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The Coronation of the Virgin

  • Object:

    Tempera painting

  • Place of origin:

    Florence, Italy (painted)

  • Date:

    1340s-1360s (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Nardo di Cione (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    tempera on poplar panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides

  • Museum number:

    CAI.104

  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, room 81, case EAST WALL

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Nardo di Cione (ca.1320-1365/66) was the brother of Andrea di Cione called Orcagna and Jacopo di Cione with whom he often collaborated. They ran together one of the leading Florentine workshops in the mid-14th century. He executed a number of frescoes, a very few of which have survived in poor conditions and several polyptych panels.

This panel showing Christ in a red and blue dress in the act of crowning the Virgin, in black and white garments, is believed to have constituted the central panel of a triptych. The coronation of the Virgin was a popular subject in Gothic and late Gothic Italy up to the 18th century although its imagery considerably evolved over the centuries.

Physical description

In a pointed arched gilded frame, Christ dressed in red and blue crowns the Virgin, who wears a black and white garments; side by side, their bodies are represented three-quarter full-length whereas their faces are shown in profile on a plain golden background. They stand on a blue, red and gold cloth floor-covering and wear punch marked halos.

Place of Origin

Florence, Italy (painted)

Date

1340s-1360s (painted)

Artist/maker

Nardo di Cione (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

tempera on poplar panel

Dimensions

Height: 118 cm estimate, Width: 77.5 cm estimate

Object history note

Bought by C. A. Ionides on 26/02/1883, as a work by Giotto, formerly in the T. Maring collection (his inventory, private collection). Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides, 1900

Historical significance: Tuscan late-Gothic Coronations were usually triptychs, like that of 1420 by Rossello di Jacopo Franchi (Accademia, Florence). Typically the central panel showed the throne raised on steps or surrounded by angels in unarticulated space, with saints in the side panels. A profound change happened in Florentine painting between 1420 and 1440 with the creation of altarpieces built for unified picture fields with the introduction of a landscape or architectural background (see Fra Filippo Lippi’s Coronation of the Virgin known as the Maringhi Coronation, Uffizi, Florence and the Marsuppini Coronation of the Virgin, Pinacoteca vaticana, Vatican – which was recut as a triptych much later).
The present work is believed to have constituted the central part of a triptych, a reconstruction of which has been proposed by Richard Offner in his Corpus of Florentine Painting, New York, 1960, vol. ii, with the helps of two side panels from the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, representing full length standing saints.
Two pinnacles, stylistically compatible with the Munich panels and the V&A altarpiece, recently appeared on the London art market (Jan. 2011). Technical examinations have revealed the presence of a canvas under the paint layer, most likely transferred on to a wood panel at a later date. The Munich panels also revealed the presence of a canvas whereas CAI.104 does not show any sign of it. It seems therefore really unlikely that the two pinnacles, the Munich panels and the V&A Coronation are connected.
However the V&A panel must been reduced and cut off on the edges. The bottom of the panel most likely showed a group of angels attending the ceremony and playing musical instruments such as in these two Coronation of the Virgin respectively by Agnolo Gaddi, The National Gallery, London, and Giotto, Santa Croce, Florence. These large compositions tent to be chopped off and sold separately to increase profits during the 19th century. An interesting example of this practice stands in the three panels by the workshop of Giovanni del Biondo, housed in the Walter Art Gallery, Liverpool, which originally formed a unique panel and show a Coronation of the Virgin and Angels playing musical instruments (Inv. 2782, 6110 and 6120).
The attribution of the V&A painting was much questioned over the past years although scholars accordingly consider it now as a work by Nardo di Cione and assistants.
The space is formless, inspired by the example of Byzantine icons, such as in the works of Bernardo Gaddi, Lorenzo Monaco and Jacopo di Cione but still have Christ as the main character along with the Virgin while from the 1440s, God the Father begins to replace the Son. This change may illustrate the resolution of the Filioque controversy at the Council of Florence (1439), which emphasized the close identity of the Father and Son, as a gesture of reconciliation with the Greek Church. Representation of Christ persisted, for example in the Marsuppini Coronation for the Olivaetans of Arezzo, and eventually prevailed as the nominal union of Easter and Western Churches was neglected.
The Coronation of the Virgin was the most elaborate subject to be commonly treated in the 14th and 15th-century altarpieces, epitomised in Florence by the works of Fra Filippo Lippi and Fra Angelico who appears to break with the late Gothic tradition and create a new spatial dynamic for this kind of imagery. The scene is the final episode in the Life of the Virgin, and follows her Assumption - not yet dogma in the Middle Ages - or Dormition. The scriptural base is found in the Song of Songs (4.8), Psalms (44.11-12) and Revelation (12.1-7). The title "Queen of Heaven", or Regina Coeli, for Mary goes back to at least the 12th century.
Other coronations such as Jacopo di Cione’s, Nardo’s brother, Coronation of the Virgin of 1372-3 for the Florentine Mint (currently in the Accademia, Florence) show at the same period another typology and are depicted on a single vertical panel with two principal saints standing alongside the throne, while rows of other saints kneel across the front of the picture.

