DuccioDuccio di Buoninsegna was the first great Sienese painter, and stands at the beginning of the Sienese School as Giotto does of the Florentine. His art has little of the revolutionary naturalism of Giotto. He largely retained the traditional Byzantine forms. But he added a new grace and elegance of line and subtlety and richness of colour, developed complicated and convincing spatial compositions with many figures, introduced emotional expression and drama to the depictions of biblical stories, and he was a superb craftsman.
About his training, there is only speculation. One theory is that he studied under a Byzantine master; a visit to Constantinople has even been postulated. Another theory is that he simply trained under some local painter, such as the rather shadowy Guido da Siena. Roberto Longhi argued that he was a pupil of the Florentine Cimabue, assisting him in the Upper Church at Assisi, and this view has become increasingly accepted by Italian scholars. He is first recorded in 1278, when he was paid forty soldi for painting wooden coffers for the account books of the Bicherna (the tax office of the Comune). He seems to have had a markedly ‘artistic temperament’, and from 1279 there are many records of debts unpaid and fines imposed. (His offences included breaking the civic curfew, entering private land and causing damage, refusing to swear fealty to the Capitano del Popolo, refusing military service, building over a road, and witchcraft.) His earliest major work is the Rucellai Madonna, which was commissioned in 1285 for Santa Maria Novella in Florence, but was possibly painted in Siena. Until 1302 he is recorded as living in the contrada of San Donato in the Terzo di Camollia. He later moved to a new house and workshop in the contrada of Stalloreggi in the parish of San Quirico. There he painted in 1308-11 the great Maestà, a huge double-sided altarpiece, for Siena Cathedral. He died in late 1318 or in 1319, when his wife Taviana is mentioned as a widow.
The Rucellai Madonna and the Maestà are Duccio’s only documented works. Many other pictures have been attributed to him, but few of these are unanimously accepted as works of the master himself, rather than his workshop or school. His closest followers that we know by name were Ugolino di Nerio (whose high altarpiece for Santa Croce in Florence, now dispersed among several museums, included scenes derived from the Maestà), Segna di Bonaventura (four signed works by whom survive) and Segna’s son Niccolò di Segna. Anonymous followers include the 'Master of Città di Castello' (named after a Madonna and Child Enthroned now in the town's Pinacoteca Communale), the 'Master of the Albertini' or 'Master of the Casole Fresco' (named after a detached fresco from the Albertini Chapel at Casole d'Elsa') and the 'Master of Badia di Isola' (named after a Madonna and Child Enthroned at Colle di Val d'Elsa).
Madonna and Child with Six Angels. Wood, 32 x 23.
In style and composition, this small, well-preserved panel is a little like a miniature Rucellai Madonna (Duccio's huge altarpiece in the Uffizi). The Madonna is seated on a Cosmatesque marble throne, the back of which is covered by a cloth of honour of red brocade. She is flanked by six angels – dressed in cool, silvery, light blues, pinks and lilacs. The panel, possibly the left side of a diptych, is attributed either to Duccio himself or a Sienese contemporary (the ‘Berne Master’). Bequeathed by the Swiss painter Adolf von Stürler (who lived in Florence from 1829 to 1853). Stürler believed the panel to be by Cimabue. The reattribution was made after the Rucellai Madonna was recognised (in 1898) as a work of Duccio rather than Cimabue.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
*Tabernacle. Centre panel 61 x 39; shutters 45 x 19.
The Crucifixion in the centre is a simplified version, with fewer figures, of the panel from the back of the Maestà in the cathedral museum at Siena. The left shutter depicts a papal saint (Gregory or Clement?) and the right one St Nicholas. Some critics have attributed at least the centre panel to Duccio, while others deny him any part in the execution. The shutters have sometimes been thought to be by a different hand, and have even been attributed to the young Simone Martini (on the assumption that he was an assistant in Duccio’s shop). (The marble patterning on the backs of the shutters appears to be repainting.) It has been recently suggested (by Victor Schmidt in Painted Piety, 2005) that the triptych could have been commissioned by the Dominican Niccolò da Prato – who had already been suggested as the patron of the small triptych by Duccio in the National Gallery, London – as one wing depicts his name saint and the other (possibly) Clement, who was patron saint of Velletri where he was Cardinal-Bishop. The Boston and London triptychs are identical in structure and dimensions, and seem likely to have been made in the same workshop at the same time.
