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date: 30 September 2022

Duccio (di Buoninsegna)free

(fl 1278; d Siena, before Aug 3, 1319).

Duccio (di Buoninsegna)free

(fl 1278; d Siena, before Aug 3, 1319).
  • Dillian Gordon

Updated in this version

updated bibliography, 28 July 2014

Italian painter. He was one of the most important painters of the 14th century and like his slightly younger contemporary, Giotto, was a major influence on the course of Italian painting. An innovator, he introduced into Sienese painting new altarpiece designs, a dramatic use of landscape, expressive emotional relationships, extremely complex spatial structures, and a subtle interplay of colour. His most important and revolutionary work, the Maestà for Siena Cathedral, was never matched during the 14th century, if at all, and his influence lasted well into the 15th century.

Most of the surviving works attributed to Duccio are from Siena and the surrounding area, where he seems to have spent most of his working life and is mentioned in numerous documents concerning fines, property, taxation, loans, and debts. Gaps in the Sienese documentation have led scholars to suggest journeys to France, Assisi, and Rome. His oeuvre is by no means clear, and scholars are divided on the attribution and chronology of many of the major works that have been associated with him and his workshop.

I. Life and work.

1. Training and early works, before 1285.

It is not known with whom Duccio trained, although Guido da Siena is a likely possibility. It has also been suggested that Duccio may have been a pupil of Cimabue and may have worked with him in the Upper Church of S Francesco, Assisi: Bologna has made comparisons between the two winged genii in the vault showing the Four Latin Doctors of the Church at Assisi, the Christ Child in the Castelfiorentino Madonna (Castelfiorentino, S Verdiana), which he viewed as a collaborative panel by Cimabue and Duccio, and the Crevole Madonna, which he attributed solely to Duccio.

Duccio’s first recorded beginnings were modest: in 1278 he was paid for painting 12 coffers for the Comune of Siena. In the following year he was paid for painting biccherne (book covers) for the treasury of Siena, a type of commission he carried out frequently. A panel that is thought to date from this period because of its stylistic similarities to the documented Rucellai Madonna (see §I, 2, (i) below) is the Crevole Madonna (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo) from S Cecilia in Crevole, near Siena. The panel had been taken here from the Eremo di Montespecchio, although it is not known if this was always its location. Its attribution to Duccio is generally accepted by critics, with the exception of Stubblebine (1979), and it has been dated to around 1280. Belting has argued that the Crevole Madonna shows that Duccio probably had first-hand knowledge of contemporary Byzantine painting being produced in Tuscany c. 1280, such as the Kahn Madonna, and of Byzantine art being imitated in Tuscany c. 1280, for example the Mellon Madonna (both Washington, DC, N.G.A.).

As a result of a gap between 1280 and 1285 in the documents recording Duccio’s presence in Siena, Stubblebine (1979) suggested a journey to France. Others have proposed a sojourn in Assisi: Volpe’s suggestion that Duccio might have painted in the Upper Church of S Francesco on the Road to Calvary and Crucifixion is less convincing than Bologna’s concerning the painting of the vaults.

2. Documented works, 1285–1311.

(i) The Rucellai ‘Madonna’.

Duccio’s first documented work is the Maestà known as the Rucellai Madonna, commissioned by the Società di S Maria Virginis, a company of Laudesi devoted to singing lauds to the Virgin and attached to the Dominican church of S Maria Novella, Florence. In the contract dated 15 April 1285, Duccio agreed to paint a large panel that had already been made. Some critics, for example Van Os, believe that he agreed to paint an altarpiece, the carpentry of which had already been executed according to the wishes of the patron; others, for example Cämmerer, believe that Duccio was responsible for the whole design. The altarpiece was to be painted with the Virgin and Child and ‘other figures’, according to the wishes of the commissioners, and payment to be 150 lire in small florins. If the final result failed to please, it was to remain in the possession of the artist, who would receive no payment nor any form of compensation. The contract does not specify the pictorial programme in any detail, nor does it mention a completion date. It is not certain that Duccio painted the Rucellai Madonna in Florence, although this is likely given the size of the panel. Stubblebine (1979) noted that in 1774 Baldinucci saw a document, now lost, in which a painter named Duccio was recorded as a resident in the parish of S Maria Novella, Florence.

Duccio: Rucellai Madonna, tempera on panel, 4.5×2.9 m, begun 1285 (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The Rucellai Madonna is one of the largest altarpieces of its time (4.5×2.9 m). It is painted on five vertical planks of poplar, glued together and further held by an exceptionally deep frame nailed to the front, with vertical and horizontal battens nailed to the back. The whole altarpiece, including the frame, was designed using the Florentine braccio (584 mm) as a base measurement, ensuring total harmony between frame and main panel. The frame is decorated with a patterned band interspersed with 30 roundels containing busts of patriarchs, prophets, Apostles, and post-biblical saints.

Cannon (1982) pointed out that the roundels were innovative in forming a coherent iconographic programme rather than being merely decorative: at the apex is God the Father, on the right, figures from the Old Testament, and, on the left, the 12 Apostles, arranged to suggest the succession of the New Testament after the Old. The stepped mouldings of the frame lead into the central composition of the Virgin and Child seated on an elaborately carved wooden throne, painted and gilded, with ball-and-reel columns, hung with a patterned textile and furnished with a gilded red cushion. The throne is held by six kneeling angels. De Wald suggested that this composition was derived from the Belle Verrière window in Chartres Cathedral. It has been argued that the angels are in the act of raising the throne and that the position of the angels’ hands at top and bottom left, in particular, indicates that this is in fact an Assumption of the Virgin, reflecting the dedication of the church of S Maria Novella to the assumptive Virgin.

Hueck (1990) has challenged the previous identification of the figure in the central roundel of the lower frame as St Augustine (whose Rule was adopted by the friars) and suggested instead St Jerome, whose description of the Assumption of the Virgin is cited by the Dominican writer Jacopo da Voragine in the Golden Legend (completed c. 1273). On either side of this central roundel are St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, and St Augustine, and to the right is St Peter Martyr, founder of the Laudesi confraternity.

