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Work The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple

Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries

Présentation de la Vierge au Temple

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Maréchalle

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Boyer Sarah

This is an extremely rare example of a preparatory study for a Trecento fresco depicting a clearly identifiable figure. The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple is the sole known drawing by Taddeo Gaddi, who was one of Giotto's pupils. The drawing was in preparation for the corresponding scene of the cycle recounting the life of the Virgin in the Baroncelli Chapel in the church of Santa Croce, Florence, painted between 1332 and 1338.

The architectural elements

Drawn in metalpoint using a ruler and picked out with white highlights in the form of fine hatching or as blocks of white, the architectural elements consist of an aedicule with slender columns, where the High Priest and two other figures are standing. On the right, the virgins are standing in a loggia. On the left, St. Anne and St. Joachim, their heads encircled by haloes that were probably originally gilded, are watching their daughter Mary, who is turning towards them as she climbs the fifteen steps up to the temple. On the left, a nosy neighbor is leaning out of the window to watch the scene. Groups of figures are waiting on either side of the steps.

The figures

In both this work and the Marriage of the Virgin, Taddeo Gaddi has achieved a remarkably high standard. These two compositions are not only the most complex in the whole chapel, but they also reflect his considerable gift for narrative. The staging of the architecture and the perspective, the quiet dignity of the Virgin - the focus of everyone's attention - and the power of expression of the various protagonists are reminiscent of a less high-flown version of Giotto's oeuvre. The technique, combining paper prepared with ground bone powder dyed green and a metal point, is typical of the early Italian Renaissance and was particularly widespread in the years after this work. However, unlike later draftsmen, Gaddi does not stretch the medium to its fullest range of expression; he uses violent contrasts between white highlights and dark lines in a manner not unlike chiaroscuro.

A modello or a copy?

There are a number of differences between this work and the fresco, begging the question of whether this drawing is a modello or a copy. The principal modification is that the final fresco is squarer in shape than this drawing, which is much more vertical. However, this drawing seems to have been trimmed on both the left and right, as the arbitrarily cut-off figures on either edge of the sheet suggest. According to Ladis, the background and the various architectural elements were filled with black and a large number of figures, such as the small virgin leaving the temple, have been heightened with blue, sometimes roughly. The two types of white used - a cream applied in hatching following the folds of the draperies and a chalkier white used in blocks - suggest the work of two artists. Moreover, while the lines defining some of the figures, particularly along the bottom, have been powerfully reinforced, others at the top seem to be fading. It is also the case that the black of the background was applied in a most careless manner, covering part of the nosy neighbor, for example, while one of the windows of the temple has been left blank.

Bibliography

Degenhart Bernhard, Schmitt Annegrit, Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen, 1300-1450, Berlin, 1968, vol. I, pp. 60-65, n 22, pl. 27.
Bean Jacob, Bouchot-Saupique Jacqueline, Dessins de la collection de Filippo Baldinucci (1625-1696), cat. exp. musée du Louvre, Éditions des musées nationaux, 1958, p. 15, n 1.
Ladis Andrew, Taddeo Gaddi, critical reappraisal and catalogue raisonné, Columbia et Londres, University of Missouri Press, 1982, p. 246, fig. 60.
Goldner G. R., Master Drawings From the Woodner Collection, cat. exp. Malibu, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Fort-Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1983-1984, pp. 13-20, n 1.
Propeck L., Dominique Vivant Denon : l'oeil de Napoléon, cat. exp. musée du Louvre, 1999- 2000, pp. 216-217, n 215.

Technical description

  • Giambattista PITTONI (Venice, 1687 - Venice, 1767)

    Mars and Venus

    c. 1720-25

  • Brushed green and blue tempera, white highlights, outlines gone over with a stylus, black ink on green prepared paper, traces of gold on the haloes

    H. 0.62 m; W. 0.46 m

  • Recovered in Germany after World War II;
    assigned to the Musée du Louvre by the Office des Biens Privés, 1950

    391222

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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