The Boston triptych is first recorded in 1837 in the London collection of William Young Ottley, who probably acquired it in Italy in the 1790s. It remained with Ottley's descendants until the end of the nineteenth century. It was one of several early Sienese paintings bought in 1904 by J. Pierpont Morgan, the great American financier, from the art historian Robert Langton Douglas. It was inherited in 1913 by J. P. Morgan Jr., who housed his Italian artworks in the neo-Gothic Wall Hall at Aldenham in Hertfordshire. Acquired for 5,400 gns by Duveen Brothers at the Morgan sale held at Christie's in 1944, shipped across the Atlantic, and sold to the Boston museum in 1945 for the huge price of $250,000.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Coronation of the Virgin (fragment). Wood, 52 x 32.
This well-preserved fragment may have been part of the lost central pinnacle at the front of Duccio's great Maestà from Siena Cathedral. The association with the Maestà was first proposed only in 1980 (by Alessandro Conti in Prospettiva), and there had been earlier attributions to Segna di Bonaventura and to his son Niccolò. One of many early Sienese works acquired by the Hungarian bishop and historian Arnold Ipolyi in 1867, when the collection of the German painter Johann Anton Ramboux was auctioned in Cologne. Presented to the Budapest museum in 1872.
John the Baptist bearing Witness. Canvas (transferred from original panel and mounted on wood), 29 x 38.
This very damaged little picture – cut down, retouched and re-gilt – is also sometimes thought to have been part of the Maestà (the first panel of the predella on the back). It has sometimes been ascribed to Duccio’s workshop (Berenson’s 1968 Lists) or considered a copy (Stubblebine’s 1979 monograph). Also from the Ramboux collection.
Buonconvento (27 km south of Siena). Musei d’Arte Sacra.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 68 x 49.
The Child's purple drapery is worn like a classical toga. He holds a scroll in his left hand and raises his right hand in blessing. Traditional gold striation is used to indicate the folds in the Virgin's dark drapery. This rather damaged panel was probably the centre of a polyptych. It came from the fourteenth-century century church of Santi Pietro e Paolo at Buonconvento, where it had been inserted into an altarpiece by the seventeenth-century painter Stefano Volpi. Previously regarded as the work of a follower, such as Segna di Bonaventura or the ‘Badia a Isola Master’, it was ascribed to Duccio himself in 1960 (by Ferdinando Bologna in Paragone). It was included as an early Duccio in the great exhibition Duccio alle Origini della Pittura Senese held at Siena in 2003-4.
**Madonna Enthroned (‘Rucellai Madonna’). Wood, 450 x 290.
This huge altarpiece – almost fifteen feet high and the largest known thirteenth-century panel painting – was commissioned on 15 April 1285 by the society of Laudesi of Santa Maria Novella (a company devoted to singing lauds to the Virgin). The price was 150 lire in small florins. The contract does not specify its location in the church, and it has been variously suggested that it was originally placed over the high altar, on the tramezzo (choir screen) or in a chapel (later granted to the Bardi) on the far right of the choir. It was later moved to the wall in the far right transept between the Bardi and Rucellai Chapels, where Vasari saw it. In the seventeenth century, it was placed over the altar of the Rucellai Chapel, where it remained until 1948, when it was removed to the Uffizi.
Vasari attributed the picture to Cimabue, and says that ‘it was carried in solemn procession to the sound of trumpets from the artist’s home to the church’ – just as Duccio’s Maestà in Siena was. (Vasari's story inspired Frederic Leighton's huge panoramic history painting Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, which was exhibited with great success at the Royal Academy in 1855, was bought by Queen Victoria, and currently hangs above the National Gallery's main staircase.) Vasari’s attribution went almost unquestioned until Jean Paul Richter (1898) recognised the picture as Sienese. Duccio’s authorship has been universally accepted since the 1930s, but why a young Sienese painter should have won such a major Florentine commission remains a mystery.
The subject is probably the Assumption of the Virgin, reflecting the dedication of Santa Maria Novella. The angels, dressed in delicate tones of rose-pink, lavender, greyish blue and green, seem to be floating against the gold background as they kneel on one knee to support the Virgin's Gothic wooden throne. The frame is decorated with thirty roundels, representing God the Father in the apex, Old Testament prophets on the right side, the twelve Apostles on the left, and saints on the bottom (including Peter Martyr who founded the confraternity of the Laudesi). Many of the heads are angled to look at the Christ Child. Cleaning in 1989 removed thick overpaint from the Virgin’s robe, revealing the fine modelling of the folds.
