The Sienese artist who made this panel is named for the town—Città di Castello— where another of his paintings, bearing another image of the Virgin and Child in “majesty” (maestà in Italian), remains today. The Maestà--especially in this tall format--was frequently commissioned for the meeting places of lay brotherhoods. In Siena, where devotion to the Virgin was particularly strong, it was a highly visible image, dominating the city’s most prominent works of art: a fresco by
What suggests this? This artist is interested in abstraction and in capturing the spiritual world, not in making the Virgin and her divine child conform to what we see around us. Although Mary’s unusual semicircular throne—which relates to her as the Throne of Wisdom—could be found in the few decades on either side of the turn of the 14th century, and the gold striations in her robe would typify Sienese style until the middle of the 1320s, a preference for abstraction over naturalism points to an earlier date for this painting.
This panel, of large dimensions, bears the image of the Maestà represented according to the
Terms that refer broadly to the study of subjects and themes in works of art. Iconology, which is based on the results of iconography, is the more wide-ranging and comprehensive. One of the principal concerns of iconography is the discovery of symbolic and allegorical meanings in a work of art. —Willem F. Lash, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
See Gregor Martin Lechner, “Maria,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wessel (Stuttgart, 2005), 6:58–71. The Maestà is a type of image emphasizing the regal dignity of the Christ child, shown in the arms of his mother, who is enthroned and flanked by angels.
Religious organization of lay people (members of the church who are not clergy), sometimes organized by profession or guild, who undertook charitable roles and duties, such as that of tending the dying or condemned. —Grove Art © Oxford University Press
This is also suggested by the historical vicissitudes of the painting, which seems not to have had any fixed ecclesiastical ownership but to have passed from churches in San Quirico d’Orcia to private owners and back again, without leaving any trace in the inventories relating to the churches in question. But almost all large-size panels of the Maestà painted in central Italy between the thirteenth and early years of the fourteenth century, in general taller than they are wide, were commissioned by lay confraternities. See Hans Belting, Bild und Kult: Eine Geschichte des Bildes vor dem Zeitalter der Kunst (Munich, 1990), 433–446; Miklós Boskovits, in Duecento: Forme e colori del Medioevo a Bologna, ed. Massimo Medica and Stefano Tumidei (Venice, 2000), 274–275.
See below note 15.
The term chrysography (from the Greek chrysographia, meaning writing with gold letters) comes from studies on the decoration of manuscript. Cf. Ronald Baxter, “Chrysography,” in The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner, 34 vols. (New York, 1996), 7:245–247. In the art historical literature it is used as an alternative to gold grisaille to denote the gilded highlights of garments in paintings. Cf. Otto Demus, Byzantine Art and the West (New York, 1970), 103, 235; Kurt Weitzmann, The Icon: Holy Images, Sixth to Fourteenth Century (London, 1978), 92. This use of gold, especially the golden calligraphy used to highlight the folds of drapery, was borrowed from Byzantine art and spread in Tuscan painting around the mid-thirteenth century but gradually disappeared in the course of the second decade of the following century or shortly thereafter.
Recorded for the first time by the Soprintendenza in Siena c. 1930 as “tavola preduccesca,”
Cf. Provenance note 2.
Matteo Panzeri (1996) published the expertise dated August 30, 1937, in which Offner proposed that the panel belonged to “un’epoca un po’ più primitiva della Maestà di Duccio, vale a dire il primo decennio del Trecento” (a slightly more primitive period than Duccio’s Maestà, that is to say the first decade of the fourteenth century). Offner compared the panel, which he likely knew only from a photograph, with a series of paintings, thus circumscribing in a convincing way the artistic ambience in which it was painted. He noted its kinship with paintings by artists of the first generation of the followers of
(June 26, 1865–October 6, 1959) Art historian and connoisseur. Son of a Lithuanian timber merchant who emigrated to the United States with his family in 1875, he was educated at the Latin School, Boston, and at Harvard University, where he studied Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and German. In an unsuccessful application for a traveling fellowship to Europe, he wrote, ‘Art prevails in this programme because it is there that I feel myself weakest. One can study literature here . . . but art not at all.’ On his subsequent visit to Europe in 1885, financed by friends, his rapid visual self-education led to the decision to settle in Italy and to devote his life to the study of Italian art. —William Mostyn-Owen, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
In the posthumous edition of Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, 3 vols. (London, 1968), 2:120, the painting was classified as the anonymous work of an artist close to the Master of Città di Castello. Nonetheless, prior to its acquisition by the Kress Foundation, Berenson apparently held a different view. In a letter of January 28, 1953, to his agent Gualtiero Volterra, Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi included photographs of the works of art he intended to sell to the Kress Foundation and informed him “delle impressioni di B.B” (of B. B.’s opinions) about them. The works in question include one attributed to the “Maestro di Badia a Isola quadro importantissimo che diventerebbe uno dei pezzi centrali di qualunque museo,” see Elsa de’ Giorgi, L’eredità Contini Bonacossi: L’ambiguo rigore del vero (Milan, 1988), 197. That this was the Gallery's painting is proven by its description in other letters as “Madonna col Bambino e quattro angeli.” Subsequently (letter of Rush Kress to Contini-Bonacossi, May 14, 1953) the painting was also indicated as “Duccio, Pala d’altare della Madonna of Spoleto,” but clearly this was a mistake on the writer’s part. In fact, the Madonna of Spoleto is the panel generally attributed to the Badia a Isola Master that belonged to the collection of Claudio Argentieri in Spoleto in the 1930s, then circulated on the art market, and finally ended up in the collection of Vittorio Cini in Venice. See Federico Zeri, Mauro Natale, and Alessandra Mottola Molfino, Dipinti toscani e oggetti d’arte dalla Collezione Vittorio Cini (Vicenza, 1984), 10–11. As evinced by the documentation in NGA curatorial files, William Suida also had classified the panel as a work of the Badia a Isola Master at the time of its acquisition by the Kress Foundation, and Sandberg-Vavalà seems to have accepted this attribution as well.
