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Siena ca. 1250–ca. 1318 

Duccio di Buoninsegna is Siena's greatest painter. His first masterpiece, the Rucellai Madonna follows the style of Cimabue’s (1240–1302) Maestà (Madonna and Child) and the two can be seen together in the Uffizi in Florence. The Cimabue is still in the hieratic Italo-Byzantine tradition but breaks free of it in the more lifelike proportions and shading. The Duccio is more intimate and lyrical, more elegant in line, and with richer decorative patterning, like English and French gothic painting of the time. These characteristics were to remain fundamental to Sienese painting until the end of the gothic period.

In 1280–1285, Duccio was probably in Rome where he would have encountered classical and post classical art, an experience that informs his great stained glass rose window for Siena cathedral later in the decade. Like most artists he responded to the need for small and portable pictures for private devotion. One of these is the former Stoclet Madonna purchased a few years ago by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The magnum opus of his later career is his Maestà, featuring on one side the Madonna and Child with flanking saints and predellas below, and on the reverse numerous individual panels of the life of Christ and the Virgin. The latter were intended for spectators in the presbytery, who could get closer than the mass of faithful in the nave. In Siena, the experience of seeing the Maestà is overwhelming. Despite its gothic primitivism, after a bit the ensemble becomes totally convincing as reality. One the grandest scenes is the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, where the crowd pushes through the gateway to meet the approaching Saviour. The variety and naturalism of the figures, with emotions ranging from reverence to doubt, are new to Siena and more generically a milestone in western European art. Equally striking is the realism of the buildings up the slope which overlook and dominate the events below. They may possibly be based on a description of the city in the well-known account of Jewish War by the Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In another panel of Christ before the High Priest Caiaphas, the suspicion and hostility of Caiaphas and the bystanders has a psychological intensity unprecedented at the time.

Duccio had many followers, notably the monumental Segna di Bonaventura (1280–1331) and Ugoilno di Nerio (1280–1349), with his rich soft colors. One of the best paintings by a Duccio follower is a Madonna and Child (Badia dei Santi Salvatore e Cirino, Abbadia a Isola) by the so-called Master of the Badia a Isola (active ca. 1300). The artist is more limited and less subtle than Duccio but powerfully direct. It is still in the place for which it was painted.


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