Historical context note

In Italy, the altar became a primary setting for painting on panel - hence the appellation 'altarpiece' - a format developed in Western art from the example of Byzantine icons. An early format consisted in gabled vertical panels representing a full-length saint flanked by scenes of his or her life and soon developed to include several individual compartments to form a polyptych which frames could become increasingly elaborate. They eventually transformed the altarpiece into an architectonic structure resembling in detail and spatial principles the façades of contemporary full-scale Gothic architecture. In Italy such altarpieces were usually made of wood and painted, while in northern Europe they were commonly executed in stone. A new type of altarpiece soon appeared in 15th-century Italy, known as pala,, and was closer to a framed picture. In the interest of clarity and unity, numerous medieval screens separating the choir and high altar from the nave were removed.
The religious reforms of the 16th century brought new attention and some important changes to the form and function of the altarpiece. Under Protestant auspices, the altarpiece iconography was restricted to subjects well-suited to the sacrament celebrated at the altar, such as the Last Supper while the dynamic qualities that characterize Baroque art brought important changes to altarpiece design. Important altarpieces consisting of a single painting or relief continued to be made, but increasingly architecture was used as the theatrical setting for the three-dimensional display of the altarpiece's subject in sculpture.
Altarpieces adorned both high altars and side altars. High altars often carried large altarpieces with elaborate programmes while side altars served a more private piety and their altarpieces were often endowed by private individuals.

Descriptive line

Tempera painting, 'The Coronation of the Virgin', Nardo di Cione, 1340s-1360s

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cosmo Monkhouse, 'The Constantin Ionides Collection', Magazine of Art, pp. 209-210.
'Not that I am at all convinced that Mr. Ionides has really had such extraordinary good fortune as to discover in Pall Mall a veritable example of the pupil of Cimabue. In his lovely specimen of Florentine art at the beginning or middle of the Fourteenth Century the type of the Madonna seems to me too delicate, the drawing of the profile and of the hands too accomplished, and the folds of the drapery too broken for the sheperd of Bondone. It is one of the numerous representations of the Coronation ot he Virgin which follow more or less the design of Giotto in his famous altar-piece at Santa Croce. We have two of them in the National Gallery, one by Orcagna, the other by some less able of the Giotteschi. But that belonging to Ionides is more beautiful than either of these, more refined in form, more sweet in colour. It is, moreover, almost unique in the purity of its condition (...). (....) Mr Ionides is fortunate in possessing (...) what is in itself a sacred thing, a picture the colours of which may be said to have been mixed not only with human brains but with a human soul.(...)'
Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 197-8, cat. no. 241.
The following is the full text of the entry:

NARDO di Cione (active 1343; d. 1365/66)
Florentine School
Nardo was the brother - reputedly the eldest - of Andrea (Orcagna) and Jacopo di Cione. He seems to have shared a workshop with Orcagna, with whose work his own was confused from an early date. They are the most outstanding of the second generation of Giotto followers in Florence. Nardo is known to have painted frescoes, including those in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, and about a dozen panel paintings have been ascribed to him.

