Overview

This work comes from the front predella, the separate horizontal band of narrative scenes at the base of the great Maestà altarpiece that depicts Mary, the patron saint of Siena, in majesty with angels and saints. A contract of 1308 states that the huge altarpiece for the cathedral of Siena was to be painted entirely by Duccio di Buoninsegna; it is probable, however, that the artist took on assistants to help carry out the project.

In the Nativity, Duccio employed conventional Byzantine elements, such as the cave setting, the glowing colors, and the multi–scene composition. Mary is shown in the usual Byzantine manner — larger than the figures around her yet — her large size also underscores the importance the Virgin held for the Sienese. The bracketing side panels portray Old Testament prophets holding scrolls that foretell the birth of Christ.

Duccio's unique contribution to the Byzantine style is his use of elegantly flowing lines, most evident here in the drapery folds and mountain ridges. The soft, undulating brushstrokes downplay the austerity of the earlier style, as do the sensitive rendering of the Virgin's face and the individual characterizations of Isaiah and Ezekiel, expressing a true sense of human feeling.

Inscription

left section, on the scroll of Isaiah: ECCE VIR / GO CONCI / PIET [et] PA / RIET FILIU[M] / [et] VOCABI / TUR NOM / EN EIUS / [E]MANUE[L] (Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel), from Isaiah 7:14; middle section, on the scroll of the announcing angel: A[nnunti]o / Vobis / Gaudiu[m] / Magnu[m] (Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy), variant of Luke 2:10; right section, on the scroll of Ezekial: VIDI PORTA[M] / I[N] DOMO D[OMI]NI / CLAUSA[M] / VIR / NO[N] TR[AN]SIBIT / P[ER] EA[M] DOM / IN[US] SOLUS / I[N]TRAT ET[?] / IT [?] P[ER] EA[M] (I saw a door in the house of the Lord which was closed and no man went through it. The Lord only enters and goes through it), variant of Ezekial 44:2

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

NGA 1937.1.8 formed part of the front predella of Duccio's double-sided altarpiece the Maestà, which was in the course of execution by October 1308 and was placed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Siena on 30 June 1311;[1] the altarpiece was removed from the cathedral in 1506, stored, and then displayed on the wall of the left transept, close to the altar of Saint Sebastian, but probably by this time the predella and gable panels had already been separated from it;[2] the altarpiece was moved to the church of Sant'Ansano in 1777, where its two sides were separated and returned to the cathedral;[3] in 1798 the gables and eight panels of the predella were reported as being kept in the Sacristy of the cathedral, whereas the rest, including NGA 1937.1.8, must already have been in private hands.[4] probably with Charles Fairfax Murray [1849-1919], London and Florence, in the early 1880s,[5] who seems to have been the seller, in 1884, to the Gemäldegalerie der Königliche Museen, Berlin; deaccessioned 1937[6] and exchanged with (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[7] purchased 26 April 1937 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[8] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Bibliography

1941
Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections in America. New York, 1941: no. 6, repro.
1941
National Gallery of Art. Book of Illustrations. Washington, DC, 1941: 98 (repro.), 233.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 59, no. 8.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 239, repro. 100.
1949
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 4, repro.
1951
Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 16.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 5
1959
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Early Italian Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Three in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 14, color repro.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 10, as Nativity with Two Prophets.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art. Translated. New York, 1962: 10, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 297, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 44.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:4, color repro.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 37, repro.
1974
Pesenti, Franco Renzo. "Dismembered works of art - Italian painting." In An Illustrated Inventory of Famous Dismembered Works of Art: European Painting. Paris, 1974: 20, 26-27, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 112, repro.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:168-172, II:pl. 119
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 67, no. 8, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 136, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 11, repro.
1996
Gordon, Dillian. “Duccio (di Buoninsegna).” In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 9:344.
1997
Shaw-Eagle, Joanna. "Christ's Birth Gave Birth to Astounding Images: Gallery Glitters with holy Masterpieces." Washington Times (December 21, 1997): D5.
1998
Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. "Virgin/Virginity." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:906.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 2-3, 6-7, no. 2, color repros.
2006
Hartt, Frederick and David G. Wilkins. History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, 2006: 105-107, color figs. 4.3, 4.8.
2010
Giorgi, Rosa. “L’iconografia della Natività nella tradizione e la novità del Lippi.” In Filippo Lippi: La Natività. Exh. cat. Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2010: 55-57, color figs. 2, 3.
2011
Gordon, Dillian. The Italian Paintings Before 1400. National Gallery Catalogues. London, 2011: 174-175, under no. NG1330, color fig. 1.

Technical Summary

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