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Renaissance Top 48: Maesta

Identification

19-10 Duccio Di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints, principal panel of the Maesta altarpiece, from the Siena Cathedral, Siena, Italy, 1308-1311. Tempera on wood, 7' x 13' (center panel). Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena. 

Context

Duccio was commisioned to create this masterpiece for the main altar of the cathedral of Siena. Artwork for Cathedrals and Christianity in general was of the highest importance to the community at the time. 

The center altar showcases silk garments; indicating that during this time the Silk Road was still important. Italy was in the middle of the Silk Road trade routes and would receive items from China that were considered luxurious and showed wealth of the town during the time period. 

Mary was the Patron Saint of Siena, which is one of the reasonings behind why she was the main figure - she was the center of the civic and religious life of the city. 

The decorative Byzantine style is not as prominent as it used to be - the Duccio piece now has figures who have a greater weight and solidity than previous works. Artists were beginning to be more creative and break the mold

Content

The central figure of this painting is Mary, shown as being the Queen of Heaven amid choruses of angels and saints. She is seen in the classic position of holding Jesus, although Jesus is a baby, he is more central and larger than many of the angels pictured.

None of the figures are incredibly individualized, But Duccio did relax the strict frontality and rigidity of the figures in the typical Byzantine icon and iconostatis because they are all turning towards Mary and Jesus as opposed to being completely frontal. 

Each of the saints are clearly identifable by the way they are dressed or their personal objects. 

  • John the Evangelist (to the left of the throne)
  • Saint Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, John the Baptist, Saint Peter and Saint Agnes  (to the right of the throne)
  • The patron saints of Siena are also pictured
  • [This information can be seen through the names of each of the Saints at the bottom in the painting] 

Above and below the central figure are scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin, along with smaller figures of Saints and their stories. 

Image

Form

Tempera on wood

The central panel on the altarpiece is 7' by 13''. There was seven pinnacles above the main panel and a raised shelf of panels at the base of the panel, all totaling around 13 feet high, although now it has been dismantled so that it could be dispersed through museums. 

The altarpiece also has soft brush strokes and highlight his color composition and texture techniques. He used paint to create glistening and shimmering effects of silk textiles. It's unclear where the source of light is and there is little color variation. 

It was commissioned by the Siena Cathedral in Italy, making the artwork have a high value and the artist was able to use the aids of others and any materials he wanted; showing that the paint was of the highest quality possible. Mary was originally in a blue robe, showing status because red and blue pigments were especially luxurious during the 1300's. 

Function

The function of this piece was to be featured at the altar of the Cathedral in Siena. This is indicated through Mary (the patron saint of Siena) being featured as the largest element. It also had the purpose of showcasing how important religion was to the city of Siena.