By 1681 the altarpiece had been moved into the Rucellai Chapel from which it takes its name, but its original location remains in question. Some authors (e.g. Van Os, 1984) have argued that it was commissioned by the Laudesi for the high altar. Others have argued that the Laudesi chapel was originally the chapel of St Gregory furthest to the right of the choir and that the altarpiece was part of a decorative programme that included frescoes of Christ Enthroned and St Gregory ?the Great Enthroned and, in particular, a fresco of a fictive fabric hanging resembling that on the throne. These have been attributed to Cimabue, and the chapel decoration as a whole seen as a collaboration between the two painters.

The chapel was acquired by the Bardi di Vernio family in 1336. The altarpiece was seen by Vasari in the transept between the Bardi and Rucellai chapels, and Hueck (1990) has argued on the following grounds that this may always have been its intended site: it would have obscured the window in the transept chapel, the Child’s orientation is emphatically to the left, thereby inappropriately focused on a corner of the chapel, there are no surviving payments for moving the heavy altarpiece out of the chapel, and the nine rings attached to the back seem to have been for securing it on a wall, inclined slightly forward to make it more prominent.

Until the association was made in 1899 between the altarpiece and the contract (discovered in 1790), the panel had been attributed to Cimabue. Even in the 20th century some scholars continued to think it was by the ‘Master of the Rucellai Madonna’, a pupil or follower of Cimabue. The chronological relationship of the Rucellai Madonna and Cimabue’s three versions of the Maestà from Santa Trìnita (Florence, Uffizi; see fig.), S Francesco, Pisa (Paris, Louvre), and the fresco in the right transept of the Lower Church, S Francesco, Assisi, is problematic since none of these works is dated, and Duccio may in any case have been Cimabue’s pupil or collaborator.

Cleaning of the Rucellai Madonna in 1989 revealed the astonishingly high quality of the execution. Particularly fine is the three-dimensional modelling of the Virgin’s robe, painted in azurite, recorded in an engraving of 1791 by Cerboni and Lasinio and subsequently concealed by overpainting. The mastery of technique and handling shows this to be the work of a mature painter. The Rucellai Madonna is remarkable at this date for the complexity of the three-dimensional space, evident for example in the glimpses of the back supports of the throne, the assured placing of the angels, each kneeling in its own gilded space beside the throne, and in the confident placing of the Child seated naturalistically on the Virgin’s knee. This is combined with a fluent linearity, best seen in the rippling gilded border of the Virgin’s robe. The composition is held together by a subtle tonal modelling and interplay of colours, particularly evident in the angels’ robes, where varying shades of lilac, pink, blue, and green are balanced in symmetry or counterpoint. The surface is highly decorative, especially in the mordant gilding of the throne and the Child’s red robe, and the entire gilded background as well as the haloes have been patterned with a burin or composite rosette punches.

(ii) The lost ‘Maestà’.

On 4 December 1302 Duccio was paid 48 lire for a Maestà with a predella (untraced) for the chapel of the Nove in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena; this is close in date to the first recorded Predella for another lost altarpiece painted by Cimabue in 1301 for S Chiara, Pisa. Brandi (1959) and Stubblebine (1972) gathered together a number of versions of a Maestà that they thought reflected the documented Maestà of 1302, for example the small panel in the abbey church at Monte Oliveto by the eponymous master. Stubblebine also proposed a reconstruction of the predella with scenes from the Passion, as reflected in such works as Simone Martini’s Orsini panels (Antwerp, Kon. Mus. S. Kst.; Berlin, Staatl. Ksthalle; Paris, Louvre). Both critics identified the Maestà of 1302 as the altarpiece recorded as damaged in 1319 and restored by Segna di Bonaventura.

(iii) The ‘Maestà’.
(a) Documentation.

It is not known when Duccio began his only other surviving documented work, the Maestà. The date traditionally given to it was called into doubt by Pope-Hennessy (1980), who drew attention to the fact that a document dated 9 October 1308, hitherto presumed to be part of the initial commissioning process, was in fact more likely to be an interim agreement. In this document Duccio promised to make the altarpiece to the best of his ability, to work continuously on it, to accept no other commissions until the altarpiece was completed, and to work on it with his own hands. In return he was to receive payment for his labour: 16 soldi for each day he worked on the altarpiece and a proportionate sum to be deducted from his monthly salary of 10 lire for the time he did not work on it himself. The agreement may indeed suggest that Duccio had been neglecting the altarpiece for other commissions. All the necessary materials were to be provided by the Opera.

Another document, transcribed by Milanesi in the 19th century and thought to date from c. 1308–9, records an agreement for making the rear face of the altarpiece. This was to consist of 34 storie (histories) with little angels above and any other painting necessary, to amount to 38 storie altogether. The payment was to be two and a half gold florins per story, of which 50 gold florins were to be paid immediately and the rest on completion of each story. The Opera was to provide the colours and anything else necessary. On 20 December 1308, Duccio received a loan from the Opera of 50 gold florins; it seems likely that the 50 gold florins paid out of the total 95 eventually due were to repay this loan, giving the document recorded by Milanesi a terminus post quem of 20 December 1308. White (1979), however, has argued that the loan was made in anticipation of the payment. How much, if any, of the back had been painted at this date is a problem: two years and just over five months remained before the completion date.

The signed Maestà was placed on the high altar of Siena Cathedral on 9 June 1311. It probably replaced the Madonna del voto (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo) attributed to Guido da Siena, which itself had replaced the Madonna degli occhi grossi (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo). The triumphal procession was recorded by an anonymous Sienese chronicler in the mid-14th century (L. A. Muratori, Rerum italiarum scriptores (Bologna, 1931–9), xv/6, p. 90):

On the day on which it was carried to the Duomo, the shops were locked up and the Bishop ordered a great and devout company of priests and brothers with a solemn procession, accompanied by the Signori of the Nine and all the officials of the Comune, and all the populace and all the most worthy were in order next to the said panel with lights lit in their hands, and then behind were women and children with much devotion; and they accompanied it right to the Duomo making procession around the Campo, as was the custom, sounding all the bells in glory out of devotion for such a noble panel as was this.