Fort Worth (Texas). Kimbell Art Gallery.
*Raising of Lazarus. Wood, 44 x 46.
From the Maestà; probably the last panel of the predella at the back, which showed scenes of Christ’s ministry. The predella probably consisted of nine scenes. Two are still in Siena, two are in the National Gallery, London, and one is possibly in Budapest. The Raising of Lazarus is one of four panels that re-emerged in an exhibition in 1879 at Colle Val d’Elsa; the others are the Temptation of Christ (now in the Frick Collection, New York), Christ and the Samaritan Woman (Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid) and the Calling of Peter and Andrew (Washington). All four panels were bought from Giuseppe and Marziale Dini of Val d’Elsa by Charles Fairfax-Murray in 1886 for Robert and Evelyn Benson of Park Lane, London. After the entire Benson collection was acquired by Duveen in 1927, the four panels were sold to American collectors. The Raising of Lazarus was acquired by the Kimbell Museum from the J. D. Rockefeller collection, New York.
London. National Gallery.
On the centre panel (43 x 35): the Virgin and Child; above, in the gable, little figures of King David and Old Testament prophets. On the wings (42 x 16): St Dominic and a female saint, once thought to be Catherine of Alexandria or Agnes but probably (to judge from the remains of the inscription) Aurea of Ostia (an early Christian martyr who was drowned with a millstone around her neck). The little folding triptych is exceptionally well preserved and still in its original frame (though the wooden sill is a replacement and the hinges are modern). The marble patterning and geometric motifs on the backs of the wings, previously thought to be original, have been recently shown to be repainting. X-ray examination has revealled that the backs of the side panels originally bore coats-of-arms and that the triptch was fastened by a strap. The presence of St Dominic and the seldom-represented St Aurea suggests that the patron could have been the Dominican cardinal Niccolò da Prato, who was made Bishop of Ostia in 1303, an office he held until his death in 1321. Acquired in 1857 with the Lombardi-Baldi collection, Florence. The attribution has rarely been questioned (though Stubblebine (1979) and Deuchler (1984) thought that the execution was by the young Simone Martini working as an assistant in Duccio’s workshop).
*Annunciation. Wood, 43 x 44.
Duccio's panel is the earliest of many paintings of the Annunciation to show the Virgin standing inside a porch or loggia, with the angel approaching from the outside. The porch may symbolise her perpetual virginity (the porta clausa in Ezekiel 44: 2). The Virgin's open book is legibly inscribed with the Old Testament prophecy: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son ...' (Isaiah: vii, 14). From the predella at the front of the Maestà. The predella is thought to have shown seven scenes from the infancy of Christ, interspersed with six smaller panels of full-length saints. The Annunciation would have been the first scene, on the extreme left. Five of the other scenes are still in Siena and one (the Nativity) is in Washington. The Virgin's face is restored and an inch of paint along the bottom edge is lost.
*Christ Heals a Blind Man. Wood, 44 x 45.
The miracle is recounted in John: 1-7. Christ, accompanied by the twelve apostles, touches the eye of the blind beggar; on the right, the beggar, after washing in the pool of Siloam, has recovered his sight. The panel is thought to have come from the predella, showing scenes from Christ’s ministry, at the back of the Maestà. Together with the Annunciation, it was purchased from the Pre-Raphaelite painter and art dealer Fairfax Murray in 1883 for £178. The predella panels are usually considered completely autograph; but according to the catalogue of the exhibition Art in the Making at the National Gallery in 1989-90, the architecture is by a hand other than Duccio’s. The beggar's face is a modern reconstruction.
*Transfiguration. Wood, 44 x 46.
The apostles Peter, John and James are dazzled by the transfigured Christ, who appears on the mountain top talking to Moses and Elijah (Matthew: xvii, 1-9). Assumed to be from the predella at the back of the Maestà, to the right of the Healing of the Blind Man. Acquired in Siena by R. H. Wilson, who presented it to the National Gallery in 1891. The figure of Christ is well preserved, but the lower part of the panel is damaged and the central apostle (St John) has been substantially repainted.
Virgin and Child with Four Angels (no. 6386). Wood, 41 x 29.
