David and Isaiah the pilaster by the south wall
In two painted Gothic niches we see Isaiah with a blossoming staff and David with Goliath’s head in his hands. It looks like a painted version of the niches with statues at the Orsanmichele. Isaiah used to be mistaken for Joseph before the inscription with his name was discovered. Isaiah is looking at the believers in the chapel.
David would become extremely popular in Florence as mentioned in the story of sculpture. David stands on Goliath’s body. He carries Goliath’s severed head in his hand. This painted David must have had a great influence on sculptors like Verrocchio and Donatello. During the restoration it was discovered that Taddeo had moved the pouch of the sling to make it stand out. Why is the hero David depicted as a knight? According to Janson-La Palme, all this has to do with the Baroncelli’s clients. Two brothers of Bartolo Baroncelli, Bivigliano and Salvestro, were knighted in 1331.
To the left of Isaiah is the birth of Christ. Although the blossoming bud of the staff held by Isaiah differs from Joseph’s (east wall), there is still a visual link between Isaiah and Joseph. There is also a clear connection between Isaiah and the Virgin with Child. In Isaiah 11:1 it says: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Isaiah; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.’ Isaiah is David’s father. Out of his body grows a tree, symbolizing the pedigree of Christ. Isaiah’s son is painted underneath him. Around 1330, the dating of the work in the Baroncelli chapel is quite controversial.
The altarpiece Coronation of the Virgin
Although the panel is signed with OPUS MAGISTRI IOCTI, it is not made by Giotto himself, but comes from his studio. It was probably designed by the master himself. After a thorough investigation, Janson-La Palme was able to establish that Taddeo did not paint it either (Wikipedia).
Unfortunately it is not certain whether the altarpiece was actually in the Baroncelli chapel in the trecento. What we do know is that the frame of the polyptych has changed. The Fine Arts Museum in San Diego houses the upper triangular part of the original altarpiece, which has been removed due to the later applied cornice. In the ‘pinnacle’ (San Diego) it is clearly visible that the divine light also plays an important role here, just like in the fresco with the lancet. Christ appears in a Gothic four-pass with an open book with the text: Alpha and Omega. This refers to the revelation to John where the following can be read: ” There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. […] They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light”. (Revelation 22: 5) The six angels below him who look up to their Heavenly Father shield their eyes from the bright light. Three do this with their hands like one shepherd at the Annunciation. The other two angels closest to God the Father even use lenses to protect their eyes. This subject from the revelation to John is extremely rare and this theme of divine light, as already described, is also elaborated by Taddeo in the frescoes around the lancet window.
The predella has hexagons from left to right, depicting: Onofrius (or the prophet Elias), John the Baptist, Christ as the man of sorrows in the middle, Francis and Zenobius (?) The hexagons return in the frames that Gaddi painted around the lancet.
According to art historian Julian Gardner, there are two places from where you can see the chapel (Gardner, J.,’The decoration of the Baroncelli chapel in Santa Croce’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 34 Band 1971, Deutsche Kunstverlag, München Berlin 89 and further). One spot is if you stand a few steps below the chapel in the nave. The second place is when you are under the entrance arch (click here for the diagram of Gardner). When you’re in the nave, you’ll see the back wall with the altar as it’s meant to be. At the second spot, you can also clearly see the adjacent space. The frescoes on the ceiling are by Taddeo Gaddi, but the mural (west wall) in this adjoining room was painted by Sebastiano Mainardi in 1495 after a design by Ghirlandaio. Originally there was a fence in front of the chapel, similar to the one still standing at the Cappella Rinuccini.
The outer wall of the chapel also has frescoes. Michelozzo di Bartolommeo made a new passage to the sacristy, as a result of which a large part of the fresco of Christ among the scribes has vanished. This New Testament story was likely chosen because the Franciscans attach great importance to their studium generale. In the study center at the monastery of Santa Croce, the novices of Franciscans from all over Italy have been trained since Saint Bonaventura.
Christ among the scribes is, of course, a beautiful reference to the importance of a good education. In his ‘I Commentarii,’ Ghiberti praises three works of Taddeo Gaddi in the Santa Croce. Only one of these works, and only a part of it, has survived, and that is Christ among the Scholars. It is Ghiberti who later depicted this subject himself for the first time after Taddeo on his first door for the Baptistry.
To the right of the entrance is the grave of the Baroncelli family (Web Gallery of Art). Not only the wealthy Baroncelli family commissioned Taddeo, but also the Franciscans of Santa Croce. There is another crucifixion painted by Taddeo in the sacristy. Gaddi also painted one wall in the refectory. It is now a museum located on the courtyard where the famous Pazzi Chapel of Brunelleschi is also located.