In 1506 the altarpiece was removed from the high altar to make way for a new altar placed further towards the apse and bearing a bronze ciborium (destr.) by Vecchietta, made originally for S Maria della Scala. In 1771 the two faces of the altarpiece were sawn apart and since then the panels have led a somewhat peripatetic existence. The dismemberment damaged the altarpiece considerably, in particular the Virgin’s face.

(b) Description and reconstruction.

The gigantic altarpiece (originally c. 5.00×4.68 m) was painted on both sides (see fig.). The front was composed of eleven vertical planks and the back of five horizontal planks, with front and back nailed directly together. The two predellas, the first surviving narrative predellas, were each painted on a single horizontal plank. The pinnacles were probably painted on two horizontal planks, nailed together, as suggested by the fact that the Incredulity of Thomas and the Bearing of the Body of the Virgin to the Tomb, which were back-to-back, have not been truncated like the rest of the scenes.

Duccio: Entry into Jerusalem, tempera on panel, detail from the Maestà altarpiece, c. 5.00×4.68 m (originally), completed 1311 (Siena, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The main front panel (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo) shows the Virgin and Child seated on a marble throne inlaid with cosmati, surrounded by 20 angels and SS Catherine, Paul, John the Baptist, Peter, and Agnes. Kneeling before them are the patron saints of Siena—SS Ansanus, Sabinus, Crescentius, and Victor. The strong civic theme, typical of commissions in Siena, which was dedicated to the Virgin, is further emphasized in the inscription around the base of the throne: mater sca dei sis causa senis requie sis ducio vita te quia pixit ita (Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus). In the arcade above were ten Apostles.

Duccio: Virgin and Child, from the Maestà, tempera on panel, 2.14×4.12 m, c. 1308–11 (Siena, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The front predella was devoted to scenes from the Infancy of Christ based on the Gospels of SS Matthew and Luke, interspersed with standing prophets, each one carrying an inscription relevant to the preceding scene: the Annunciation (London, N.G.; see fig.), Isaiah, the Nativity, Ezekiel (all Washington, DC, N.G.A.), the Adoration of the Magi, David, the Presentation in the Temple, Malachi, the Massacre of the Innocents, Jeremiah, the Flight into or Return from Egypt, Hosea, and Christ among the Doctors (all Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo). The pinnacle panels above showed scenes from the Life and Death of the Virgin: the Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin, the Arrival of St John, the Gathering of the Apostles, the Death of the Virgin, the Bearing of the Body of the Virgin to the Tomb, and the Entombment of the Virgin (all Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo). This compendium of scenes from the Virgin’s life was situated below a stained-glass window also devoted to the Virgin, the design of which was commissioned in 1287–8 and is sometimes attributed to Duccio or Cimabue.

Duccio: Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin, tempera on panel, 430×440 mm (London, National Gallery), predella panel from the Maestà altarpiece, completed 1311 (Siena, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The back was devoted entirely to the Life of Christ, divided into small-scale scenes. The main section (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo) shows 26 scenes from the Passion, beginning with the Entry into Jerusalem in the bottom left-hand corner. Both this scene and the Crucifixion at the centre occupy double the height allotted to the others in order to pinpoint the beginning and climax of the cycle, which finishes at the top right-hand corner. The main tier scenes are the Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper with Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, Judas Taking the Bribe with Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, the Betrayal of Christ with the Agony in the Garden, Christ brought before Annas with the First Denial of Peter, the Second Denial with the Third Denial, Christ Accused by the Pharisees with Christ before Pilate, Christ before Herod with Christ in the Robe before Pilate, the Flagellation with the Crowning with Thorns, Pilate Washing his Hands with the Road to Calvary, the Crucifixion, the Deposition with the Entombment, the Three Marys at the Tomb with the Descent into Limbo, and Noli me tangere with the Journey to Emmaus.

Duccio: Betrayal of Christ, tempera on panel, 0.57×1.02 m, detail from the Maestà altarpiece, completed 1311 (Siena, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

The back predella had scenes from the Ministry of Christ: the Temptation at the Temple (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo), the Temptation on the Mountain (New York, Frick), the Calling of Peter and Andrew (Washington, DC, N.G.A.), the Marriage at Cana (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo), Christ and the Woman of Samaria (Madrid, Mus. Thyssen-Bornemisza), Christ Healing the Blind Man, the Transfiguration (both London, N.G.), and the Raising of Lazarus (Fort Worth, TX, Kimbell A. Mus.). The back pinnacles showed Post-Resurrection scenes: the Apparition behind Closed Doors, the Incredulity of Thomas, the Apparition on the Sea of Tiberius, the Apparition in Galilee, the Supper at Emmaus, and Pentecost (all Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo).

While the overall appearance of the altarpiece is not in question, scholars have differed in their reconstruction of the details. White’s version (1979), which is based on a meticulous examination of all physical aspects of the altarpiece, has found general acceptance. The differences in the reconstructions largely concern the subject-matter and position of missing scenes. Most critics agree that the front predella originally consisted of the seven surviving panels, but there is discussion over which scenes completed the back predella—whether John the Baptist Bearing Witness, the Baptism, or the Temptation in the Wilderness are missing from the beginning of the predella at the left-hand side, and whether the Anointing in Bethany is missing from the close of the predella at the right-hand side. Boskovits (1982) suggested that a fragment of the Baptism (Budapest, Mus. F.A.) could be one of the missing scenes. There is also discussion over whether the scenes were confined to the front face of the predella or extended to the sides to form a box predella. White noted the mention in an inventory of 1423 of a separate hanging to cover the predella, indicating that it was an independent structure. Both White and Gardner von Teuffel argued that the lost central pinnacle panels had an Assumption of the Virgin surmounting a Coronation of the Virgin on the front, reflecting the dedication of the cathedral, matched according to Gardner von Teuffel by a Resurrection and Ascension on the back instead of an Ascension and Christ in Majesty as argued by White (1979). There is also the problem regarding the method used to support the altarpiece: Gardner von Teuffel has proposed lateral supporting buttresses.

