Bernardo Daddi (active from 1312 – died 1348),
Four Musical Angels
Egg tempera on wood. Provenance: Fox-Strangways gift, 1828
This painting of four music-playing angels is by the fourteenth century Florentine artist Bernardo Daddi. The scene, surrounded by its gilded frame, seems like a complete work of art, but on closer inspection one realises that it must have been part of a larger painting, particularly when one becomes aware of the partial figures on the left and right edges. The two incomplete figures are St. John the Baptist, in his characteristic camel hair garment, on the left and a deacon saint, probably St. Stephen holding a banner, on the right. Technical examination shows saw marks on the top, left and right sides of the panel, making it clear that it has been cut from a larger piece. We do not know when this fragmentation happened, but the Musical Angels must have already been separated from the rest of the panel when they were bought in Italy by the Hon. William Thomas Horner Fox-Strangways, who gave the painting - in its current frame - to Christ Church in 1828.
In 1961 an art historian suggested that the Christ Church panel was the lower part of a painting depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, which was at the time in a private collection. This larger section, showing the exquisitely painted figures of Jesus and Mary seated on a throne, is now at the National Gallery in London.
After the National Gallery purchased the Coronation of the Virgin in 2004, scientific examination (x-ray photographs, infrared reflectography and analysis of paint samples) of both paintings confirmed that they were indeed parts of the same panel. Traces of the underdrawing were revealed in the process. At the bottom of the National Gallery panel are four halos visible, which refer to the now lost figures on the left and right of the angels. This indicates that there were two more figures on the left and right than the two partially extant on the Christ Church panel (see the proposed reconstruction by Rachel Billinge). Parts of the underdrawing can also be seen with the ‘naked’ eye, like the fingers of the angel on the left holding a tambourine. The artist probably realised that no adequate sound would be produced by the instrument if it was held in that fashion.
Bernardo Daddi was the leading painter of his generation in Florence. Celebrated for his devotional panels, his style combines a strong physicality of the painted figures, something that he probably learned in Giotto’s workshop, with the graceful and tender depiction of human relationships. Bernardo’s interest in patterns, textures and detail is exemplary in this fragment of the Musical Angels, but equally is his understanding of the idea of space on a two dimensional surface. The elaborate tiled floor pattern and the ornaments in the background are exemplary in this respect. It is also noteworthy to draw attention to the dentils on the cornice at the top of the painting; the individual little blocks are depicted as seen from one central viewpoint with changing shadows on the left and right. Apart from the delicately rendered detail the overall appearance of the panel with its bright colours and carefully modelled drapery – outstanding in the figure of the angel on the right – give the impression of a complete work of art.
Proposed reconstruction (Rachel Billinge, National Gallery, London)
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