Angolo Gaddi was the last member of a distinguished family of artists, which included his grandfather Gaddo Gaddi - whose oeuvre may be equated with that of the anonymous Master of the Saint Cecilia Altarpiece - and his father, Taddeo Gaddi, who was Giotto's leading pupil. After studying with Taddeo and (following the latter's death in 1366) Giovanni da Milano, Agnolo is recorded for the first time at work with Giovanni in the Vatican palace. His earliest dated painting to survive, the Madonna and Child with Six Saints (Galleria Nazionale, Parma) of 1375, shows the preponderant influence of another Florentine artist, Bernardo Daddi. Later in his career, Agnolo received some of the most prestigious fresco commissions in Florence, such as the decoration of the Castellani Chapel (circa 1383-1384) and that of the main choir of the church of Santa Croce, in which the painter depicted the legend of the True Cross, executed sometime in the late 1380s. Roughly contemporary with the latter fresco cycle is the artist's Coronation of the Virgin (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), which is characterized by a light palette and an emphasis on ornamental detail, in contrast to the Giottesque tradition emphasizing plastic form and spatial recession. His work from the 1390s consisted mostly of various projects for Florence's cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, as well as frescoes in the churches of the nearby city of Prato.
The composition of the present panel, in which the hieratic figures of the Madonna and Child dwarf four accompanying saints, was a speciality of Agnolo Gaddi. Two related works attributed to the artist include a Madonna and Child with Saints John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, St. James Major and a Bishop Saint, which has been dated to the late 1380s (see the catalogue of the exhibition, London, Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd., Gold Backs, 1250-1480, 1996, no. 8, illustrated) and a Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist, Francis, Anthony Abbot and a Female Saint that Agnolo executed in his last years (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, inv. no. III. 72; see M. Boskovits, 1988, cited above, pp. 39-40). Another comparable painting, in which the Madonna and Child are accompanied by two saints, is in a private collection, Milan; that work was in all likelihood painted with considerable studio assistance (see M. Boskovits, ed., Dipinti italiani del XIV e XV secolo in una raccolta milanese, Milan, 1987, pp. 36-38 [entry by A. Tartuferi], illustrated p. 37). In all three of the above pictures, Christ lies in His Mother's lap and tugs playfully at Her veil. By contrast, in the present picture the Child stands and presses His cheek to His Mother's face.
A copy of the present painting with minor variations, which was formerly in the Oratorio di San Ansano, Fiesole, is now in the Museo Bandini, Fiesole (see M.C. Bandera Viani, 1981, op. cit., p. 22, fig. 55). Another version, formerly in the Rospigliosi collection, Rome, was offered at Christie's, London, 10 July 1981 (lot 97, illustrated, as Agnolo Gaddi and workshop). Finally, a variant of the composition, but with the figure of Saint Francis substituted for that of Saint Catherine at rear left, was last recorded in a recent Paris sale (Picard, Audap, Solanet & Associaes, 28 June 2000, lot 2).
The distinguished group of independent small devotional panels to which the present painting belongs is accepted as autograph by all the scholars cited above with the exemption of Bruce Cole (op. cit.).
We are grateful to Mr. Everett Fahy for confirming his endorsement of the attribution to Gaddi.
The present lot preserves its original frame with gilt pastiglia base.