(c) Execution.

The design of this complex altarpiece was revolutionary and to some extent demanded ad hoc solutions. White (1979) has analysed how the basic design was drawn up on a system of proportion based on the square root of two, codified by Matheus Roriczer in 1486, although Maginnis noted that these calculations are missing the crucial measurement of the width, including the frame, which has been removed. The sequence of execution has not yet been established, although top to bottom is logical; it has been argued that the scenes on the back predella, for example, are spatially the most sophisticated.

The Maestà is innovative not only in its overall design but also in the treatment of individual scenes. Double episodes are imaginatively combined, for instance a Flight into or Return from Egypt, where the figure of the sleeping Joseph is repeated following the donkey in the next episode. Scenes are woven together, not only by using unity of place but also by linking emotionally connected events: the often-cited staircase, for example, which is emphasized by the serving maid’s lifted arm, leads from the scene of the First Denial of Peter to the scene above of Christ brought before Annas; or the linking of Christ Healing the Blind Man and the adjacent Transfiguration. Light is used to dramatic effect, for instance in the Three Marys at the Tomb, where the same mountain-side as in the adjacent Deposition is brilliantly lit to indicate dawn. The narratives are full of finely observed detail: the Apostles removing their sandals or warming their hands before a fire, the view into the Temple with its tiled floor resembling that of the Duomo, and maiolica vessels at scenes of repasts.

The attribution of the altarpiece is problematic. The clause ‘suis manibus’ in the agreement does not exclude the participation of assistants. On the contrary, it implies the opposite, with a constraint on the master to put brush to panel himself. It is impossible that Duccio could have completed so large and complex an altarpiece without the help of assistants. Neither the composition of his workshop, however, nor the names of his assistants and the status or capabilities of collaborators are known. It seems quite possible that he had the collaboration of peers as well as assistants, and technical analysis of Christ Healing the Blind Man seems to indicate the involvement of an accomplished painter with a meticulous and purist preoccupation with architecture, possibly Pietro Lorenzetti (Stubblebine, 1979). Stubblebine considered the main front panel and the front predella to be by Duccio himself and all the other narratives by assistants, apportioning individual scenes to Segna di Bonaventura, Ugolino di Nerio, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini. White (1979) rightly warned against the attribution of specific parts of the altarpiece to individual painters, a view supported by the evident complexities of medieval workshop practice.

(d) Sources and influence.

The idea of painting an altarpiece on both sides may have come from Umbria, where c. 1272 the Master of St Francis had painted a double-sided altarpiece (dismantled; for locations see Masters, anonymous, and monogrammists, §I, ) for the church of S Francesco al Prato, Perugia. Van Os (1984) pointed out that the double-sided Stefaneschi altarpiece (Rome, Pin. Vaticana) is not relevant because it differs so considerably from the Maestà. The visual and literary sources of the iconography have been much explored, in particular by Stubblebine (1975), who has suggested various influences, including a Byzantine manuscript, the Golden Legend, and trips to Rome (S Maria in Domnica, S Maria Maggiore, and S Maria in Trastevere) and to France. Deuchler (1979) has argued that the depiction of the city in the Entry into Jerusalem is drawn from Flavius Josephus’ Bellum judaicum.

Duccio was also evidently influenced by other artists, for example Guido da Siena and his circle, especially the Lenten Hanging (Siena, Pin. N., no. 8) and the dossal with St Peter Enthroned (Siena, Pin. N., no. 15), and the sculptures of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, particularly the pulpits and Giovanni’s full-length figures on the façade of Siena Cathedral. It is also possible that Duccio had seen the Arena Chapel (completed before 1306) in Padua and there obtained the idea of using unity of place to draw together a narrative cycle. The way in which Duccio used landscape as a dramatic tool, for instance in the Agony in the Garden, where a tree acts as an emphatic division between the betrayed Christ and the fleeing Apostles, is found elsewhere only in the Arena Chapel.

Given its size and complexity, it is not surprising that the direct influence of the Maestà was somewhat limited. On 8 January 1316 the Nove of Massa Marittima commissioned for the cathedral a version of the Maestà (Siena, Mus. Opera Duomo), also painted on both sides, which has been cut down and is severely damaged. On the back are scenes from the Passion that closely follow the Maestà, and on the front a Virgin and Child Enthroned. The altarpiece has been attributed to Duccio, although most scholars have expressed doubts. Versions deriving from the Maestà were also painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Massa Marittima, Pin. Com.) and Simone Martini (Siena, Pal. Pub.). Individual parts of the Maestà had considerable influence: for example, the predella of the Santa Croce altarpiece by Ugolino di Nerio is derived from the Passion scenes on the Maestà; the organization of the St Louis of Toulouse altarpiece by Simone Martini also depends on the front predella of the Maestà. The Maestà was probably seen by Jean Pucelle, as is evident from the Belleville Breviary (Paris, Bib. N., MSS lat. 10483–4) and Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (New York, Cloisters, MS. 54.1.2). Altarpieces with double sides remained a rarity, with the exception of the simple dossals found in Umbria in the workshop of Meo da Siena, although Sassetta’s S Sepolcro altarpiece (dismantled; for locations see Sassetta) was evidently derived from the Maestà.

3. Attributed works, 1285–c. 1314.

(i) Before the ‘Maestà’.

