Described by Richard Offner as 'certainly the greatest master in the Florence of his day' (op. cit., p. 15), Bernardo Daddi was probably born in the last decade of the thirteenth century, as he is recorded in Florentine guild registrations as early as 1312. His name appears for the last time in August 1348, and it is generally accepted that he fell victim to the bubonic plague that ravaged central Italy in that year.
Daddi's oeuvre has been reconstructed around a small number of signed and dated works (the earliest being a triptych of 1328 now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence and the latest a polyptych of 1348 in the Courtauld Institute of Art, London). The influences of the Master of Saint Cecilia and Buffalmacco have been noted in his work, as well as that of Giotto di Bondone, whose pictorial innovations formed the basis of the Florentine school of painting. There can be no doubt that Daddi saw and absorbed Giotto's art in Florence. It bears consideration as well that the two may in fact have actually worked alongside each other - in the mid-1320s, Daddi frescoed the Pulci-Berardi chapel in Santa Croce, the Franciscan church in which both Giotto and Taddeo Gaddi were directing major decorative campaigns. In the artistic void that ensued after Giotto's departure for Naples in 1328, however, Daddi's style did not remain stringently Giottesque, as did that of other contemporaries like Taddeo. Later in his career, Daddi's innovations in spatial and narrative solutions made him immensely popular, and he developed a large workshop specializing in the production of small-scale tabernacles for private devotion.
The present painting is datable to Daddi's earliest period, during which Giotto's influence is most apparent. Like the figures of the Pulci-Berardi chapel, which Boskovits compares to 'monolithic statues', (op. cit., p. 41) the Madonna in the present panel is monumental, practically consuming the throne on which she sits. The Christ Child, who stands on her massive left knee, reaches up and stabilizes himself on her collar and mantle. The pale green highlights of his robe, which showcase striking cangiante coloring, accentuate his actions and emphasize the physicality of his presence. The Madonna gently wraps her left arm around the Christ Child's back and grasps his right foot, a gesture which showcases both her physical support of and tenderness towards her son. These figure types are relatable to other works attributed to Daddi and datable to the 1320s, including a polyptych divided between the National Gallery in Parma and two private collections, and a St. Peter Enthroned in the Ajaccio Museum in Paris. In addition, the high, gabled back, Cosmatesque decorations, fictive sculptural finials, and dramatically foreshortened low armrests of the throne are typical of those used by Giotto and his followers in the 1320s, and the minimalistic decoration in the gold ground also suggests such an early date.
The present picture certainly once comprised the central image of a large polyptych. Like the St. Peter in the Ajaccio Museum, the attitude of the figures is frontal, stoic, and reserved. In fact, because of their comparable dimensions, it has been posited that the present painting and the St. Peter were once joined to form a double-sided altarpiece. This sort of work has its precedent in the great Stefaneschi altarpiece by Giotto (now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome). Lateral panels have yet to be identified, but it seems certain that the altarpiece from which this panel originates was made for a Franciscan institution, as the Christ Child's robes are held together by a rope with three knots - a typical element of the Franciscan habit which symbolized the Order's virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
By 1787, this panel formed part of the famed collection of early Italian paintings assembled by Alfonso Tacoli-Cannacci, one of the earliest and most extensive of its type in modern day Italy. Labels on the reverse correspond to entries in the inventory of the Tacoli-Canacci collection which ascribe the painting to 'Oderigi da Gubbio, celebrato da Dante', a famous miniaturist and manuscript illuminator who Dante encounters in Purgatory (canto XI: 79-84).