted for three days in the Camposanto. The destruction of the roof severely damaged everything inside the cemetery, destroying most of the sculptures and sarcophagi and compromising all the frescoes.

Vasari attributed to Andrea di Cione (ca. 1308-August 25, 1368), nicknamed Orcagna, a group of paintings about the Triumph of Death and the Last Judgment located in the Pisan cemetery, which today are generally attributed to a Pisan painter named Francesco Traini active in Pisa from 1323. On one side, a group of cheerful ladies and handsome gentlemen sing in the most complete abandonment and chanting about the easy life of the senses to the sounds of a clavichord; but on the other side, a horse riding, also involving ladies and gentlemen crossing the forest, is suddenly interrupted by three coffins with their decaying corpses which remind them of the triumph of death. The horses stop their march, menacing, when stepping on the magical territory of death. Dogs sniff the air restlessly. Horror permeates everything silently with a chill that makes fear visible. The scene seems conceived by Edgar Allan Poe. The fresco with the Last Judgment and a view of the Dantesque hell comes next.

Above, the fresco of the Triumph of Death (Camposanto Monumentale, Pisa), ca. mid 1330s, was a reminder of the certainty of death and the need for salvation through the church. It reflected the ideals of the Dominican order and its emphasis on judgement and the need for people to turn away from the temptations of the world; it also promoted Mendicant poverty and cautioned against earthly pleasures. This fresco was initially attributed to Orcagna, but art historians have credited artists Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Francesco Traini, and Buonamico Buffalmacco as authors. Below, a reconstructed fragment of the fresco in a postcard showing the lower left corner scene with the decaying corpses and riders. Most scholars attribute many of the huge frescoes of the Camposanto Monumentale to Francesco Traini.

The Strozzi Altarpiece, between 1354–1357, (Strozzi di Mantova Chapel, Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence) by Orcagna. From left to right, the figures represent Saint Michael, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the crowned Virgin Mary in a Dominican habit who presents her protégé Saint Thomas Aquinas to Christ (at the center), then Saint Peter (kneeling), John the Baptist, and finally the two figures on the far right are Saint Lawrence and Saint Paul.
Polyptych of Saint Dominic de Guzman, between 1344-1345 (Museo Nazionale, Pisa), by Francesco Traini. The predella shows eight hagiographic scenes from the saint’s life.
The Spanish Chapel (former chapter house of the convent of Santa Maria Novella, Florence). This chapel was decorated from 1365 to 1367 by Andrea di Bonaiuto. The complex iconography of the ceiling vault, walls, and altar all combine to communicate the message of Dominicans as guides to salvation.

From the second half of the 14th century was the great work of Andrea di Bonaiuto, a Florentine painter. It consists of a monumental ensemble of frescoes that decorate the walls and ceiling of the “Spanish chapel”, in the chapter house of Santa Maria Novella. This chapel used to be the meeting place (and also the burial place) for the Spaniards involved in the wool trade in Florence during the 16th century. It is a very large square room, in whose far side there is a representation of Calvary, a painting with a great original representation of animation and movement. On one side was painted the triumph of the Church defended by a pack of black and white dogs representing the Dominican friars, while sheep rest at the feet of their shepherds representing the ecclesiastical hierarchies. In front of this painting, another composition contains the nine figures of the liberal arts and nine patriarchs and philosophers who correspond to each of them. Thus, for example, Cicero is at the foot of Rhetoric; Tubal-Cain, to those of Music; Saint Augustine, to those of Dogmatic Theology; Justinian, to those of Jurisprudence; Pythagoras, to those of Arithmetic, etc. The whole of this mural decoration was made around 1365-1367 and because of its allegorical sense and its deep theological and humanistic significance, it can be considered an organic synopsis of the entire Christian culture of the Trecento.

The fresco of the “Crucifixion with the Way to Calvary and the Descent into Limbo”, by Andrea di Bonaiuto (Spanish Chapel, convent of Santa Maria Novella, Florence). This fresco displays scenes of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Instead of painting the scenes in many panels, as the Giottesque artists did, di Bonaiuto developed the narration in a continuous fashion, with the scenes following each other.
The large fresco of the “Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order”, also known as “The Way of Salvation” fresco (Spanish Chapel, convent of Santa Maria Novella, Florence) by Andrea di Bonaiuto. The black-cloaked figures are Dominican priests, and the black-and-white dogs symbolize them. In the left foreground there is a group of about five dozen figures representing Christendom, and illustrating the religious and secular hierarchies. At the center of this group are the pope and the emperor, and at their feet are black-and-white dogs protecting the sheep. The secular figures range from the emperor to beggars and cripples. Behind them is the great Florentine Duomo (Cathedral), representing the Church. In the right foreground are three Dominican saints with their halos. Behind the preachers, in the right middle-ground, there is a group of worldly pleasure-seekers and two more Dominican figures. The faithful are being blessed and ushered to the gates of Heaven, where St. Peter welcomes them. Above all is a scene of Christ in Majesty, with the emblems of the Evangelists. The overall composition, with the heretics on the right and faithful on the left in a zigzag pattern, echoes many more conventional Judgment scenes.
The fresco of the Triumph of St Thomas and Allegory of the Sciences, ca. 1365-1368, (Spanish Chapel, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Florence), by Andrea di Bonaiuto. Saint Thomas Aquinas seats in the top center holding the Book of Wisdom. There are seven figures over him corresponding to the Seven Virtues. Sitting left and right to St. Thomas are ten Biblical figures (from left to right): Job, David, Saint Paul, Matthew, John, Luke, Moses (holding the two sheets of the Law), Isaiah and Solomon. Under St. Thomas sit three “heretic” figures: Nestor, Arius and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Finally, the bottom row is full of allegorical figures. From left to right: the Civil Law (and the Emperor Justinian sitting at her feet), the Canonical Law (and Pope Clement V), the Philosophy (and Aristotle), the Holy Scripture (and Jerome), the Theology (and John of Damascus), the Contemplation (and Dionysius the Areopagite) and the Preaching (and St. Agustine). On the right, the Arithmetic (and Pythagoras), the Geometry (and Euclid), the Astronomy (and Ptolemy) and the Music (and Tubal-Cain) represent the Quadrivium. Finally, the Dialectics (and Pietro Ispana), the Rhetoric (and Cicero) and Grammar (and Priscian) represent the Trivium.

The artistic repertoire in painting increased by these humanistic concepts of the Florentine artists of the end of the 14th century which, however, always remained faithful to the principles of composition established by Giotto. The artists themselves were aware that weren’t artistic techniques per se what was progressing in art, but that art was progressing as a result of having increased the artistic repertoire and the addition of new iconography to the somewhat schematic scenes firstly laid out by Giotto. As a consequence, the psychological part that was previously personal and individual, became social and human.

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