This small Maestà was acquired as a work of Duccio by the National Gallery in 1968 for £150,000 from the art dealer Julius Weitzner. The attribution was subsequently rejected by a number of writers, and in 1988 the National Gallery catalogued the painting as by a follower of Duccio. In Dillian Gordon's 2011 catalogue, the attribution was revised again to Ugolino di Nerio (as an early work, perhaps painted in Duccio's Sienese workshop). The engaged frame is original (but has been regilded). Hinge marks at the right edge suggest that the painting was joined to another panel (a Crucifixion?) to form a small folding diptych.
London. Royal Collection.
Centre panel (45 x 31): Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John; above, in each spandrel, an angel weeping. Left wing (45 x 17): Virgin and Child enthroned; above, the Annunciation. Right wing (45 x 17): Christ and the Virgin enthroned; above, St Francis receiving the Stigmata. Bought in 1846 by Prince Albert (through Gruner from Metzger of Florence) for £190 (with a Madonna then attributed to Fra Angelico). Albert kept it in his dressing-room at Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. The triptych has often been attributed to Duccio, at least in part, although White (1979) considered it to be the work of an independent follower and Stubblebine (1979) gave it to the ‘Berne Master’ (named after the small Madonna in the Swiss capital). Both the triptych and the Berne picture were attributed to Duccio himself in the exhibition Duccio alle Origini della Pittura Senese at Siena in 2003-4. Since 2014, the triptych has been displayed in the new Cumberland Art Gallery at Hampton Court Palace.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*Christ and the Samaritan Woman. Wood, 44 x 46.
The subject is found only in John's Gospel (4: 4-26). Christ, seated on the edge of Jacob's well, converses with the Samaritan woman, who holds a bucket and balances a water jug on her head. On the right, four disciples emerge from the gateway of the town carrying bread in their cloaks. From the predella at the back of the Maestà. Two panels from the predella are still in Siena; others are in London (National Gallery), Fort Worth, New York (Frick Collection) and Washington. The Christ and the Samaritan Woman was bought by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1971 from the John D. Rockefeller collection, New York, where it had been since 1929.
Manchester. City Art Gallery.
Crucifixion. Wood, 60 x 38.
To the left of the cross, the Virgin faints into the arms of Mary Salome and Mary Cleophas. Mary Magdalene gestures with both hands towards Christ, and John the Evangelist bows his head in grief. To the right of the cross, St Longinus holds his bloody spear and the Centurion points to Christ, declaring him to be the Son of God. The skull at the base of the cross identifies the spot as Golgotha ('Place of the Skull'). The gold sky is filled with wailing angels. This well-preserved panel was possibly one half of a diptych. First recorded in the collection of E. Joly de Bammeville of Paris, who probably acquired it in Italy in the 1840s. Bought for 265 gns by the Revd Walter Davenport-Bromley at the de Bammeville sale held at Christie's in 1854. Lord Lindsay (later the Earl of Crawford) was an unsuccessful bidder on that occasion, but he secured the picture for 250 gns nine years later, when the Davenport-Bromley collection came onto the market in 1863. It remained in the collection of the Earls of Crawford for over a hundred years. Bought by the Manchester gallery in 1984 after an export licence had been refused. (John Paul Getty Junior donated £300,000 of the £1.8 million required to stop the picture going to the Getty Museum founded by his father in California.) Though acquired as a work of Duccio, the attribution had been disputed. The panel was accepted as Duccio's by Berenson, but a number of the other older writers (Langton Douglas, Mason Perkins and Venturi) gave it to Segna di Buonaventura, while Stubblebine (1979) ascribed it to Ugolino di Nerio. An attribution has been recently made (by Alessandro Bagnoli) to the Ducciesque 'Master of Città di Castello'; the panel was included with this attribution in an exhibition (D'Or et d'Ivoire) held at the Musée du Louvre-Lens in 2015, and the new attribution has now been adopted by the museum.
Massa Marittima. Duomo (chapel to left of high altar).
Madonna della Grazie. Wood, 168 x 107.
Originally a reduced version of the Maestà from Siena Cathedral, but cut down, mutilated and damaged by damp. The Enthroned Madonna and Child is shown on the front. The figures of the Virgin and Child, which almost replicate those in the Maestà, are largely intact, but the throne is almost entirely obliterated and only a fragment of the sumptuous patterned cloth of honour remains. On the back are fragmentary narrative scenes from Christ’s Passion. These are now divided into three separate panels. The largest panel depicts the Crucifixion. (The best preserved part shows the Virgin Mary standing on the left with the Holy Women and St John. At the base of the cross, soldiers cast lots for Christ's garments.) Little remains of the four surrounding smaller scenes, apart from the figures of three Holy Women (upper right) and a Holy Woman standing by the sepulchre (lower right). A second panel has the almost complete scene of the Sanhedrin Trial of Christ. (Christ is brought before the High Priest Annas (left) and Pontius Pilate's wfe pleads for Christ (right).) The two fragmentary scenes at the sides represent the Agony in the Garden and Christ beaten by Rods. A third panel depicts the Arrest of Christ. Only the very top part (with the 'lanterns, torches and weapons' of the High Priest's men) is preserved. The scenes are much restored and old black-and-white photographs show even more extensive paint losses.