The exact completion date of the Rucellai Madonna is not known, but by 8 October 1285 Duccio was back in Siena painting a biccherna. Several similar commissions (all untraced) are documented during the period 1286 to 1295. In 1295 Duccio was the only painter among the six advisers, including Giovanni Pisano, who deliberated on the site for the Fonte Nuova near the Porta Ovile. Another gap in the records between 1295 and 1302 prompted Stubblebine (1979) to suggest a journey to Rome, also proposing that Duccio might be identifiable with the ‘Duche de Sienne’ and ‘Duch le Lombart’ documented as living in the Rue des Précheurs in Paris in 1296 and 1297.

Duccio: Madonna and Child, tempera and gold on wood, overall, with engaged frame, 11 x 8 1/4 in. (27.9 x 21 cm); painted surface 9 3/8 x 6 1/2 in. (23.8 x 16.5 cm), ca. 1300 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Cha, Accession ID:2004.442); photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110003462

A number of works attributed to Duccio have been dated to before the Maestà, but their exact dates remain controversial (see fig.). These include the tiny panel, the Madonna of the Franciscans (240×171 mm; Siena, Pin. N.), of which the attribution to Duccio is generally accepted. It shows the Virgin and Child enthroned with three kneeling Franciscan friars protected by the Virgin’s cloak. The pattern of the cloth of honour held up by four angels behind the Virgin and Child has been compared to French illuminated manuscripts, and the iconography is thought to have a French prototype and to be linked with a fresco of c. 1300 by a Western, possibly French, artist in Panagia Phorbiotissa at Asinou, Cyprus. There is little agreement over the dating of the Madonna of the Franciscans: Stubblebine (1979) considered it to be Duccio’s earliest work, datable to the 1270s, but White (1979) dated it to the mid-1290s and Deuchler (1984) to c. 1300.

Another early work is the polyptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints (c. 1.39×2.41 m; Siena, Pin. N., no. 28), generally accepted to be by Duccio, although Stubblebine (1979) believed it to have been painted by Segna di Bonaventura working in Duccio’s shop c. 1310. In the centre are the Virgin and Child with St Peter and St Paul on either side, and St Augustine (whose Rule the Dominican Order adopted) and St Dominic (the founder of the Order) on the outside panels, with angels in the side gables and the Redeemer blessing in the central gable. Although it has sometimes been identified with an altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Four Saints seen in S Donato, Siena, by Chigi in 1625, signed by Duccio and dated 1310, Cannon has pointed out that it is most unlikely to have been painted for that church, since S Donato was a Vallombrosan foundation, and the polyptych shows no Benedictine or Vallombrosan saint. Instead, the programme suggests that it was painted for S Domenico, Siena, since St Dominic, rarely represented outside a Dominican context, is included. The polyptych is one of the earliest altarpieces to give particular status to individual saints by showing them on separate panels. Cannon suggested that the polyptych could have been in place by 1306, when the provincial chapter meeting of the Provincia Romana was held in Siena. This agrees with its dating by most scholars to c. 1300–05 on stylistic grounds.

Close to this date is a panel with the Virgin and Child (985×635 mm; Perugia, G. N. Umbria), originally from S Domenico, Perugia, and attributed to Duccio by all scholars. This is the only surviving panel of what was probably originally a pentaptych: traces of batten marks on the back show that it once had flanking panels. It has been suggested by Cannon that this was commissioned in response to the chapter meeting of the Order held in Siena in 1306. The building of the present church was begun in 1304, a possible terminus post quem for the commission. Cannon suggested that it may have been in place by 1308, when the provincial chapter meeting was held in Perugia. It has also been dated to c. 1302 by Stubblebine (1979), c. 1300–05 by White (1979), and c. 1300 by Deuchler (1984). Only Gardner von Teuffel has judged it a ‘late’ work. The angels in the spandrels were taken up by Ugolino di Nerio in his Santa Croce altarpiece (dismantled; spandrel angels in Los Angeles, CA, Co. Mus. A.), and the polyptych also influenced works by the Sienese painter Meo da Siena, who settled in Perugia.

The last known Duccio in private hands, the Stroganoff Madonna (c. 1300), was acquired in 2004 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One century before, at the milestone 1904 exhibition in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, it had been hailed by Bernard Berenson as ‘the most perfect work’ on display.

(ii) Associated with the ‘Maestà’.

One of the works attributed to Duccio that has been placed just before or just after the Maestà is the polyptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints (185×257 cm; Siena, Pin. N., no. 47), which is in extremely poor condition. It came originally from the hospital church of S Maria della Scala, Siena, situated at the base of the cathedral steps and administered by the cathedral canons. The hospital church was dedicated to S Maria Annunziata, and the iconographic programme of the altarpiece has been shown by Van Os (1984) to reflect this dedication. The main tier shows the Virgin and Child with SS Agnes, John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, and Catherine. In the crowning central gable is the Redeemer blessing, flanked by pinnacles with angels. The intervening arcade has Old Testament prophets—Moses and David in the centre, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jeremiah on the left, and Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel, and Malachi on the right, all carrying texts relating to the Annunciation, the Incarnation, and to Mary as the Mother of God.

Another work that has been dated both before and after the Maestà is the triptych showing the Virgin and Child with SS Dominic and Aurea. The attribution to Duccio was first made by Weigelt and has been accepted by Carli (1981) and by White (1979), who dates it to c. 1300. The attribution has been doubted by Stubblebine, who thought it to be by Simone Martini working in Duccio’s shop. Deuchler (1984) agreed with the attribution to Simone and dated it c. 1315. In the gable are seven of the Old Testament prophets who occur in polyptych no. 47—David at the centre with Daniel, Moses, and Isaiah on the left and Abraham, Jacob, and Jeremiah on the right—and, with the exception of Jeremiah, they carry the same texts. Below them in the main panel are the Virgin and Child with censing angels. In the left wing is St Dominic, identified by an inscription. In the right wing is a female saint holding a slender blue double cross. She is almost certainly St Aurea of Ostia (although she has been identified by some as St Agnes), since the damaged inscription behind her begins s. au (not, as often erroneously stated, s. ag). The identification is crucial, since it has led Cannon to suggest that it could have been commissioned by the Dominican Cardinal Niccolò da Prato (d 1321), who became Cardinal Bishop of Ostia in 1298.

