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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Duccio

Duccio

Duccio

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255 – 1319) was an Italian painter active in Siena, Tuscany, who completed many important art projects in government and religious buildings around Italy. Duccio’s style was similar to Byzantine art in many ways, with its gold backgrounds and familiar religious scenes. However, he shifted away from the sharp lines of Byzantine art and softened the figures. He used light and dark colors to reveal the figures underneath the heavy drapery. Hands, faces, and feet became more rounded and three-dimensional.

Duccio’s artistic talents became famous in his lifetime, and Duccio became one of the most favored and influential painters in Siena. He influenced many other painters who followed him.

Duccio was born and died in the city of Siena, and was active mostly in the surrounding region of Tuscany. Details of his life and family are uncertain. There are no known images of Duccio, but one of the figures in the above painting of “The Healing of the Man Born Blind” may represent Duccio, maybe the blind man who can now see. Duccio created the new painting styles of Trecento and the Sienese school and also influenced the Sienese Gothic style.

Duccio’s biography has been constructed by researching the archives that list his debts and fines. Some records say he was married with seven children. The relative abundance of archival financial mentions has led historians to believe that he had difficulties managing his money. A more exciting path to uncovering Duccio’s history is to analyze the works that can be attributed to him with certainty. Examining his style, the date and location of his works provide many clues.

Duccio’s Style

Duccio worked on wood panel, painted in egg tempera, and embellished with gold leaf. Duccio was a master of tempera and mastered the medium with delicacy and precision. Duccio’s paintings were inviting and warm with color. His compositions consisted of many more delicate details and were sometimes inlaid with jewels or decorative fabrics. Duccio also used a more complex organization of available space and staged his figures specifically and purposefully in the composition.

Duccio was also one of the first painters to put figures in architectural settings, as he began to explore and investigate perspective. He also depicted emotion in his characters in a way that had not been seen in other painters at this time. The characters interact with each other. It is no longer Christ and the Virgin; it was mother and child. He flirted with naturalism, although his figures seem to be otherworldly consisting of colors, gracefulness, and fabrics not available to mere humans.

A Tour of Duccio’s Art

  • The Healing of the Man Born Blind
    • “The Healing of the Man Born Blind” by Duccio shows Christ in the center of the scene, and the blind man is shown twice in the composition. The man is shown being touched by Christ on his eyes, and then the man is shown looking up with his sight restored and dropping his guiding stick on the right of the canvas. The two episodes are linked visually by the blind man’s rod. This painting is an early example of how Italian artists began leading the move away from the traditions of Byzantine art. Duccio started by making people’s faces, hands, and feet more expressive and realistic. Duccio introduced warmer colors and attempts at portraying the perspective of the background architecture. This panel was one of the scenes on the back predella named Duccio’s ‘Maestà.’ Museum: National Gallery, London
  • The Annunciation
    • “The Annunciation” by Duccio shows the angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Also depicted is the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove. This tempera on a wood painting was the opening scene on the front predella, which visually describes Christ’s childhood in a series of pictures. Named the Maestà of Duccio, it is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. Museum: National Gallery, London
  • Maestà
    • Maestà by Duccio is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308. The front panels depict a large enthroned Madonna and Child with saints and angels, and a predella of the Childhood of Christ with prophets. The reverse has the rest of a combined cycle of the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ. There is a total of forty-three small scenes. Unfortunately, several panels are now lost or can be seen in some leading museums across the world. The base of the panel has an inscription that reads: “Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus.”  Though it took a generation for its effect truly to be felt, Duccio’s Maestà set Italian painting on a course leading away from the Byzantine art styles of art adhering to early methods as laid down by religious tradition towards more direct presentations of reality. Museum: Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena

Duccio

A Tour of Artists and their Art

Reflections

  • The start of realism in painting?
  • How do his paintings differ from traditional Byzantine paintings?

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“You must change your life.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

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Photo Credit: 1) Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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