The picture, which seems likely to have hung originally over the high altar, is first recorded only in 1900 in the Chapel of the Sacrament in the right transept. It was attributed to Segna di Bonaventura after its discovery, and was briefly considered an early work of Simone Martini after its cleaning in 1947 (when the original face of the Virgin was revealed beneath repaint). The attribution to Duccio was published by Francesco Arcangeli in the November 1970 issue of the Italian journal Paragone. Stubblebine (1979) thought the panel was painted by the young Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Duccio’s workshop; other critics have ascribed the panel to 'Duccio and workshop' or to an unspecified follower of Duccio.
New York. Metropolitan Museum
Madonna and Child. Wood, 27 x 21.
The Virgin and Child is similar to that in the centre panel of the small triptych in the National Gallery, London. The illusionistic parapet is said to be the earliest such in European painting. Almost nothing is known of the history of the panel before 1904, when it was loaned, as a work of Duccio, by Count Gregorii Stroganoff to the celebrated exhibition Arte Antica Senese. The Russian aristocrat is said to have acquired the picture for his collection in Rome around 1901 from an ‘antique shop in Tuscany’. It was bought from his heirs in 1923 by Adolphe Stoclet of Brussels, and it is often called the ‘Stoclet Madonna’. For many years, it was inaccessible and known only from old black-and-white photographs. It was bought by the Metropolitan Museum in 2004 for a reputed $45 million (the most expensive purchase in the Met’s history), as the last picture by Duccio still in private hands. Nearly all writers over the past century have accepted the attribution. (Exceptions include: the Swiss historian Florens Deuchler, who ascribed it to the ‘orbit of Duccio’ in a 1984 monograph on the artist; Andrea Weber, who omitted it from his 1997 monograph; and James Beck, who, in his controversial 2006 book From Duccio to Raphael: Connoisseurship in Crisis, argued that it is a late nineteenth-century fake.) It was apparently conceived as an independent work and never formed part of a diptych or triptych. It has been dated about 1300. The engaged frame is original; the bottom edge has been damaged by candle burns.
*Temptation of Christ. Wood, 43 x 46.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Christ was led by Satan up a high mountain and promised all the kingdoms of the world. Duccio has included seven kingdoms in the picture, represented as miniature Italian city states. Christ, standing on a huge rock, dismisses the Devil – a dark, grey-green figure with pointed ears, spiky hair, batlike wings, and clawlike hands and feet. The angels, who ministered to Christ after the Devil departed, are mentioned only in Matthew's Gospel. They were not, it seems, part of Duccio's original composition. A technical examination carried out in 2006-7 suggests that the gold leaf in that part of the picture was scraped off and the two oversized figures added, probably by an assistant, without underpaint. The panel came from the back predella of the Maestà. It was one of four panels from the predella formerly in the Benson collection, London, and was purchased by the Frick from Duveen in 1927.
Oberlin (Ohio). Allen Memorial Art Museum.
Madonna and Child with St Francis. Wood, 69 x 51.
The tiny figure of St Francis, the stigmata visible on his hands, hovers in space on the gold background to the right of the Virgin and Child. The painting is either severely abraded or unfinished. A deep vertical crack, shown on old photographs as running through the Virgin's face and right hand, has been repaired. Nothing is known of the provenance of the painting, which was acquired by the museum in 1945 from two New York dealers (Drey and Jandolo). The painting is usually considered to be the work of an early follower of Duccio. However, it has been recently conjectured that it could be a damaged very early work of Duccio himself. In the catalogue of an exhibition (Sanctity Pictured: The Art of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders) held at Nashville in 2014-15, the painting was described as by 'Duccio di Buoninsegna or an early follower'.
