This well preserved picture is by Giotto’s most faithful pupil, Taddeo Gaddi (see 10.97
). It was first published by Longhi in 1959; there is no certain earlier notice, and the suggestion that it formed part of an altarpiece seen by Ghiberti in the Florentine church of Santa Maria dei Servi seems unlikely, since Ghiberti describes that altarpiece as "grandissima." This panel could only have been a pinnacle from such a work. A panel from the same altarpiece, showing Saint Anthony Abbot (private collection), has been identified (Skaug 1994 and Boskovits 2001). As with the Saint Julian, the arched top has been cropped (the upper portion of the Saint Anthony is a modern reconstruction) and so, too, has the bottom edge, raising the possibility that originally the saints were depicted full-length. If this is admitted as a possibility, then the idea that the two saints formed part of an ensemble together with an Annunciation
in the Museo Bandini, Fiesole, seems extremely likely (Tartuferi 2007, 2008; see fig. 1 above). Not only is the Annunciation
close in style to the two panels, it has a virtually identically tooled border, with a vine motif (first remarked upon by Longhi in 1959). As Ladis (1982) has noted, a trefoliated shaped punched decoration in the halo of the Saints Julian and Anthony is also found, uniquely, in the halo of the Virgin of the Fiesole panel. Skaug (2008) wondered whether the three panels—the two saints and the Annunciation
—might have belonged together, and Tartuferi (2007, 2008) has made a strong case for them forming an altarpiece for the church of the Compagnia di Santa Maria della Croce al Tempio in Florence (the foundation was located on the via San Giuseppe—then known as the via del Crocifisso—near the church of Santa Croce). It has now been firmly established that the Fiesole Annunciation
originated from that church (Scudieri 1993), the home one of the most ancient confraternities of justice, the members of which were charged with the task of assisting those condemned to death. The confraternity seems to have been founded in 1343, which, as Tartuferi has noted, is remarkably close to the date most scholars have assigned to the Annunciation
(mid- to late 1340s). Richa, in fact, mentions an Annunciation
on the high altar in his Notizie istoriche delle chiese Fiorentine
of 1755 (vol. 2, p. 132: "una Nunziata assai antica"). If Tartuferi is correct, we might imagine a triptych with each panel surmounted by a pinnacle. In what now seems an overzealous attempt to draw clear distinctions between Taddeo’s autograph work and the products of his workshop, Ladis initially found weaknesses in both the Annunciation and the Saint Julian that he ascribed to an assistant, but he later agreed that the latter was by Taddeo himself (correspondence in departmental files) and, indeed, like the Annunciation, it is a work of very fine quality.
The way the saint turns his head, with his left arm acutely foreshortened and the sword establishing a decisive diagonal across the body, suggests an awareness of the work of Maso di Banco, whose figures can have an almost architectural quality to their construction and show a command of spatial composition. Maso is generally conceded to have exerted a strong influence on Taddeo, who in the late 1330s worked in the Bardi di Mangona chapel in Santa Croce on a project begun by Maso (Ladis 1982, pp. 136–38).
According to the Golden Legend
, Julian was of noble birth. Fearing a prediction that he would kill his father and mother, he left home, was knighted, married, and in the end killed his sleeping parents, whom he mistook in the dark for his wife and a secret lover. He then performed good deeds as penance. In the picture he is dressed as a knight and holds a sword as his identifying attribute.
Keith Christiansen 2012