If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Duccio, The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea, c. 1315, tempera on wood, 42.5 x 34.5 cm (National Gallery, London). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in the National Gallery in London, and we're looking at a really rare painting, a painting by Duccio. There are very few in the world. This is a Virgin and Child with Saints. It's got, at the top of it, a little teeny image of King David-- SPEAKER 2: From the Old Testament. SPEAKER 1: --and he is surrounded by Old Testament prophets, who are identified with their scrolls. SPEAKER 2: It's sort of standard iconography. And so you have the prophets who foretell the coming of Christ. And then, below here, we have a tryptich so that when the wings are open, Mary and Christ are revealed. So it's kind of wonderful in that you have the prophets at the top who are always there with King David. And then when the tryptich is open, the revealing of the truth of their prophecy-- SPEAKER 1: --comes to be. SPEAKER 2: Right. And King David was thought to be, or understood to be, an ancestor of Christ. SPEAKER 1: And is wearing a blue that relates directly to the blue that Mary wears. There is a kind of intimacy here that is absolutely revolutionary, and is the foundation of the Renaissance, later. Look at the way that the Christ child looks up really adoringly at his mother. SPEAKER 2: Sort of grabs hold of her veil to sort of make sure he sees her face. SPEAKER 1: And look at the delicacy of that veil. I think that's one of the most beautiful areas of this painting. The way in which he gathers her veil, in one hand-- SPEAKER 2: Yeah, it's very sweet. SPEAKER 1: --pulls on it with the other. And it creates this very soft, kind of arc between them, this bridge between them. Duccio is a Sienese artist, and certainly Duccio's work is characterized by the sensitivity to the decorative, both in the subtlety of color, but also in form. A kind of interest in the decorative for its own sake. And I think you really see that in the way that Christ pulls at the inner garment around Mary's neck and creates a series of really beautiful and rhythmic folds. SPEAKER 2: Yeah, and playful lines and curves that carry down around the golden hem of Christ's garment and Mary's garment. SPEAKER 1: You see it, also, in the rendering of Saint Aurea, who's a rare saint to be shown in paintings of this time, I think, of any time. And Saint Dominic on the left, as well. Both of those things are so direct. They seem to be almost stepping out of the picture plane. There's a sense of truthfulness, of veracity almost, that seems so precocious for this moment. SPEAKER 2: I think when we look, overall, at the painting, at this little altarpiece that would've been a private altarpiece for private devotion that someone could carry around if they moved and wanted to have the ability to worship and pray. So it's important to remember that this is an aid in prayer. But when we look at it, there's a real sense of the physical presence of the saints on either side, and of that emotional connection with Mary and her physical presence. So we're seeing the beginnings of this change to the Renaissance. SPEAKER 1: It's so interesting that Duccio is creating these connections which will lay the foundation for the Renaissance, which will come a century later. But at the same time, this is so firmly rooted, also, in the medieval tradition. And we're never very far from that. Not only do we have this broad gold fields, which are really representation of the divine light of heaven, there's no rational relationship between the figures, in terms of scale. And then, of course, there's that strong Byzantine influence still in the elongation of the nose, the [INAUDIBLE] of her fingers. Even as Duccio begins to explore the possibility of creating a more intimate and, I think, emotionally-charged rendering.