Duccio's Maesta (front) Duccio, Maesta (front), 1308-11 (Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Duccio's Maesta (front)
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- We are in the museum of the cathedral of Siena, and we are looking at
- probably , the singlemost famous work of art
- from Siena, and certainly one of the most important
- works of art from the 14th century. This is Duccio's Maesta.
- The title means the Virgin Mary in majesty
- and we see her very large in the centre of the main
- panel. She is by far the largest figure anywhere in this painting.
- This is a polyptych. It is made of many many panels,
- not all of which are here in the museum unfortunately.
- Maestas peter on both the front and the back.
- The Mary is on the front and the stories of Marys life are on the front
- but the story of Christ is on the back. so in a sense this is
- a free standing painting. It is a large sculptural object
- that has all this imagery all over. And the figures
- of the saints and angels are almost life size.
- Its true, and there are three rows of them and they are lined up
- almost as if you worked for a class picture.
- There are four local saints in front, and then angels and saints in the second row
- and I think an unbroken row of angels in the back
- Now we would have originally seen a predella below, that is a stab of small paintings,
- and then above the large panel, there would have been
- the series of saints as well. We think that the predella,
- would have held the scenes of the early life of virgin Mary
- and above her death and ascend to heaven
- and then there would have been in the elaborate frame.
- In the previous century,
- Siena had won a significant battle against
- its arch rival
- Florence. Now Siena and Florence were wealthy city states.
- That is they were independant nations
- and were often at war with each other. Siena
- believes that they won because of the grace of Mary. Many years later
- the town of Siena commissioned their most famous painter
- Duccio , to create a very large painting, which
- was dedicated to Virgin Mary. It would have stood exactly
- on the altar of the cathedral in the crosslink just under the dome
- As you cross the higher altar you would be able to make out, just at the bottom
- an inscription that read, 'Holy Mother of God, be the cause of peace to Siena, and to the life of Duccio, because he has painted thee thus.'
- Now Siena was very much a competitor of Florence. and
- the great florentine painter of the day was
- Giotto. He had painted a major cycle, telling the story
- of the Virgin Mary. of the Christ's parents, of Christ himself
- and in some ways the Maesta was a kind of answer to that. We can do this too.
- We can be as comprehensive and have a masterpiece
- too. And I think they proved that they did something that their rival Giotto did
- in the arena chapel. But Giotto's
- painting was a fresco. Fresco did not make sense for the cahtedral
- of Siena because the cathedral of Siena is made of
- alternating blocks of black and white marble.
- It has a very decorative interior, that would'nt have worked with fresco
- and so it made sense to do a panel painting for the altar piece.
- And you have to remember that at the end of the medieval,
- Mary had taken on an enormously important role.
- she was the bridge that normal people could access Christ through.
- You would speak and pray to the virgin Mary and she
- would perhaps speak to her son on your behalf. She had the role of an intercessor, or someone who intercedes
- between god and mankind. As is traditional, she is garbed in an intensely
- billoed, that must have been fabulously
- expensive, given of the lapezzawould have been required to produce that artillery in paint.
- There is this beautifully embedded gold
- in the strait behind her. There are lot of decorative surfaces,
- representing that this is particular to the siena style.
- There is a sense of delicacy, and christ has modelled him
- there is a kind of transparency and around his leg there is a beautiful
- amatilation of light and shadow
- that is being used here not only strylation of gold
- this is not the earlier work of Chimabue. this
- is a work of Duccio who is moving steadily and consciously
- it is creating a sense of real mass and real volume.
- the drapery about the Christ is softly and beautifully modelled. look at the christ
- in her hands pearls in her drapery
- and dthe modelling that we see under chrissts chin and neck
- it really is three dimensional and the way we begin to see its life charter also
- in the early thirten hundreds, creating forms that were three dimensional
- and lok at the face of christ. there is a look of awaremess
- and wisdom that is peircing. he seems to look dirrectly at us
- and it is the stare of a fully conscious adult.
- the angels are remarkably animated. some
- look at mary,, some look away, some look at us
- there is a kind of informality. its true
- that informality is so unexpected. you would expect something more rigid
- this is the court of heaven after all. this is quite wonderful
- and gives it a sense of complexity and lso notincing
- the lovely curls that make up the wings of the angel
- somehow actually make to feel like feathers
- it gives us a sense of voleume and the wings are not flat
- and now in the ground we see the throne opening out moving
- into our space
- now remember that in the medieval era
- the cathedrals and churches in general were not open for people to walk
- through as they are now. and the lay people as they are
- known would have gone to the front of the church only
- the area at the back of the church, the altar would have been reserved
- for those who had worked directly with the church. it is intersting to note
- the relation that the men who had the power to access
- to this side of the painting that focussed on virgin Mary
- the intercessor between man and the divine
- a more privileged reach was available to the monks and the priests
- to those who were closely associated with the church.
- let us take a walk at the back and take a look at that panels
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