The Baroncelli Chapel is located on the right end of the transept in the Franciscan Basilica of Santa Croce. Commissioned by the Baroncelli family as a private chapel, Taddeo Gaddi began its execution in 1328 and completed it in 1338. The chapel space is double-bayed, with its entrance centered on the bay closest to the apse. This layout suggests that Gaddi expanded the basilica’s exterior wall to accommodate the chapel.
Starting on the exterior of the chapel are frescoes of Old Testament prophets, from left to right: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. These figures are surrounded by illusionistic painted architecture. Then, when you enter the chapel, the imagery shifts to stories of the Virgin separated into three narrative registers. The bottom layer has painted imitations of marble as well as still life that show Gaddi’s interest in classical illusionism. The top two registers showcase key points in the Virgin's life, starting with the Expulsion of Joachim From the Temple on the left wall. The story continues on the top of the wall behind the altar with the Annunciation and culminates on the altar with a scene of the Coronation of the Virgin, a polyptych created by Giotto. On the ceiling, Gaddi portrays the cardinal and theological virtues in roundels. He also designed the lancet windows behind the altar, where he depicts several saints as well as the Baroncelli family crest. These windows physically provide light for the chapel and also provide the directional light painted in each of the scenes by Gaddi. A noteworthy feat by Gaddi is his use of color and light in the nocturnal scenes of this narrative. He creates a bright and easily visible image while still portraying a nighttime landscape, see for example the Annuciation to the Shepherds.
This chapel, as well as several other chapels in Santa Croce, originally had a cancello across the entrance. This iron railing meant that the chapel was not typically entered. Because of this, Gaddi perspectively painted the scenes to be viewed while standing in the transept or kneeling before the cancello. In this way, the viewer is able to place themselves within the narrative. An excellent example of this can be seen in the Presentation of Mary at the Temple, which, when viewed at the correct location, places you on the temple steps and allows you to become a part of the narrative. Additionally, when viewed from this lower perspective, the altar’s height properly lines up with the bottom register, creating a more synchronized visual.
Most of the work in the chapel remains original. However, some later additions were made, such as the Madonna and Child statue by Vincenzo Danti (1568) and the Madonna della Cintola fresco by Bastiano Mainardi (ca. 1492–95).
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Credit Line: Nel patrimonio Fondo Edifici di Culto, amministrato dalla Direzione Centrale degli Affari dei Culti e per l’Amministrazione del Fondo Edifici di Culto del Ministero dell’Interno
Maya Nylund ‘22
Anastasia Garvey ‘23
Taddeo Gaddi (b. Florence, ca. 1300; d. Florence, 1366) was a prolific Italian painter and architect, most known for his fresco murals. He studied under his father, Gaddo di Zanobi Gaddi, until the year 1313. Then he became an assistant to Giotto (1266–1337), whom he worked under until Giotto’s death. While working in Giotto’s workshop, he assisted in many pieces, including the Stefaneschi Polyptych housed in the Vatican. Giotto's influences are clear in Gaddi’s work, from the ties to the Italo-Byzantine style to the innovative techniques of the early Renaissance. He mastered the use of lighting, particularly in creating glowing nighttime scenes. These techniques are displayed in his triumph, the Baroncelli Chapel, notably in the Annunciation to the Shepherds. Gaddi worked in Florence until his death in 1366. Unfortunately, many of his works have not survived, but his influence on Florentine art is still clear today.
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Gardner, Julian. “PAINTERS, INQUISITORS, AND NOVICES: GIOTTO, TADDEO GADDI, AND FILIPPO LIPPI AT SANTA CROCE.” Mitteilungen Des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 60, no. 2 (2018): 223–54. JSTOR.
Gardner, Julian. “The Decoration of the Baroncelli Chapel in Santa Croce.” Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 34, no. 2 (1971): 89–114. JSTOR.
Hills, Paul. “Taddeo Gaddi: The Baroncelli Chapel in Santa Croce.” Essay. In The Light of Early Italian Painting, 75–94. New Haven, CT: Yale university press, 1987.