241
THE CORONATION OF THE VIRGIN
Tempera on poplar with pointed arched top
46 ½ x 30 ½ (118 x 77.5), thickness of panel 1 ½ (3.8)
Ionides Bequest
CAI.104
The early attributions, covering most of the leading Florentine artists of the first half of the 14th century, included Agnolo Gaddi (inscription at back), Giotto, and, more perceptively, Orcagna and Bernardo Daddi. Siren (1907 and 1908) was the first to ascribe it to Nardo di Cione, the brother of Orcagna, and this has been generally accepted by subsequent authorities. H. D. Gronau (1937) suggested a date in the mid-1350s, when Nardo was working on the frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel.
More recently, Richard Offner (1960) lent the weight of his authority to the theory, originally propounded by Siren (1907), that CAI.104 formed the central panel of a triptych of which the wings, showing figures of saints, are now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. As the Munich panels each measure 142 x 70 cm., Offner concluded that CAI.104 had been cut considerably at the top and the bottom, and marginally at the sides, having originally contained musician angels. This is certainly possible, but, apart from a similarity in the gold tooling, there is no strong evidence that the Munich panels formed the wings. Indeed, even in Offner's proposed reconstruction (Offner, 1960, pl. ii) their width (each 70 cm.) is such that they dwarf the Coronation of the Virgin in the centre. It should also be remarked that the present (19th century) frame covers 1 ½ in. (3.8 cm.) of the painted surface at each edge, reducing the visible area to 110.5 x 70.5 cm. and accounting for the incomplete appearance of the draperies and of Christ's halo at the sides.
The type of elaborately designed floor covering, which is derived from contemporary silks, appears frequently in the works of the Orcagna school and is, in particular, almost a hall-mark of Nardo's panel paintings. Klesse (1967) lists twenty paintings showing the identical silk design.
The theme of the Coronation of the Virgin showing Christ actually crowning the Virgin appears to have originated in England in the first half of the 12th century (G. Zarnecki in J. W. C. I., xiii, 1950, p. 1 ff.). The iconography of this immensely popular theme in 14th century Italian painting is discussed by Offner (1957, pp. 243-50).

Condition. The panel has been worm-eaten and there are many small areas of retouching, but the general condition is good.
Prov. Constantine Alexander Ionides, before 1884; bequeathed to the Museum in 1900.
Exh. Early Italian art, New Gallery, 1893-94, no. 16 (Giotto).
Lit. Monkhouse 1884, p. 209 f. (Giotto or a follower); C. Phillips in Magazine of Art, xvii, 1893-94, p. 145 (style of Orcagna); P. Schubring in Jahrbuch der kgl.preuss, Kunstsammlungen, xxi, 1900, p. 164 ('Bernardo of Florence' - Bernardo Daddi); Georg, Graf Vitzthum, Bernardo Daddi, 1903, pp. 21, 62 f. (Bernardo Daddi); W. Suida in Repertorium fur Kunstunssenschaft, xxvii, 1904, p. 386 (Bernardo Daddi); Anon. in Athenaeum, 23 July 1904, p. 119 (School of Orcagna); A. Venturi, Storia dell'arte italiana, v, 1907, p. 520, n. 2 (Bernardo Daddi); W. Suida in Repertorium fur Kunstunssenschaft; xxxi, 1908, p. 206 (follower of Orcagna); O. Siren, Kult och konst, Stockholm, 1907, pp. 129, 131, 134, 141 (Nardo); id., Giottino, 1908, pp. 72 f., 89 (Nardo); B. Kvoshinsky and M. Salmi, I pittori toscani, ii, 1914, pp. 23 (Bernardo Daddi), 30 (Nardo); O. Siren, Giotto and some cf his followers, i, 1917, p. 251, ii, pl. 208 (Nardo); R. van Marle, Italian Schools, iii, 1924, p. 487 f., fig. 274 (Nardo); Long, Cat. Ionides Coll., 1925, p. 45 f., pl. 25 (school of Orcagna); R. Offner in Art in America, xii, 1924, p. 101 (Nardo); id., Studies in Florentine painting, 1927, p. 100; B. Berenson, Italian pictures, 1932, p. 383 (Nardo); H. D. Gronau, Andrea Orcagna und Nardo di Cione, 1937, p. 56, pl. 45 (Nardo, mid-1350s); P. Toesca, Trecento, 1954, p. 639 n. (between Nardo and Jacopo Cione); R. Offner, A corpus of Florentine paintings, section iii, vol. v, 1957, pp. 148, 150, 180, 248 (Nardo, mid-1350s), ibid., section iv, vol. ii, 1960, pp. iv, 13-7, pls, ii-iib (Nardo and assistants); B. Klesse, Seidenstoffe in der Italienischen Malerei des I4 Jahrhunderts, 1967, p. 330, no. 264 A.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p. 18.
The following is the full text of the entry:

"Nardo di Cione active 1343; d.1365/66
Florentine School
THE CORONATION OF THE VIRGIN
Tempera on panel, 118 x 77.5 cm
CAI. 104. Ionides Bequest.

It is perhaps a truism to say that museums inevitably display their objects somewhat divorced from their original context and function. This panel of 'The Coronation of the Virgin', for example, would in all probability once have formed the central panel of a large polyptych (that is, an altarpiece of many panels separated by the framing) that would have graced some Florentine chapel. It would probably have been surrounded by side panels of saints, and at the bottom there might have been a 'predella' or series of small narrative panels depicting scenes from the lives of the saints or Christ. Furthermore we cannot be sure that it is the whole of the central panel that we see before us today, since similar representations of the scene usually show a group of angels seated on the steps below the Virgin and Christ.
The subject of The Coronation of the Virgin achieved great popularity in 14th-century Italy, in line with the growth of the cult of the Virgin Mary. The basic pattern in Florence for the subject was Giotto's Baroncelli Polyptych of the second quarter of the 14th century. Nardo has followed Giotto in the pose of the two main figures fairly closely, but has completely altered the effect of the picture by his careful attention to the details of the scene, such as the Virgin's modest downward-looking gaze, and the adoption as a floor-covering of the beautiful blue, red and gold cloth on the step below. This design is derived from near-Eastern textiles and is indicative of the increasing interest of the generation of painters after Giotto in purely decorative aspects of painting. This tendency was eventually to lead to the full-blown late Gothic style of Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello of the early 15th-century.

The panel is in good condition, a tribute to the surety of the craftsmanship of Florentine painters of the 14th century. A description of their techniques can be found in the near-contemporary Libra d'Arte of Cennino Cennini. First the carpentry and gilding of the whole altarpiece was undertaken, a thin layer of gesso (fine plaster) being laid over the wooden panels to ensure a smooth surface. Then the figures themselves would have been painted in, in the medium of tempera, where egg-white is used to bind the pigment. Finally the blue of Christ's robe would have been laid in, the pigment being made of powdered lapis-lazuli. The whole process was extremely expensive and involved many different hands; to this extent such paintings were as much the product of a workshop as an individual hand. It was only with the coming of oil paints and canvas supports to Italy in the later 15th century that artists were able to develop more personal conceptions of a theme and depart from the patterns and techniques laid down by their masters generations before.