Two similar Madonnas are known. One (which excludes the figure of St Francis) is still in private hands. Reported as stolen from a Swiss bank vault in 1986, it resurfaced in 2014 and was sold at Christie's, New York, in April 2016 with an attribution to 'Duccio di Buoninsegna or a close follower'. The other similar Madonna (which includes a small figure of St Francis receiving the stigmata) is in the Louvre. It seems more Florentine in style, and has been attributed to a follower of Cimabue.
*Madonna and Child. Wood, 98 x 64.
Six angels lean over the arch at the top of the panel to look down on the Madonna and Child. The endearing motif of the Child tugging at the Virgin's veil occurs in several of Duccio's Madonnas and may have been suggested by French ivories of the period. The painting was the centre of a polyptych, which probably had four side panels of half-length saints. Somewhat abraded; the faces of the Virgin and Christ child (which were covered in repaint before cleaning in 1919) are worn down almost to the green underpaint. Judged by most experts to be a genuine mature work of Duccio, painted in the early years of the fourteenth century. Transferred to the gallery in 1863 from San Domenico. San Domenico was founded in 1304, when the Dominican pope Benedict XI visited Perugia, and it is plausible to suppose that the Madonna was part of an altarpiece commissioned for the new church.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson collection).
Angel. Wood, 24 x 17.
This small panel (originally pointed but now roughly cut and rounded at the top) is thought to be one of the pinnacles that crowned the Maestà on both front and back. Three other similar panels are known to exist. The execution may not have been by Duccio himself. Bought by Johnson in 1910 from Count Chigi Saracini (through Herbert Horne) for 8,000 lire.
's-Hereenberg (Den Bosch in The Netherlands). Huis Bergh Castle.
Angel. Wood, 30 x 18.
This small pointed panel of a half-length archangel holding a wand is believed to have been a pinnacle of the Maestà. There were probably twelve such pinnacles originally – six on the front and six on the back – but only four are known to survive. Two of the others are in American museums (the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Mount Holyoke College at South Hadley in Massachusetts) and one (formerly in the collection of Adolphe Stoclet of Brussels) is in private hands. Their execution is usually ascribed to Duccio's workshop.
*‘La Madonna dei Francesani’ (no. 20). Wood, 24 x 17.
Three tiny figures of Franciscan friars kneel before the enthroned Madonna and Child, who resemble the group in the Rucellai Madonna. The background consists of a patterned cloth of honour held up by four small angels. The back of the panel is painted in imitation serpentine stone. This exquisite – but damaged – panel is Duccio’s smallest work and often considered one of his earliest (about 1285 – though it has also been dated about 1300). It was possibly the centre of a portable triptych. (There are holes on each side of the panel that might have been made by metal hooks.) Nothing is known of its history before it entered the gallery in 1842. The paint, applied directly over gilding, has flaked off in places. Restored in 2003.
*Polyptych (no. 28). Wood, 139 x 241.
The Madonna and Child are between Saints Augustine, Paul, Peter and Dominic. In the gables are four angels and the Redeemer. The polyptych had entered the gallery by 1842; its provenance is not recorded. It has sometimes been identified with the Madonna and Child with Four Saints recorded in the seventeenth century in the church of San Donato in Siena by Alessandro Chigi, who says that it was signed by Duccio and dated 1310. However, the inclusion of St Dominic suggests a possible provenance from the church of San Domenico in Siena, and a rather earlier dating (around 1300-5) has been suggested by some critics. The Madonna may have been painted by Duccio himself, but the four saints have sometimes been ascribed to an assistant, such as Segna di Bonaventura.
Triptych (no. 35). Central panel, 67 x 43; shutters 69 x 22.
The lower part of the centre panel shows the Madonna and Child Enthroned. St Peter and St Paul stand at the sides of the throne, and the Christ Child blesses a tiny kneeling donor wearing a crown. The Coronation of the Virgin is depicted above, and figures of the Angel Gabriel and Virgin form an Annunciation in the spandrels. The row of eight saints at the bottom of the panel includes both Dominic and Francis. On the left shutter are the Nativity, Flagellation and Way to Calvary; on the right one, the Crucifixion, Deposition and Entombment. Older critics (eg Crowe and Cavalcaselle and Berenson) ascribed this folding triptych to Duccio himself; but most modern critics have judged it to be the work of a close follower, called the ‘Tabernacle 35 Master’ after this picture. It has been suggested recently (by Diana Norman in Studies in Iconography (2009)) that the royal figure kneeling at the base of the throne could be the French prince Charles of Valois, who visited Siena in the summer of 1301 and spring of 1302.
