Agnolo Gaddi was a highly regarded Florentine painter, active in the second half of the fourteenth century. His father, Taddeo, was a pupil of Giotto and an important artist in his own right who established a successful workshop in the mid-1330s and painted the celebrated Scenes from the Life of the Virgin for the Baroncelli chapel in Santa Croce, Florence. Agnolo is first recorded as a painter in 1369 when he is documented as working with his brother and Giovanni di Milano on decorations commissioned by Pope Urban V for the Vatican. However, his earliest surviving works probably date from the 1370s, among them the ambitious Madonna and Child with Saints, a tripartite altarpiece dated 1375 (Parma, Galleria Nazionale), a work rejected by Cole (op. cit., p. 73) but otherwise regarded as an important early autograph example by Agnolo (see M. Boskovits, Pittura Fiorentina alla Vigilia del Rinascimento, p. 302, fig. 74; and in A. Ladris, The Dictionary of Art, 11, p. 891).
Agnolo Gaddi's reputation rests now on a series of fresco cycles which he executed throughout a short career of about twenty-five years. Like his father, he worked in Santa Croce, first in the Castellani chapel and later on the enormous cycle depicting the Legend of the True Cross painted for the Choir - one of the most inventive monuments of the entire century which would provide an iconographic model for later treatments of the theme, most notably that by Piero della Francesca in Arezzo. Apart from his work for Santa Croce (where he was also buried), Agnolo's most important patron was the wealthy Pratese merchant, Francesco di Marco Datini for whom his brother, Zanobi Gaddi, worked as a merchant in Venice. Their relationship is documented in 1383 and would continue until Agnolo's death in 1396 when he was working on a Crucifixion and a St. Peter. It was through the patronage of Datini that Gaddi painted the frescoes of the Cappella della Sacra Cintola in Prato in 1393. Besides being a successful painter Gaddi was also a designer of sculpture (a series of Virtues for the Loggia dei Lanzi and Apostles for the Duomo in Florence), as well as stain-glass windows (Duomo, Florence and Prato Cathedral). Nevertheless, he seems to have had financial difficulties and he was fined for assaulting a tax collector and had to declare bankruptcy in 1392.
This portable triptych has been confirmed by Everett Fahy (written communication, 21 October 2004) and Keith Christiansen as an autograph panel by Agnolo Gaddi. We are grateful also to Angelo Tartuferi who describes it as a 'remarkably beautiful early work by Agnolo Gaddi'. Cole connected it to a triptych with the same saints in the Museo Bandini, Fiesole, and a Madonna of Humility with Saints Francis, John the Baptist, Catherine and Anthony Abbott(?) in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin attributing all three to the same hand as an anonymous artist working in the workshop of Agnolo Gaddi. Boskovits and Tartuferi on the other hand regard both the triptych and the Berlin, Madonna of Humility as autograph works separated, however, by some ten years, the Berlin picture being datable to circa 1385.
This small panel betrays in its gravity, sensitivity and the modelling of the lateral saints the enduring influence of Agnolo's father, Taddeo, which distinguishes most of Agnolo's early panels, most notably the polyptych in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin and the dated polyptych in Parma. At the same time there is a propensity for exquisite decorative detail: the rich ornamentation of the cloth of honour below the Madonna, the brocaded mantel of Saint Catherine and the cushion on which the Christ child is seated all betray an appreciation for the expressive possibilities offered by underscoring the delicate sentiment of the Madonna and Child with a refinement of detail and the calligraphic arabesques of their trappings. Whilst in his later frescoes Agnolo Gaddi would return to a more monumental Giottesque mode, his panels, even later examples, show a tendency towards the marriage of compositional grandeur with highly coloured lavish ornament. This combination, the hallmark of Agnolo Gaddi's mature style, is an important anticipation of the late Gothic style which would reach its final apogee in the works of his pupil, Lorenzo Monaco.