Technical examination has revealed the distinctive scratchy underdrawing made with a quill pen found in the predella panels from the Maestà (see §II below) and confirms that Duccio was involved at the very least in the design. The measurements and design of the triptych have been shown by White (1973) to be identical with another triptych (Boston, MA, Mus. F.A.) attributed to Duccio (although more controversially), showing the Crucifixion with SS Nicholas and Gregory. Both triptychs were evidently carpentered, gessoed, and tooled in the same workshop. Moreover, both have an identical geometric design painted on the exterior, whose function is apparently to indicate which shutter is to be opened first.

(iii) Others.

Numerous works have been attributed to Duccio by some scholars, though without universal agreement. These include the Stoclet Madonna (untraced), accepted by Stubblebine and White (both 1979); the small panels of the Maestà in London (N.G., no. 6386), accepted by Stubblebine (1979), and in Berne (Kstmus.), accepted by Brandi (1951) and Deuchler (1984); the triptych showing the Flagellation, Crucifixion, and Deposition belonging to the Società di Esecutori di Pie Disposizioni, Siena (in situ); and the triptych showing the Crucifixion at the centre with the Virgin and Child Enthroned and Annunciation in one wing, and the Stigmatization of St Francis and Christ Enthroned with the Virgin in the other (London, Hampton Court, Royal Col.).

The seven years between the completion of the Maestà and Duccio’s death between 1318 and 3 August 1319 have never been fully accounted for. Frescoes dating from around 1314 and probably showing the Castello of Giuncarico, discovered in 1979–80 beneath that of Guidoriccio da Fogliano in the Sala del Mappamondo in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, have been attributed to Duccio, as well as to Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti.

II. Working methods and technique.

Although there is no documentary evidence for the component members of Duccio’s workshop, the sheer size of the Maestà, together with disparities in style and approach, implies that Duccio had the help of assistants and peer collaborators as well as workshop assistants; the coordination of this huge enterprise to produce a coherent and unified work of outstanding aesthetic quality is among Duccio’s greatest achievements.

Scientific investigation of the few panels from the Maestà that have been examined provides some evidence of Duccio’s materials and working methods. He evidently took control of the overall design. Infra-red reflectography has revealed two types of underdrawing in the Annunciation, which, as the opening panel of the predella, may confidently be ascribed to him: the broad, emphatic, and curiously scratchy lines of a quill pen and the more fluent strokes of a brush. The distinctive quill pen strokes (found also in triptych no. 566) are found in other panels in the Maestà, but most revealing of workshop collaboration and of the division of labour is the nature of their presence in Christ Healing the Blind Man. The procedure followed in this particular scene indicates a collaboration of equals. First, the composition of the figures seems to have been designed by Duccio, with a thick, dark stroke level with the hips of the blind man at the fountain to mark where the base of the architecture was to be. A second painter seems to have been responsible for the extremely complex architecture. He incised an elaborate grid of vertical and horizontal lines for the main outlines of the buildings. One of the horizontal lines running almost the entire width of the panel was only used for one small roof. It was probably Duccio who added decorative details to the architecture with the thick strokes of a quill pen, embellishments that were ignored by the painter of the architecture, who meticulously painted the buildings in clear blocks of colour, abutting but not overlapping them, and then reinforced the vertical and horizontal lines with a metal stylus before the paint had quite dried. It has been suggested that the painter of this purist architecture was Pietro Lorenzetti. The complex procedure in executing this panel confirms the inaccuracy of assigning single panels to a single painter and suggests that the painting of the Maestà involved an intermeshing of collaboration, with several painters working relatively piecemeal on a single composition.

Infra-red reflectography has shown that several panels underwent changes of plan. For example, the blind man at the fountain in Christ Healing the Blind Man was originally bending over the fountain, presumably rinsing his eyes, but this was changed to an upright position, possibly after the adjacent Transfiguration had been drawn and Duccio saw the possibilities of an emotional link between the two scenes, with the healed man raising his eyes to the transfigured Christ (White, 1979). The decision to show the blind man’s arm raised was made at quite a late stage, possibly to disguise with the rounded elbow a blemish in the surface.

In the Raising of Lazarus, the tomb was altered from a horizontal sarcophagus to a vertical one inserted in the rock, probably for greater compositional effect to punctuate the end of the predella. Thus the design and painting of the Maestà appear to have proceeded in an essentially empirical way, controlled, altered, and refined by Duccio with ad hoc decisions made as work progressed.

Duccio’s palette is interesting. The Virgin’s robe in the Rucellai Madonna is painted with azurite rather than with the more expensive ultramarine, and as this is also the pigment used for the Virgin’s robe in Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna (Florence, Uffizi), as well as in the Santa Croce Altarpiece by Ugolino di Nerio, this suggests a predilection on the part of Florentine patrons rather than the choice of the artists. In the Sienese Maestà, on the other hand, where the materials were supplied by the patron, the purest ultramarine was used, as well as many earth pigments. Another distinctive feature of Duccio’s technique is the thickness of the mordant gilding, resulting in a raised effect, for example in the stars on the Virgin’s robe in the National Gallery Triptych.

It is impossible to distinguish Duccio’s assistants, pupils, and followers. Much debate has focused on the relationship between Duccio and Cimabue, and several paintings, such as the Flagellation (New York, Frick), have been attributed to both painters interchangeably. Those Sienese contemporaries most strongly influenced by Duccio were the Master of Badia a Isola, the Master of Città di Castello, the Monte Oliveto Master, Goodhart Master, and Vertine Master, and the painter of triptych no. 35, whose royal donor has never been identified. Whether they collaborated with him or not has been a matter of debate. Almost certainly among his pupils were Segna di Bonaventura, Ugolino di Nerio, and Simone Martini, and the Lorenzetti brothers almost certainly trained with him.