Polyptych (no. 47). Wood, 170 x 237.
The central panel of the Madonna and Child is in poor condition. It is usually considered to be a late work of Duccio himself, while the saints – Agnes, John the Evangelist, John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene – at the sides have sometimes been ascribed to his workshop or to Ugolino di Nerio. The second tier of the polyptych is better-preserved. It contains five pairs of half-length figures of Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. Moses and King David are in the centre, above the Madonna and Child, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jeremiah on the left and Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel and Malachi on the right. In the gables are angels and the Redeemer in benediction. From the chapel to the right of the entrance in the Ospedale della Scala (opposite Siena cathedral and now a cultural and exhibition centre). The hospital was dedicated to Santa Maria Annunziata, and the texts on the scrolls held by the Old Testament prophets reflect this dedication. Transferred to the Pinacoteca in 1892.
Siena. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
**Maestà. Main panel, 214 x 412.
Duccio contracted to paint, ‘with his own hand’ and ‘with all the skill and ingenuity that God has granted him’, this gigantic double-sided altarpiece in October 1308 for sixteen soldi per diem. On 9 June 1311, the finished work was carried in triumph from his studio in the Casa de’Muciatti, outside the Porta a Stalloreggi, to the cathedral. Roughly five metres square and incorporating some seventy-five painted panels, it was the largest and most complex altarpiece ever made. It originally stood on the marble high altar, under the dome, at the crossing between the nave and the transepts. In 1506, it was replaced by a bronze tabernacle by Vecchietta and moved to a side altar in the left transept. The pinnacles were cut off and the two predelle detached. In 1771, the altarpiece was removed to San Ansano in Castelvecchio, where the two sides were separated. It was transferred to the museum in 1878 and 1886 – though without some smaller panels, which had been lost or had passed into private hands.
The title 'Maestà' appears to date only from 1902, when it was used by the English art historian Langton Douglas in his History of Siena. The altarpiece was almost always previously called 'Nostra Donna' ('Our Lady'). The main panel on the front – originally facing the nave – represents the Virgin and Child almost life size, surrounded by twenty angels and ten saints. Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Paul, John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, Peter and Agnes stand in the middle row, while the four protectors of Siena – Saints Ansanus, Sabinus, Crescentius and Victor – kneel in front. In the arcade above are ten half-length apostles. The Virgin's monumental marble throne, decorated in Cosmati work, is rendered in fairly convincing perspective, with an approximation to a central vanishing point. On the base is the Latin inscription: ‘Holy Mother of God be the cause of peace for Siena and life for Duccio because he painted you’. The damage to the Virgin’s face (the lower part has been hatched in with water colour) has been variously ascribed to over-cleaning, saw cuts when the altarpiece was dismembered, and nail marks caused by the hanging of rosaries on the altarpiece.
On the back of the altarpiece – facing the choir – were twenty-five small panels representing scenes of Christ’s Passion and a larger image (top centre) of the Crucifixion. All of these are in the cathedral museum. Above the main panels were pinnacles (representing scenes from the life of the Virgin on the front and from the life of Christ after the Resurrection on the back) and gables with angels, and below them predelle (representing Christ’s early life on the front and his ministry on the back). Some of these minor panels are in the cathedral museum; others (two scenes from the front predella, six or seven scenes from the back predella, and two gables with angels) are dispersed in American and European public museum; and a few are lost or in private collections.
It is not known whether Duccio was himself the chief designer of the unprecedently large and complex altarpiece, or others – from the clergy, the cathedral administration (opera) or the commune – were involved in decsions about its structure and the layout and composition of the many scenes. For such a huge project, Duccio must have employed a large workshop, which could have included Simone Martini and the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Different hands are, however, hard to discern.
*‘Crevole Madonna’. Wood, 89 x 60.
The Child, perched in the crook of the Virgin's arm, reaches for the red veil covering her hair. Traditional gold striation, used by Byzantine artists, indicates the folds in her blue mantle, which has darkened almost to black. In the upper corners, two tiny angels look down from clouds. This well-preserved panel is attributed to Duccio as a very early work (about 1280?) because of stylistic similarities to the Rucellai Madonna. It also closely resembles the Castelfiorentino Madonna, which is attributed to Cimabue (Duccio’s likely master according to some art historians). It was formerly assigned to an anonymous contemporary or follower (the ‘Crevole Master’). From the Pieve di Santa Cecilia a Crevole (just north of Murlo and some 20 km from Siena). It was moved there in the late seventeenth century from the nearby Augustinian hermitage of Montespecchio, but may originally have been in the church of Santi Pietro e Paolo at Montepescini di Murlo.
