This important painting by Giotto depicts Saint Stephen, shown from his waist up, was one of the lateral compartments of the polyptych. It was sold at a London auction to expert English art collector Herbert Percy Horne in the early 1900s. Along with the other precious works in the collection of the Museo della Fondazione Horne, this painting has been on display since 1920 in the late 15th-century building attributed to Cronaca.
It was Horne himself who recognized the painting as an authentic Giotto, even though scholars confirmed this only years later. For many years, scholars believed Roberto Longhi’s claim that it was part of a five-compartment polyptych, which had at its centre the Goldman Madonna of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and Saint Lawrence and John the Evangelist from the Musée Jacquemart-André in Chaalis as lateral paintings. In fact, not only do the compartments fail to match up in size, but the gold background of Giotto’s Saint Stephen was made with a different material. Giotto used greenish base in this panel, and reddish base in the other panels of the polyptych. In another massive panel-painting that recounts the seven stories of Christ, Giotto also used the green base used in the Horne piee.
Today, the panels that made up the polyptych from which the Saint Stephen comes are dispersed in museums throughout the world. After technological observation of these panels and the restoration work done on the Chaalis panels, art critics and experts identified the unique style used in each panel. The Florentine piece is characterized by its unique semblance to the figures in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce. It is also relevant because it shows the influence of the Sienese school as well as some stylistic traits used by Simone Martini, evidenced by the golf leafed damasque pattern and the richness of the missal in the hands of the saint. It was likely created in the same period as the Bardi Chapel: the mid-1320s. Some have argued that this panel was made in Giotto’s later years.
Visit the Horne Museum in Florence, via dei Benci 6, to see this painting. For further information see www.museohorne.it