III. Posthumous reputation.

Duccio’s influence on the development of 13th- and 14th-century Italian painting cannot be overstated. Until the 19th century this contribution was considerably underestimated, partly perhaps the result of his Byzantinizing style, partly the Florentine bias of early art historians, who were themselves Florentine. He was mentioned only briefly and almost as an afterthought by Ghiberti, who, after eulogizing Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Simone Martini, inaccurately described the Maestà:

There was in Siena also Duccio, who was most noble and held to the Greek manner; he was outstanding, and the large painting in Siena Cathedral is his work. On the front is shown the Coronation of Our Lady and on the back New Testament scenes. This picture was excellently and sapiently made: it is a magnificent work, and he was a most noble painter.

In the first edition of his Vite, Vasari included in the life of Duccio many misattributions, including part of the Siena Cathedral floor, and described him as still having been active in 1349 (perhaps confusing him with Ugolino di Nerio).

In the 1568 edition Vasari expanded the life: he identified a panel in Santa Trìnita, which he attributed to Duccio, as an Annunciation and tried to find the whereabouts of the Maestà and failed, possibly because he was looking for a Coronation of the Virgin as apparently described by Ghiberti, although he knew that the altarpiece was painted on the back with small-scale biblical scenes. Vasari also attributed the Rucellai Madonna to Cimabue. Duccio’s reputation was restored by the 16th-century Sienese writer Sigismondo Tizio (d 1528): ‘Duccio of Siena who was at that time the foremost amongst the artists of that school … from whose studio as from the Trojan horse there issued distinguished painters’; he was also appreciated by local Sienese writers. It was not until the late 19th century, however, with Berenson’s praise (Central Italian Painters, 1897, pp. 16–42, 34–5), that Duccio’s greatness was fully appreciated, while monographs by Stubblebine and White (both 1979) have established his place among the leading painters of the 14th century.

