The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple by Taddeo Gaddi

Taddeo Gaddi

The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, c.1332, Tempera, pen and ink on green prepared paper, 366 x 285 mm, Musée du Louvre, France, MA12560, Photo: Richard Lambert © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

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Imagining the Temple

Commentary by

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.

 

References

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]