By the 1340s, Taddeo Gaddi (c.1290–1366) was one of the most renowned painters in Florence.
This preparatory study would later form part of Gaddi’s main work, the Stories of the Virgin cycle, in the Baroncelli Chapel of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.
The study depicts an event recorded in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James: Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, presenting their three-year old daughter in the temple at Jerusalem. The elderly couple were unexpectedly blessed with a child, and so offered her to God’s service as an act of thanksgiving. According to tradition, Mary remained in the temple until she was twelve, when she was entrusted to Joseph. She would herself be interpreted as temple-like, because her body would one day ‘house’ the divine presence. The feast of the Presentation of Mary is celebrated in the Catholic and Orthodox liturgical calendars.
The temple which Gaddi imagines in his study is the Second Temple, built c.537–16 BCE to replace Solomon’s original, which was destroyed in 586 BCE by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when he conquered Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the Second Temple—as well as the visual depictions, textual descriptions, and religious structures it has inspired—have repeatedly been celebrated as Solomon’s progeny, each fulfilling his promise ‘to build a house for the name of the Lord my God … as ordained forever for Israel’ (v.4). In her study of iconographies of the temple, architectural historian Amanda Lillie (2014) notes that Solomon’s original ‘was employed as a yardstick against which holiness, wisdom, and beauty were measured’, and that each rebuilding on the Temple Mount site kept its memory alive, ‘as the ancient core was subsumed within each new version’.
None of the plans for Solomon’s temple remain, and archaeological studies are mainly indirect and often contested. The scriptural descriptions of the temple (e.g. Jeremiah 19:14; 26:2; 1 Kings 6:17, 36; 2 Chronicles 3:5; 4:9) are also limited. Therefore, the artists who have depicted it and the architects who have evoked it in churches of their own design, have been left to imagine the space for themselves, often drawing on contemporaneous architectural and decorative styles.
Yet it never loses its power as an architectural and religious archetype, and the fact that Gaddi shows the full height of the temple—even at the risk of upstaging the actors and events it frames—suggests its undiminished importance for him.
Gardner, Julian. 1971. ‘The Decoration of the Baroncelli Chapel in Santa Croce’, Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte, 34.2: 89–114
Lille, Amanda. 2014. ‘Imagining the Temple in Jerusalem: An Archetype with Multiple Iconographies’, in Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting, on-line catalogue ed. by Amanda Lillie, available at https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/research/research-resources/exhibition-catalogues/building-the-picture/place-making/place-making-3 [accessed 3 March 2020]
2 Now Solomon purposed to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself. 2And Solomon assigned seventy thousand men to bear burdens and eighty thousand to quarry in the hill country, and three thousand six hundred to oversee them. 3And Solomon sent word to Huram the king of Tyre: “As you dealt with David my father and sent him cedar to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me. 4Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the continual offering of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained for ever for Israel. 5The house which I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to burn incense before him? 7So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided. 8Send me also cedar, cypress, and algum timber from Lebanon, for I know that your servants know how to cut timber in Lebanon. And my servants will be with your servants, 9to prepare timber for me in abundance, for the house I am to build will be great and wonderful. 10I will give for your servants, the hewers who cut timber, twenty thousand cors of crushed wheat, twenty thousand cors of barley, twenty thousand baths of wine, and twenty thousand baths of oil.”
11 Then Huram the king of Tyre answered in a letter which he sent to Solomon, “Because the Lord loves his people he has made you king over them.” 12Huram also said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endued with discretion and understanding, who will build a temple for the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.
13 “Now I have sent a skilled man, endued with understanding, Huramabi, 14the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father. 15Now therefore the wheat and barley, oil and wine, of which my lord has spoken, let him send to his servants; 16and we will cut whatever timber you need from Lebanon, and bring it to you in rafts by sea to Joppa, so that you may take it up to Jerusalem.”
17 Then Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in the land of Israel, after the census of them which David his father had taken; and there were found a hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred. 18Seventy thousand of them he assigned to bear burdens, eighty thousand to quarry in the hill country, and three thousand six hundred as overseers to make the people work.