Saturday, July 2, 2011


Title: Santa Cecilia
Artist: Bernardo Daddi
Medium: Tempera on wood panel
Size: 89.5 x 49.5 cm
Date: c. 1348
Location: Museo Diocesano, Collezione Crespi, Milan.


St Cecilia, so often glorified in the fine arts and in poetry, is one of the most venerated martyrs of Christian antiquity. Legend has it that Cecilia, a virgin of a senatorial family and a Christian from her infancy, was given in marriage by her parents to a noble pagan youth Valerianus. When, after the celebration of the marriage, the couple had retired to the wedding-chamber, Cecilia told Valerianus that she was betrothed to an angel who jealously guarded her body; therefore Valerianus must take care not to violate her virginity. Valerianus wished to see the angel, whereupon Cecilia sent him to the third milestone on the Via Appia where he should meet Bishop (Pope) Urbanus. Valerianus obeyed, was baptized by the pope, and returned a Christian to Cecilia. An angel then appeared to the two and crowned them with roses and lilies. When Tiburtius, the brother of Valerianus, came to them, he too was won over to Christianity. As zealous children of the Faith both brothers distributed rich alms and buried the bodies of the confessors who had died for Christ. The prefect, Turcius Almachius, condemned them to death; an officer of the prefect, Maximus, appointed to execute this sentence, was himself converted and suffered martyrdom with the two brothers.

This portrait of St Cecilia is typical of Daddi’s style, imbued with emotional tenderness and grace, in contrast to his contemporaries more massive and somber mode of expression. Daddi had close stylistic affinities to painters of the “miniaturist tendency”, and his intimate, lyrical style was best suited to works on a small scale. The saint’s naturalistic looking expression, the detail in the crown of roses and lilies, and the intricacy of her halo are all indicative of a mature work by this Florentine master.

Bernardo Daddi (c. 1280 – 1348) was a Florentine painter, the outstanding painter in Florence in the period after the death of Giotto (who was possibly his teacher). Daddi ran a busy workshop specializing in small devotional panels and portable altarpieces. His signed and dated works include a polyptych of The Crucifixion with Eight Saints (Courtauld Institute, London, 1348) and the works attributed to him include frescos of the Martyrdoms of SS. Lawrence and Stephen in Santa Croce. His style is a sweetened version of Giotto's, tempering the latter's gravity with Sienese grace and lightness. He favored smiling Madonnas, teasing children, and an abundance of flowers and trailing draperies. His lyrical manner was extremely popular and his influence endured into the second half of the century. Like many other artists of his time, Daddi died during the black death of 1348.

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