Taddeo, presumably born in Florence in the year thirteen hundred, was tutored early on in the art of painting by his father: Gaddo Gaddi. He was apprenticed to Giotto, with whom he stayed as an assistant for twenty-four years, at least according to Cennino Cennini, who had written a painter’s manual. Taddeo Gaddi enjoyed an important position in Giotto’s painting studio, but he also worked outside Giotto’s studio. His son Agnolo Gaddi later also painted frescoes in the choir chapel in the Santa Croce (Here shown at Web Gallery of Art). Taddeo Gaddi made the frescoes for the burial chapel of the wealthy Baroncelli family during Giotto’s lifetime.
The Baroncelli chapel has never been painted over with a white brush like the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels. In 1961, however, there was a major restoration. Some parts that were painted later have been removed. These places are left open. The original condition must have been considerably more colourful. Many of the colours applied a secco are blistered. This is clearly visible on the west wall at the meeting of Joachim and Anna and the birth of Mary. Yet, the entire design has been much better preserved than the frescoes by Giotto in the Santa Croce.
The burial chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and this hardly goes unnoticed to the churchgoers. For example, stories of Mary are depicted on the east wall, the adjoining south side with the altar and the stained-glass window. The entire iconographic program is very extensive. At the front there are frescoes, and inside the arches and also on the front, the virtues, prophets, figures from the Old Testament and the evangelists are shown.
Rejection of Joachim’s Sacrifice
At the top of the lunette, the story begins with Mary’s parents: Joachim and Anna. In the left part of the lunette Joachim is driven out of the temple and on the right is the Annunciation to Joachim. Taddeo bases himself on the texts of James de Voragine in his Legenda Aurea. Here you can read: “A priest saw him and sent him out of the temple, giving him a big scolding that he dared to come so close to God’s altar. Joachim holds the lamb he wanted to sacrifice pressed against him, as he flees and looks back at the priest. Giotto, who had already painted this story in the Arena Chapel in Padua, used only rudimentary forms to indicate a temple.
Taddeo paints a real temple in which, according to art historian Gardner, the spectator’s position in the chapel has been accounted for: di sotto in su (Gardner, J.,’The decoration of the Baroncelli chapel in Santa Croce’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 34 Band 1971, Deutsche Kunstverlag, München Berlin 89). However, the perspective is incorrect. The altar in the temple is very remarkable when compared to the space in which it stands. The floor of the temple is also not right. The different poses of the three figures directly to the right of the altar are reminiscent of ‘the Ascension of John’ in the neighbouring Peruzzi chapel. The back figure, a priest, stands upright. The figure in front of him is slightly bent over while the front figure is almost lying down.
Meeting at the golden gate and the birth of Mary
After Joachim heard from the angel that his wife was pregnant, he went to see her. They meet at the gate. Here, too, you can immediately see what it’s all about. The woman directly behind Anna makes clear to the other two women what is happening. Anna and Joachim are in the middle of the picture plane. Taddeo paints the moment before the embrace. Taddeo’s teacher, Giotto, who painted the same story in Padua, showed the actual embrace.
A comparison between these two frescoes with the same subject shows why Taddeo never surpassed his teacher. Giotto knows how to paint deep human emotions in a simple and effective way. This is something that Taddeo doesn’t succeed in doing. The way in which the Anna and Joachim come together is rather strange. It looks like they will bump their heads together.
Very different from Giotto where the couple embraces each other in an intimate moment of deep happiness. The reactions of the bystanders are also more complex in their psychology with Giotto. The old woman modestly turns her head away, but the other four younger women shamelessly marvel at this encounter. The next step, the gossip, is looming. In comparison, the three women of Taddeo at the golden gate are more casual spectators or extras who show no emotion at all.
The answer to why Giotto shows the embrace of Joachim and Anna and Taddeo does not probably lies in the source that Taddeo used: the Legend of Aurea. In this work, we read about the meeting of the parents of Mary and that they shared their joy from “face to face’ (La Palme, R.J.H., ‘Taddeo Gaddi’s Baroncelli chapel Studies in Design and context’, Dissertation Faculty of Princeton University 1975 212). The Franciscans of the Santa Croce probably did not give Taddeo a free hand in this respect. According to the art historian, Meiss, Taddeo did this because it clearly emphasises the immaculate conception (Meiss, M., ‘Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death The Arts, Religion, and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century’, Princeton university Press, New Jersey, 1951; reprint 1978 26).
In Giotto’s case, the intimate embrace distracts too much from the divine intervention. At that time, the Franciscan Order stressed the dogma of immaculate conception.
Another notable difference is that Taddeo’s encounter takes place in front of a city wall. This is what Giotto did in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapel as well as in the revival of Drusiana or in the death of Francis. The paintwork in the Peruzzi chapel took place at the time when the Baroncelli chapel was under construction. Both Giotto and Taddeo place the figures so that they resemble a frieze. Despite this agreement, there is a remarkable difference. While Giotto leads the viewer’s eye to the central figures and the background requires little attention, with Taddeo you quickly look at the detailed city behind it. According to the author, Janson-La Palme, Taddeo is strongly influenced in this respect by Pietro Lorenzetti and his Entry into Jerusalem.
The adjoining scene showing the birth of Mary is conveniently separated from the encounter. The figures are, as it were, mirrored in both scenes, only separated from each other by a painted column. This makes the transition from one story to another easy to read.
The women take you to the central event: the birth of Mary. Unfortunately, this scene has suffered the most over time. As mentioned earlier, the parts painted later were removed during the restoration in 1961. As a result, there are a number of large bald spots. For example, Anna is unfortunately no longer to be seen on her bed. The space in which Taddeo places the figures was taken from the fresco cycle that Giotto painted in Padua. Buildings resemble doll’s houses just like Giotto’s, Annunciation to Anna’, where the front has been removed so you can look inside.