Stained glass window. 560 in dia.
The central panel shows the Coronation of the Virgin, with the Assumption of the Virgin above and the Death of the Virgin below. The pairs of saints at the sides – Bartholomew and Ansanus (left) and Crescentius and Savinus (right) – were patrons of Siena. The Four Evangelists are shown in the corners. It is documented that the large oculus in the apse of the Cathedral was manufactured in 1287-88, but its designer is unrecorded. The attribution to Duccio was made only in 1946 (by Enzo Carli). It has been suggested that Duccio painted on the glass himself, applying the grey wash that gives volume to the figures. The window was dismantled for restoration in 1996 and shown in the Duccio exhibition at Santa Maria della Scala, Siena, in 2003-4. It has been replaced by a copy.
South Hadley (Mass.). Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.
Angel. Wood, 18 x 18.
This small panel (originally pointed but now cut down and rounded at the top) is thought to be one of four surviving pinnacles from Duccio’s Maestà from Siena Cathedral. The execution is usually ascribed to his workshop. Bequeathed by Mrs Caroline Hill in 1965.
Turin. Galleria Sabauda.
Virgin and Child Enthroned ('Gualino Madonna'). Wood, 157 x 86.
Two small angels hold up a cloth of honour behind the Virgin, who is seated on a simple box-like wooden throne. The large panel shows similarities of composition and style with both Duccio's Rucellai Madonna and works attributed to Cimabue (such as the Maestà in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi at Bologna). Nothing is known of its history before 1910, when it was in the hands of a Florentine antiques dealer called Pavi. It had been completely overpainted in a sixteenth-century Mannerist style. The overpaint was removed around 1920, and the thirteenth-century picture revealed by cleaning was attributed to Cimabue by Lionello Venturi. It was on Venturi's recommendation that it was acquired in 1925 by the Turin entrepreneur Riccardo Gualino, who donated much of his collection to the Galleria Sabauda in 1930. From 1933 to 1959 the picture was on loan to the Italian Embassy in London. An attribution to Duccio was first published by the French art historian Gastave Soulier in a 1929 pamphlet (Cimabue, Duccio et les Premieres Ecoles de Toscane). Subsequent opinion has been divided, with some critics classing the picture as the work of an unknown follower of Cimabue and/or Duccio. Those accepting the Duccio attribution have generally considered the panel a very early work, predating the Rucellai Madonna of 1285. The picture was restored four times between 1920 and 1983, and the surface is much abraded.
Washington. National Gallery.
*Nativity. Wood, 44 x 44.
In the Byzantine tradition, the setting is a cave; on the left sits Joseph; on the right are shepherds with their flock; and below the Christ Child is bathed by midwives. Sixteen angels stand behind the cave. Attached to the picture are two tiny panels representing the prophets Isaiah (with a scroll bearing legible quotations from Isaiah 7: 14 and Luke 2: 10) and Ezekiel (whose scroll has a quotation from Ezekiel 44: 2). From the front predella of the Maestà; the Annunciation in the London National Gallery was next to it on the left. The original engaged frame has survived intact. Bought in Florence in 1884 by the Kaiser Friedrick Museum of Berlin from the English Pre-Raphaelite painter, art historian and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray. Acquired by the dealers Duveen Brothers in 1937 in exchange for another picture (Holbein's Gentleman with a Lute). Sold immediately to Andrew Mellon, who gifted it to the National Gallery. The picture was extensively restored in 1884-85 after its acquisition by the Berlin museum, cleaned in 1929 (when the removal of repaint revealed its worn condition), and restored again in 1937 in New York.
*Calling of Peter and Andrew. Wood, 44 x 46.
Christ, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw the brothers Peter and Andrew casting their net, and he said to them: 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men' (Matthew 4: 18-20). The panel is from the back predella of the Maestà. The composition is almost identical to that of the same scene on an altarpiece (the St Peter Altarpiece in the Siena gallery) painted by an unknown artist in the late 1280s. Formerly in the Benson collection, it was bought by Clarence H. Mackay of New York from Duveen, and sold in 1934 to Samuel H. Kress, who donated it to the National Gallery in 1941. The original engaged frame was presumably lost when the altarpiece was broken up, and the present frame is modern.