Duccio di Buoninsegna (painter)|
Sienese, c. 1255 - 1318
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311
tempera on single panel
overall (including original frame): 48 x 87 cm (18 7/8 x 34 1/4 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Object 5 of 8
The Nativity, flanked by Old Testament prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus, was on the front of the Maestà, the altarpiece at Siena cathedral. It was one of the scenes from Christ’s childhood painted above and below the central image of Mary enthroned in a crowd of saints and angels. Devotion to the Virgin, who was patron saint of Siena, increased with the new interest in Christ’s humanity and the surge of popular religion that grew around mendicant preachers. By including a large devotional image of the Virgin with a story-telling scene that had traditionally been painted on church walls, the Maestà combined the functions of both icon and narrative art.
A blend of Byzantine and other influences characterizes Duccio’s style. Many of his motifs seem to be based on Byzantine manuscript illuminations. The cave setting, for example, is typically Byzantine. Duccio, however, added a manger roof similar to ones found in the Gothic art of northern Europe. Though he used the gold background of Byzantine painting, he was nevertheless keenly attuned to a specific sense of place, carefully repeating outdoor settings to give continuity from one scene to the next. While the effect of gold and brilliant colors is highly decorative, the elegant lines that define drapery folds and Duccio’s undulating brushstrokes soften the austerity of the Byzantine style.
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