Duccio di Buoninsegna active 1278-1319 BACK

An Italian painter who broke from the conventions of the Byzantine school by giving his figures more volume, an epic sense of scale, and a bold simplicity. Sienese painters who followed him were often content to remain detached from the search for more natural forms of representation which was being pursued in Florence and elsewhere. His greatest work was the Maestá which he was commissioned to paint in 1308. There are 45 panels that represent scenes from the Bible and the lives of saints. After this work was no longer appreciated parts of it were sold and the result of this cultural folly is that museums around the world now have panels from this great work.

An excerpt from Art if the Italian Renaissance by Rolf Toman
In Siena, Byzantinism had been tantamount to the official art of the city state ever since the installation of the Madonna del voto, so the change in style was attended with difficulties. If Duccio's Maesti had been done in the new style of Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna rather than the "Christian primitive" style, it would have struck most Sienese as "false", for all its beauty, when it was carried in procession to the Cathedral in 1311. But Duccio had found a way of harmonizing the old and the new in such a way that his Madonna could be seen as a new creation by St. Luke while at the same time eroding the authority and claim to authenticity of the Luke style.

Duccio respected what probably appeared to him as the specifics of the Christian primitive style: elongated bodies, delicate limbs, oval faces with long noses and small mouths, pale flesh colour, a canonical repertoire of gestures complete with stock attitudes of walking or standing, and a concern with flowing robes and with landscape. But he also tried his utmost to loosen up what was visually formulaic and make it more natural. In the Maest,~, though the figures are crowded like a royal court, each has individual breathing space established by the spacing of the throne and the ranks of saints, and further spatiality is asserted by the subtly managed folds of their robes. Duccio's delicate figures have so many hair styles (wavy, curly, straight or bushy) and are wearing so many carefully differentiated materials that it almost seems he had been out to demonstrate the superiority of his figures over the rather wooden ones in Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna.

Duccio had greater opportunity to naturalize the Christian primitive manner in the pictures for the Marian predella (some , of which are lost) and the twenty-six scenes of the Passion which he painted on the back of the Maesti. The crucified Christ in the centre picture, and the two thieves, are painted in the same way as the panel-within-a-fresco at Assisi. The delicate halls and loggias that serve as setting for the action, with their coffered ceilings or groin vaulting and their several doors, seem to derive directly from the frontal and side-angle views in the Assisi nave cycles.

Unlike Giotto's, Duccio's mastery of spatial values was very likely a self-taught thing, acquired by studying what he saw in Rome or Assisi. Even so, his perspective constructions sometimes go far beyond those of Giotto's Arena Chapel. The Crucifixion extends over two levels of the panel, like the Entry into Jerusalem which begins the cycle. This latter picture was the first to present the scene as one happening in a fairly confined space and witnessed by crowds - which include us as onlookers, looking down as if from a tree. Another picture on two levels shows Christ being questioned by the high priest, Caiaphas, and Peter denying Christ; it was the first to reflect the fact that these two Biblical scenes were happening simultaneously in different parts of one and the same palace. We see a two-storey building, the lower part suggesting both a facade and an inner courtyard, with steps leading up to the interrogation room. In this lower half, a number of men are sitting talking, warming their hands and feet, killing time. One of them, identified as Peter by his halo, is marked out from the rest by his green robes. The maid standing at the left is accusing him of being a follower of Christ; Duccio shows that Peter's denial is a he by aligning his axis with Christ's and relating his gesture of denial and posture to the steps in such a way as to imply that, in his thoughts at, Peter is with his Lord. The steps, and the landing that links the two levels, might easily be thought ad hoc inventions.

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Image List
Rucellai Madonna

Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew

Maesta (front view)

Maesta (reverse view)

Temptation of Christ on the Mountain

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