Duccio’s Maestà Essay
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In the early Renaissance era Florence and Siena were rivals in many aspects. The Battle of Montaperti was fought between the two in September of 1260. After their triumph over Florence, Siena used the monetary winnings for the building of the Palazzo Pubblico to serve the city in governmental, spiritual and social needs; it was comparable to the basilicas in ancient Rome in this aspect. The Palazzo Pubblico (fig. 1) was also made to compete with Florence’s already constructed Palazzo della Signoria1 (fig. 2). The city also focused the new funds on the elaboration of the cathedral interior (fig. 3). In 1308, Duccio di Buoninsegna was hired for this reason. Duccio completed the requested polyptych, or multipaneled, altarpiece three years…show more content…
The people saw a painting of Mary as a path of communication. The people of Siena, now visually inspired to pray for the well-being and peace of the city, were ecstatic at the sight of the finished altarpiece. The citizens of Siena were not alone in their high regards of St. Mary. Duccio includes his signature of praise in the base of the Virgin’s throne: “Holy Mother of God, be the cause of peace to Siena, and of life to Duccio because he has painted you thus.” Duccio used his talent as a type of praise, painting as a form of worship. He hoped for the favor of his patron saint in return for the labor expended in creation of the Maestà. Duccio’s Maestà towered over six feet and consisted of fifty-five framed panels painted with egg-based tempera. Madonna Enthroned, the largest section of the entire structure, dominated the front plane of the altarpiece. The same side was comprised of scenes of the life of Mary from Annunciation to her death (fig. 4). The reverse side compiled the life of Christ into 42 separate panels from the Baptism of Christ to events occurring after Resurrection (fig. 5). Many ages of art shine through Duccio’s portraying of Mary in Madonna Enthroned (fig. 6). Both being trained in the Greek manner, Duccio’s version of Siena’s patron saint is comparable to Cimabue’s Enthroned Madonna and Child with Angels and Prophets from the year 1280 2 (fig. 7). Duccio, however, took a softer
The frame is decorated with twenty-six painted medallions depicting Christ and four angels, as well prophets and saints. This is one of Cimabue's early works, painted in about 1280, well before the Maestà di Santa Trinità (Florency, Uffizi). A lack of consensus in attributing this painting to the Florentine master is due in large part to the later date of execution traditionally assigned to it, difficult to reconcile with the hieratic and dramatic style.
An early work by Cimabue?
The iconography of the Maestà - the Child and the Virgin, glorified as queen of heaven, and surrounded by a host of angels - is accentuated by the monumentality of the retable and the sumptuous gold ground. On the original frame, twenty-six painted medallions depict Christ and four angels, as well as saints and prophets.
This work was described by Vasari in 1568 as being found in the church of San Francesco in Pisa, whose high alter it adorned. For this reason, certain specialists have linked this work with Cimabue's stay in Pisa from 1301 to 1302. However, stylistic analysis of the painting and comparisons made between it and the Maestà painted at a later date for the Santa Trinità church in Florence (Florence, Uffizi) suggest an earlier date of execution - around 1280. Nevertheless, the work already contains elements that attest to the investigations and aspirations of the artist responsible for the rebirth of painting in Italy.
An innovative art
Cimabue led the artistic movement in late 12th-century Tuscany that sought to renew the pictorial vocabulary and break with the rigidity of Byzantine art. The artist demonstrated a new sensibility, which endeavored to adhere more closely to reality.
The composition of the Maestà is symmetrical and dense. The imposing Virgin is hieratic, and the blessing gesture of the Christ Child is hardly child-like; however, Cimabue gently and subtly models the faces, endowing the figures with a new sense of humanity. The drapery, not simply drawn either, seems to fold naturally, following the movement of the bodies (for example, the cloaks of the two angels in the foreground whose knees protrude). This demonstrates the undoubted influence of sculptors such as Nicola Pisano.
A new sensitivity
Cimabue's palette is delicate, with shaded tones, notably in the angels' wings. The figures take on real solidity and an unprecedented visual presence. The artist prepared the ground for 14th-century Florentine art. His works raise the issues that would preoccupy his successors, notably Giotto: the representation of space, the representation of the body, and light.