The anonymous artist known as the Master of the Dominican Effigies is named for a panel showing Christ and the Virgin with seventeen Dominican saints and beati, or "blessed ones", now in the Archivio di Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Recent scholarship has improved our understanding of this previously understudied painter, who appears to have been one of the most important figures in Florentine manuscript illumination in the second quarter of the 14th century. The Master's style, which blends the influences of artists from the prior generation - such as Lippo di Benivieni and the Master of San Martino alla Palma - also looks to the work of some of his slightly older contemporaries, such as Bernardo Daddi and Jacopo del Casentino, resulting in what Professor Laurence Kanter describes as "an animated and highly personal expression of his own" (see L. Kanter et al., Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, New York, 1994, pp. 56-57).
First identified by Osvald Sirén in 1926, who called him the Master of the Lord Lee Polyptych, the Master of the Dominican Effigies was given his present name a few years later by Richard Offner, who worked to distinguish the artist's style from that of his contemporaries, the so-called Biadaiolo Illuminator and Master of the Cappella Medici Polyptych. In subsequent years, Bernard Berenson argued that all three anonymous artists were one and the same, and Miklós Boskovits subsequently agreed in part, suggesting that the Master of the Dominican Effigies might have been responsible for much of the work ascribed to the Biadaiolo Illuminator. Luciano Bellosi, John Pope-Hennessy and Laurence Kanter argued, in agreement with Offner, that the works ascribed to the three anonymous masters could only be attributable to three distinct hands. Now, however, Kanter's assessment of this question has been refined, and he recently presented his conclusion that the "Biadaiolo Illuminator" must actually be identified as the young Master of the Dominican Effigies, and that the two artists should be considered in fact "successive stages of a single career" (ibid.).
The Master's eponymous work can be dated to just after 1336 based on its inclusion of Maurice of Hungary, who had died that year, though the artist was certainly active well before then, probably from c. 1310. His last securely dated work is inscribed 1345, but a double-sided altarpiece in the Accademia, Florence (inv. 4633/4) may date to somewhat later. The present intimately-sized, portable triptych is a marvelous example of the miniaturist precision and narrative expression that characterizes the Master's style. Datable to c. 1330, the triptych is a remarkable survival from an important phase of the artist's career, showcasing his understanding of the achievements of Giotto and the founders of Tuscan painting.
Like the tabernacle in the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (inv. 1975.1.99), the gold ground in the present work features exquisite stylus tooling, notable for its delicacy and refinement. The absence of punch tools, which were used prolifically in Tuscany from about 1319 onwards, indicates that the artist assigned special care to this decorative aspect of the painting, and chose to spend considerable additional effort to achieve these detailed, freeform designs.
Although the present triptych was formerly thought to be a work by Giotto's outstanding follower, Taddeo Gaddi, it was correctly given to the Master of the Dominican Effigies by Richard Offner in 1957. The attribution of the present work has not subsequently been questioned, and has recently been confirmed, on the basis of photographs, by Professor Angelo Tartuferi, to whom we are grateful.