Nardo di Cione was, with his brothers Andrea (called Orcagna) and Jacopo a member of one of the largest workshops in Florence in the middle of the 14th century. They aimed to consolidate the gains in representational painting made by Giotto earlier in the century, but added to it an interest in new themes, such as the frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella of the Last Judgement, Paradise and Hell, and a concern for fine craftsmanship and technique. The Coronation of the Virgin well sums up the lucidity and the quality of the work that they produced.

Howard Coutts"
Phillips, C. in Magazine of Art, xvii, 1893-94, p. 145.
As style of Orcagna.
P. Schubring in Jahrbuch der kgl.preuss, Kunstsammlungen, xxi, 1900, p. 164.
As 'Bernardo of Florence' - Bernardo Daddi.
Georg, Graf Vitzthum, Bernardo Daddi, 1903, pp. 21, 62 f.
As Bernardo Daddi.
W. Suida in Repertorium fur Kunstunssenschaft, xxvii, 1904, p. 386.
As Bernardo Daddi.
Anon. in Athenaeum, 23 July 1904, p. 119.
As School of Orcagna.
A. Venturi, Storia dell'arte italiana, v, 1907, p. 520, n. 2.
As Bernardo Daddi.
W. Suida in Repertorium fur Kunstunssenschaft, xxxi, 1908, p. 206.
As follower of Orcagna.
O. Siren, Kult och konst, Stockholm, 1907, pp. 129, 131, 134, 141.
As Nardo di Cione.
O. Siren, Giottino, 1908, pp. 72 f., 89.
As Nardo di Cione.
B. Kvoshinsky and M. Salmi, I pittori toscani, ii, 1914, pp. 23 (Bernardo Daddi), 30 (Nardo).
As Bernardo Daddi or alternatively Nardo di Cione.
O. Siren, Giotto and some of his followers, i, 1917, p. 251, ii, pl. 208.
As Nardo di Cione.
R. van Marle, Italian Schools, iii, 1924, p. 487 f., fig. 274.
As Nardo di Cione.
B.S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection. Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings, London, 1925, p. 45 f., pl. 25.
As school of Orcagna.
R. Offner in Art in America, xii, 1924, p. 101.
As Nardo di Cione.
R. Offner Studies in Florentine painting, 1927, p. 100.
B. Berenson, Italian pictures, 1932, p. 383.
As Nardo di Cione.
H. D. Gronau, Andrea Orcagna und Nardo di Cione, 1937, p. 56, pl. 45.
As Nardo di Cione, mid-1350s.
P. Toesca, Trecento, 1954, p. 639 n.
As between Nardo and Jacopo di Cione.
R. Offner, A corpus of Florentine paintings, section iii, vol. v, 1957, pp. 148, 150, 180, 248 (Nardo, mid-1350s), ibid., section iv, vol. ii, 1960, pp. iv, 13-7, pls, ii-iib (Nardo and assistants).
As Nardo di Cione alone or with assistants.
B. Klesse, Seidenstoffe in der Italienischen Malerei des I4 Jahrhunderts, 1967, p. 330, no. 264 A.
K. Hugh, 'The Coronation of the Virgin - a technical study' in V&A Conservation Journal, July 1997, No. 24, pp. 18-21, fig. 1.
G. Bent, Monastic Art in Lorenzo Monaco's Florence: painting and patronage in Santa Maria degli Angeli, 1300-1415, Lewiston-Lampeter: 2006, pp. 160 sq, colour plate 4, fig. 16 and 17.
L. Kanter 'Der selige Gerhard von Villamagna im Florenz des 14. Jarhunderts: öffentlicher Kult oder private Frömmigkeit' in S. Weppelmann ed.,Zeremoniell und Raum in der frühen italienischen Malerei, Berlin: 2007, pp. 184-193, fig. 4.

Associated names

Jesus; Virgin Mary

Associated Events

Coronation of the Virgin

Materials

Tempera; Poplar

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Mary (Virgin Mary); Christianity; Coronation; Christ; Altarpieces

Categories

Christianity; Paintings

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O16421
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