Bibliography

Early sources
  • L. Ghiberti: I commentarii (MS.; begun c. 1447); Ger. trans., ed. J. von Schlosser, as Lorenzo Ghibertis Denkwürdigkeiten, 2 vols (Berlin, 1912)
  • G. Vasari: Vite (1550, rev. 2/1568); ed. G. Milanesi (1878–85)
  • F. Baldinucci: Notizie de’ professori del disegno (Florence, 1681–1728); ed. F. Ranelli (Florence, 1845–7/R 1974)
  • G. Milanesi: Documenti per la storia dell’arte senese, 1 (Siena, 1854), pp. 166, 178
General
  • M. Davies: The Early Italian Schools before 1400, London, N.G. cat. (London, 1951, rev. 1988 by D. Gordon)
  • H. Van Os: Marias Demut und Verherrlichung in der sienesischen Malerei, 1300–1450 (The Hague, 1969)
  • H. B. Maginnis: ‘The Literature of Sienese Trecento Painting, 1945–1975’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte [merger of Z. Bild. Kst with Repert. Kstwiss. & with Jb. Kstwiss.], 40 (1977), pp. 277–81, 304
  • D. Wilkins: ‘Early Florentine Frescoes in Santa Maria Novella’, Art Quarterly, 1 (1978), pp. 141–74
  • C. Gardner von Teuffel: ‘The Buttressed Altarpiece: A Forgotten Aspect of Tuscan Fourteenth-century Altarpiece Design’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 21 (1979), pp. 21–65
  • E. Carli: La pittura senese del trecento (Milan, 1981), pp. 25–70
  • J. Cannon: ‘Simone Martini, the Dominicans and the Early Sienese Polyptych’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 45 (1982), pp. 69–93
  • J. Shearman: The Early Italian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 93–6
  • H. Van Os: Sienese Altarpieces, 1215–1460, 1 (Groningen, 1984)
  • Italian Painting before 1400: Art in the Making (exh. cat. by D. Bomford and others, London, N.G., 1989–90)
Monographs
  • C. H. Weigelt: Duccio di Buoninsegna (Leipzig, 1911)
  • C. Brandi: Duccio (Florence, 1951)
  • J. H. Stubblebine: Duccio di Buoninsegna and his School, 2 vols (Princeton, 1979); reviews by M. Boskovits in Art Bulletin, 64(2) (1982), pp. 496–502 and J. Pope-Hennessy in New York Review of Books (20 Nov 1980), pp. 45–7
  • J. White: Duccio: Tuscan Art and the Medieval Workshop (London, 1979); reviews by M. Boskovits in Art Bulletin, 64(2) (1982), pp. 496–502 and J. Pope-Hennessy in New York Review of Books (20 Nov 1980), pp. 45–7
  • F. Deuchler: Duccio: L’opera completa (Milan, 1984) [useful catalogue and bibliog.)
  • G. Ragionera: Duccio: Catalogo completo dei dipinti (Florence, 1989)
  • L. Bellosi: ‘Duccio di Buoninsegna (o Boninsegna)’, Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale, 5 (Rome, 1994), pp. 738–50 [extensive bibliog.]
  • D. Popp: Duccio und die antike: Studien zur Antikenvorstellung und zur Antikenrezeption in der Sieneser Malerei am Anfang des 14. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1996)
  • J. Immler Satkowski: Duccio di Buoninsegna: The Documents and Early Sources, ed. and intro. H. B. J. Maginnis (Athens, GA, 2000)
  • A. Bagnoli and others, eds: Duccio: Siena fra tradizione bizantina e mondo gotico (Cinisello Balsamo, 2003)
  • A. Bagnoli and C. Tarozzi: La vetrata del Duomo di Siena e il suo restauro (Cinisello Balsamo, 2003)
  • Duccio: Alle origini della pittura senese (exh. cat., ed. A. Bagnoli and others; Siena, Osp. S Maria della Scala, Mus. Opera Duomo, and Cathedral, 2003–4)
  • Kult Bild: Das Altar- und Andachtsbild von Duccio bis Perugino: Cult Image: Altarpiece and Devotional Painting from Duccio to Perugino (exh. cat. by J. Sander, Frankfurt am Main, Städel Kstinst. & Städt. Gal., 2006)
  • B. Tavolari: Museo dell’Opera, Siena: Paintings (Cinisello Balsamo, 2007)
  • K. Christiansen: ‘Duccio and the Origins of Western Painting’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 66(1) (Summer 2008), pp. 6–55, 60–61
Maestà
  • E. T. De Wald: ‘Observations on Duccio’s Maestà’, Late Classical and Medieval Studies in Honour of Albert Matthias Friend, Jr. (Princeton, 1955), pp. 363–86
  • C. Brandi: Il restauro della ‘Maestà’ di Duccio (Rome, 1959)
  • J. White: ‘Measurement, Design and Carpentry in Duccio’s Maestà’, Art Bulletin, 55 (1973), pp. 334–66, 547–69
  • J. H. Stubblebine: ‘Byzantine Sources for the Iconography of Duccio’s Maestà’, Art Bulletin, 57 (1975), pp. 176–85
  • F. Deuchler: ‘Duccio Doctus: New Readings for the Maestà’, Art Bulletin, 61 (1979), pp. 541–9
  • R. W. Sullivan: ‘The Anointing in Bethany and other Affirmations of Christ’s Divinity on Duccio’s Back Predella’, Art Bulletin, 67 (1985), pp. 32–50
  • R. W. Sullivan: ‘Some Old Testament Themes on the Front Predella of Duccio’s Maestà’, Art Bulletin, 68 (1986), pp. 597–609
  • H. P. Riedl: Das Maest Bild in der Sieneser Malerei des Trecento: Unter besonderer Ber ksichtigung der Darstellung im Palazzo comunale von San Gimignano (Tübingen, 1991)
  • P. J. Earenfight: ‘Manuscript to Altarpiece: Duccio’s Maestà Passion Cycle and Medieval Illuminations’, Source, 13 (1994), pp. 6–13
  • L. Bellosi: Duccio: La maest (Milan, 1998; Eng. trans., 1999)
Specialist studies
  • E. Carli: Vetrata duccesca (Florence, 1946)
  • C. Volpe: ‘Prehistoria di Duccio’, Paragone, 5(49) (1954), pp. 4–22
  • J. H. Stubblebine: ‘Duccio’s Maestà of 1302 for the Chapel of the Nove’, Art Quarterly, 35(3) (1972), pp. 239–68
  • J. H. Stubblebine: ‘Cimabue and Duccio in Santa Maria Novella’, Pantheon: Internationale Zeitschrift für Kunst [cont. as Bruckmanns Pantheon], 31 (1973), pp. 15–21
  • J. White: ‘Carpentry and Design in Duccio’s Workshop: The London and Boston Triptychs’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 36 (1973), pp. 92–105
  • F. Deuchler: ‘Duccio et son cercle’, Revue de l’art, 51 (1981), pp. 17–22
  • H. Belting: ‘The “Byzantine” Madonnas: New Facts about their Italian Origin and some Observations on Duccio’, Studies in the History of Art, 12 (1982), pp. 7–22
  • M. Seidel: ‘“Castrum pingatur in palatio”: Ricerche storiche e iconografiche sui castelli dipinti nel Palazzo pubblico di Siena’, Prospettiva, 28 (1982), pp. 17–35
  • F. Bologna: ‘The Crowning Disc of a Trecento Crucifixion and other Points Relevant to Duccio’s Relationship to Cimabue’, British Museum Quarterly, 125 (1983), pp. 330–40
  • L. Berti, ed.: La Maestà di Duccio restaurata, Studi e Ricerche, 6 (Florence, 1990) [essays by B. Santi, I. Hueck, M. Cämmerer, A. del Serra, O. Casazza]
  • B. Kempers: ‘Icons, Altarpieces, and Civic Ritual in Siena Cathedral, 1100–1530’, City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe, ed. B. A. Hanawalt and K. L. Reyerson (Minneapolis and London, 1994), pp. 89–136
  • H. B. J. Maginnis: ‘Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna and the Origins of Florentine Painting’, Gazette des beaux-arts [suppl. is Chron. A.], 123 (April 1994), pp. 147–64
  • J. Polzer: ‘Il gotico e la pittura senese tra Duecento e Trecento’, Il gotico europeo in Italia (Naples, 1994), pp. 153–80
  • G. Mazzoni: ‘Falsi ducceschi’, Diana, 1 (1995), pp. 65–92
  • D. Norman, ed.: Siena, Florence and Padua: Art, Society and Religion, 1280–1400 (New Haven and London, 1995)
  • V. M. Schmidt: ‘Duccio’s Madonna of the Franciscans: A Note on its Iconography and Function’, Media latinitas: A Collection of Essays to Mark the Occasion of the Retirement of L.J. Engels, ed. R. Nip (Turnhout, 1996), pp. 335–8
  • V. M. Schmidt: ‘Il trittico di Duccio alla National Gallery di Londra: La datazione, l’iconografia e il committente’, Prospettiva, 81 (1996), pp. 19–30
  • J. Gardner: ‘Duccio, “Cimabue” and the Maestro di Casole: Early Sienese Paintings for Florentine Confraternities’, Iconographica: Mél anges offerts à Piotr Skubiszewski par ses amis, ses collègues, ses élèves, ed. R. Favreau and M.-H. Debiès (Poitiers, 1999), pp. 109–13
  • V. M. Schmidt: ‘La “Madonna dei francescani” di Duccio: Forma, contenuti, funzione’, Prospettiva, 97 (2000), pp. 30–44
  • R. P. Tarr: ‘“Ecce virgo concipiet”: The Iconography and Context of Duccio’s London Annunciation’, Viator, 31 (2000), pp. 185–231
  • J. Cannon and V. Pemberton-Pigott: ‘The Royal Collection Duccio: A Triptych Reconsidered’, Apollo, 155(486) (2002), pp. 10–18
  • V. M. Schmidt, ed.: Italian Panel Painting of the Duecento and Trecento, Studies in the History of Art, 61 (Washington, DC, 2002)
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