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Duccio di Buoninsegna by Cecilia Jannella
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Duccio di Buoninsegna

by Cecilia Jannella

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Duccio (1255 – 1319) was an early Italian Renaissance painter. A pupil of Cimabue he serves as a link between the Byzantine iconography of his master and the more naturalistic painting that is a feature of the Italian Renaissance

This nearly A4 sized paperback book is published in the SCALA series: “the great masters of art.” (SCALA specialises in museum and famous historical buildings catalogues). There are well over 100 full colour photographs and an excellent text by Cecelia Janella an art historian. There is an outline of what is known of Duccio’s life and an overview of his work, however most of the text is devoted to the Maesta with some excellent detail (in words and photographs) on the panels that make up this masterpiece.

Duccio painted on wooden boards using pigment with egg tempura, but today there are perhaps only two or three works that can undoubtedly be attributed to him. There are disputes about several others including the “Stoclet Madonna” which was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 45million US dollars.

Duccio came from Sienna where much of his work is now on display. He was a compatriot of Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers who were active as fresco painters in the city somewhat earlier than the great renaissance painters in Florence. Like his compatriots, Duccio was a religious painter and his Madonna (Rucellai Madonna) was commissioned as an altar piece in the Rucellai Chapel of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. This iconographic representation of the Virgin shows some innovation in its conception and was completed in 1285.

Duccio’s masterpiece is the Maesta (Virgin in Majesty) completed in 1311 in his home town of Sienna. It was a huge altar piece with a central front panel portraying the Virgin surrounded by saints and angels. At first sight it appears Byzantine, but on closer inspection Duccio’s innovations can be clearly seen. Mary’s Robe is delicately painted to give a feeling of texture to the material which is edged in gold leaf. The Virgin’s expression is full of tenderness and love and the portraits of the saints have a startling actuality about them. It is the smaller paintings on the foot of the altar piece (the predella) and the 25 paintings on the reverse side, showing extracts from the life of Christ that are truly amazing. There are crowd scenes, much attention to detail and a curious mixture of the Byzantine and the naturalist styles that bring these paintings to our attention, forcing us to admire the skill of Duccio.

Duccio’s masterpiece was several years in the making and when it was finally finished it was carried around the central square in a triumphal procession before being placed in the Cathedral, where it remained on the high altar until 1505. It was then moved to a side chapel and in 1771 it was dismembered. This proved ruinous as the front and back panels were nailed and glued together and so were very hard to force apart and cut away. Some of the panels have been lost and others can now be seen in galleries around the world. The majority of it is now displayed beautifully in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Sienna, which I have seen. I have also seen a panel showing “the Transfiguration” in London’s National Gallery, but if I wanted to see the rest of the surviving panels I would need to go to; New York, Washington, Fort Worth (Texas), Budapest and Lugano. …

This beautifully illustrated book contains enough information to satisfy the most curious art lover. It does not pretend to be a scholarly document, although there is a short bibliography. It serves very well as a keep sake for a visit and provides a well rounded description of the artist and his work. ( )
  baswood | May 15, 2012 |
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