Annunciation to Shepherds, Baroncelli Chapel

Annunciation to Shepherds, Baroncelli Chapel


Gaddi Baroncelli Chapel Life of the Virgin c1328

The naves of the Franciscan and Dominican Gothic churches in Italy were simple, compared to their northern equivalents, they were used mainly for preaching, but they were also built to be constantly adaptable, especially to the addition and decoration of private chapels where wealthy merchant families were commemorated.. Typical is the the basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, built by the Franciscan in 1296, with its slender, widely spaced piers and the Baroncelli Chapel, painted by Giotto’s godson and pupil Taddeo Gaddi.

Taddeo painted the chapel so as to capture the effects of actual southern light coming through the lancet window. He placed a series of mystical experiences, one above the other, at the left. At the top is the Annunciation of the Virgin, traditionally associated with the propagation of light because Mary conceived Christ without any material rupture of her body. In the annunciation to the shepherds below, another, more sudden, incandescent flash of light shocks the shepherds from their sleep. The three Magi on the bottom tier kneel before another vision, this time of the infant Christ, glistening like a star before them. Light here is identified with revelation and patterned to coincide with the light streaming through the actual window.

Another important visual element in the Baroncelli Chapel is the altarpiece, a polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin painted by Giotto and his assistants. Originally it was not in a classical rectangular frame but in a structure with pointed canopies that echoed the shape of the stained-glass window above it.

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