(b. before 1300, d. ca. 1360)
Tempera on panel, 167 x 285 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
The development of the art of Paolo Veneziano is characterized by a kind of see-sawing supremacy of one or the other of two influences: on the one hand, the advances being made in contemporary Italian painting and on the other the traditions of oriental figurative art. In this polyptych, set in the sumptuousness of its magnificent International Gothic wooden frame each of the novelties of western art tends to find its expression within the Byzantine modes typical of Byzantine art at the time of the Palaeologus dynasty.
Physical and spiritual centre of the complex iconographical scheme is the 'Coronation of the Virgin', surrounded by eight stories from the life of Christ. On the left are 'The Adoration of the Magi', 'The Baptism of Christ', 'The Last Supper' and 'The Prayer in the Garden and the Arrest of Christ'; on the right are 'The Journey to Calvary', 'The Crucifixion', 'The Resurrection and the encounter with Mary Magdalene' and 'The Ascension'. In the second order, set between the four Evangelists, are scenes depicting, from left to right: 'Pentecost', 'St. Clare taking the Veil', 'St. Francis handing back his clothes to his father', 'The Stigmata of St. Francis', 'The Death of St. Francis' and 'Christ in Judgment'.
The contrast of the Gothic inventiveness of the figures and the planimetric effects of the gilded background of the panels with the 'Coronation of the Virgin' is even more noticeable in many of the lesser scenes such as 'The Adoration of the Magi' and 'The Baptism of Christ' which are clearly reminiscent of Byzantine treatments of the same subjects. The influence of the West on the other hand, is suggested by the lively handling of the compositional rhythms in other stories from the life of Christ such as 'The Prayer in the Garden and the Arrest of Christ' and 'The Crucifixion'.