Art History: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child in Majesty (Maestà) main panel from the Maestà Altarpiece,

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child in Majesty (Maestà)
main panel from the Maestà Altarpiece, from Siena Cathedral
1308-11 Tempera and gold on wood, 7'x13'  (214 x 412 cm) 
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Form:  The overall composition of this work is symmetrical.  The largest figures of Mary and Jesus are at the center of the composition and they are flanked by two rows of angels and Saints overlapped as if they are standing on bleachers.  In order to create space, Duccio uses the same convention of vertical perspective we saw in Pisano's pulpit.  The figures that are highest up in the picture plane are furthest back.

This painting was rendered with tempera paint and gold leaf.  Tempera is a medium which is made from egg (sometimes just the yolk sometimes the whites) glue and ground up minerals that serve as pigment or colorant.  The egg actually glues or binds the pigments to the surface.  The paint is applied in small distinct brush strokes that show the brushwork when looked at closely. 

The background is gold leaf on a wooden panel that has been painted with a combination of glue and marble dust or chalk referred to as gesso.  The gold leaf is then incised and punctured with designs (Sometimes refered to as punchwork.)  Gold leaf has also been added to the drapery as a means to highlight the folds. 

The rendering of color and value in this painting is fairly limited.  There is no distinct source of light and very little tonal variation on the faces or drapery of the individual figures and there are no real differences of character or appearance from one face to the next.

Duccio's rendition of the Virgin is very similar to the one from Auvergne and Cimabue's.  This painting, like the sculpture, is both naturalistic and stylized.  Again the rendering of the face and hands was an attempt by the sculptor to represent convincing human forms however, the faces show no real expression and the bodies are completely covered with an almost Byzantine style of drapery that almost completely conceals both figures' bodies.  The child Jesus is not rendered as a child but rather a stiff looking miniature adult.  The poses of both figures are stiff and fairly wooden but in the case of Mary, this is appropriate if you look at her role in  terms of the work's iconography.

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