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Madonna and Child with St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, St James of Compostela and St Nicholas of Bari

Agnolo Gaddi(c. 1388-1390)

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria

This panel is a type of small altarpiece probably produced for private use, or for a private chapel within a larger church. The saints who flank the Madonna and Child have almost certainly been selected to reflect the devotional interests of a private patron. At the upper left is the Apostle James, whose martyred body, according to tradition, was buried at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a destination for Christian pilgrims through the ages. Opposite him is Nicholas of Bari, a saint long associated with the festival of Christmas. At the lower left is St John the Evangelist, and to the right is St John the Baptist.

The Christ Child tugs playfully at the Virgin’s veil, and clasps in his right hand a tiny goldfinch (a symbol of the Passion, for the goldfinch was seen to perch and feed on the thorn bush, thus presaging the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the time of his death). The delicate and delightful angels who hover above the Virgin’s head support a golden crown, making this panel not only a representation of the Madonna Enthroned, but also an image of the type known as the Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven).

This panel is in an exceptional state of preservation, with the quality and refinement of the painting suggesting that this is an autograph work, entirely by the hand of Gaddi himself. The panel may be favourably compared with major autograph works such as Gaddi’s Coronation of the Virgin, c.1370, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Text by Dr Gerard Vaughan from Painting and sculpture before 1800 in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 8.

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  • Title: Madonna and Child with St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, St James of Compostela and St Nicholas of Bari
  • Creator: Agnolo Gaddi
  • Date Created: (c. 1388-1390)
  • Physical Dimensions: w535 x h975 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of three anonymous donors, Paula Fox, Governor, Lady Reid, Governor and the proceeds of the Inaugural Fundraising Dinner at NGV International, 2003, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: tempera and gold on wood panel
  • Provenance: Private collection, London, 1950–89; included in Sotheby's sale, London, 18 October, 1989, no. 122; private collection, in care of Matthiesen Gallery (dealer), London, from 1989; acquired from Matthiesen Gallery for the NGV through the NGV Foundation, 2003.
  • Additional information: This beautifully preserved panel is among the very finest surviving examples of the devotional images produced in the late fourteenth century in the workshop of the celebrated Florentine painter Agnolo Gaddi. Agnolo was the son of Taddeo Gaddi, one of the most successful pupils of the Florentine master Giotto (c.1267–1337), and the Madonna and Child – in its monumentality, its accomplished spatial effects, the drawing of the faces, and the naturalism of the figures – can be seen to reflect the style and achievements of Giotto. The sumptuous gold ground and the strong, rich colours show the late Florentine Gothic style at its most refined.

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