Gertrude Coor, “The Early Nineteenth-Century Aspect of a Dispersed Polyptych by the Badia a Isola Master,” The Art Bulletin 42 (1960): 143 n. 6; Enzo Carli, “Ricuperi e restauri senesi: I, Nella cerchia di Duccio,” Bollettino d’arte 50 (1965): 97, 99 n. 2.
Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools, 3 vols. (London, 1968), 2:120. James H. Stubblebine, Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1979), 1:89–91, gathered under the name “San Quirico d’Orcia Master” the Gallery Maestà; the Madonna and Child in the Detroit Institute of Arts (no. 24.96) usually given to the Master of Città di Castello; and a fragmentary panel of the same subject, formerly in the storerooms of the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena and now in the museum at Buonconvento. Cf. also note 18 below.
Alessandro Conti, La miniatura bolognese: Scuole e botteghe, 1270–1340 (Bologna, 1981), 53 n. 39. Pierpaolo Donati reconstructed the catalog of this anonymous Pistoian master around an altarpiece dated 1310 in the Museum in Avignon; cf. Pier Paolo Donati, “Per la pittura pistoiese del Trecento, 1,” Paragone 25, no. 295 (1974): 4–26; Michel Laclotte and Esther Moench, Peinture italienne: Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon (Paris, 2005), 127–128. Andrea Bacchi (1986), on the other hand, thought the panel in Washington more likely to be the work of a Pisan master of the early fourteenth century. Andrea Bacchi, “Pittura del Duecento e del Trecento nel Pistoiese,” in La Pittura in Italia: Il Duecento e il Trecento, ed. Enrico Castelnuovo, 2 vols. (Milan, 1986), 1:317–318.
See Laura Martini, “Le vicende costruttive della chiesa di San Francesco,” in San Quirico d’Orcia: La Madonna di Vitaleta; Arte e devozione, ed. Laura Martini (San Quirico d’Orcia, 1997), 13–14, 19 n. 5; Alessandro Bagnoli, “I pittori ducceschi,” in Duccio: Siena fra tradizione bizantina e mondo gotico, ed. Alessandro Bagnoli et al. (Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2003), 297, 302 n. 23; Victor M. Schmidt, Painted Piety: Panel Paintings for Personal Devotion in Tuscany, 1250–1400 (Florence, 2005), 181, 202 n. 44, 348; and Miklós Boskovits, “Review of Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School by J. H. Stubblebine; and Duccio di Buoninsegna by J. White,” The Art Bulletin 64 (1982): 497. Though he did not specifically discuss the Washington panel, Gaudenz Freuler too included it implicitly in the catalog of the Master of Città di Castello. Cf. Gaudenz Freuler, “Duccio et ses contemporains: Le maître de Città di Castello,” Revue de l’art 134 (2001): 28; Gaudenz Freuler, “Duccio alle origini della pittura senese,” Kunstchronik 57 (2004): 589–590. He argued, in fact, that the works gathered by Stubblebine under the name of the San Quirico Master should be reassigned to the Città di Castello Master.
Before discussing the attribution, an effort should be made to define the chronological frame within which the Washington panel was painted. This can best be done by examining what is no doubt its most peculiar feature, the throne on which the Virgin is seated. Elaborate in construction, it is undoubtedly built of marble. This was a novel feature in late thirteenth-century Tuscan paintings. Marble thrones, hitherto used in Roman painting, appear for the first time in Siena in the great rose window designed by
Documents of 1287 and 1288 speak of the great rose window about to be realized for Siena Cathedral, the glass for which was then being bought. Cf. Luciano Bellosi and Alessandro Bagnoli, in Duccio: Siena fra tradizione bizantina e mondo gotico, ed. Alessandro Bagnoli et al. (Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2003), 162–179. The throne of the Coronation of the Virgin represented in the center of the window’s upper tier recalls the type of throne in the Madonna Rucellai in the Uffizi, Florence, commissioned in 1285, but in contrast it is no longer of wood but of marble. The new type of throne, which would inspire Sienese painters of the following decades, is characterized by its high concave back placed between two robust quadrangular pillars, and by a seat flanked by projecting elements and adorned with panels of Cosmatesque ornament. It is heralded by the thrones of the four Evangelists in the rose window’s spandrels. It seems to me improbable that this type of throne could have been borrowed from some work of the youthful
None of the panels with which the Gallery painting has been compared
Apart from the panels that Offner cited as comparanda (cf. note 6 above) and the small Maestà now in the Cini collection in Venice (cf. note 7), we should also cite those that Stubblebine attributed to a so-called San Quirico d’Orcia Master (cf. note 9), as did Alessandro Bagnoli, “I pittori ducceschi,” in Duccio: Siena fra tradizione bizantina e mondo gotico, ed. Alessandro Bagnoli et al. (Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2003), 297, 302 n. 23. The latter accepted, it seems, the proposition that the master who painted the Washington panel was also responsible for the one now at Buonconvento. To these two paintings he added a fresco (fig. 4) in the church of San Lorenzo al Colle Ciupi at Monteriggioni, a painting of fine quality and great interest that undoubtedly belongs to the milieu of the master of the Washington panel, but I am unable to recognize in it a work by the same hand. I wonder whether it belongs to the earliest phase of the Goodhart Duccesque Master (alias Master of the Gondi Maestà).
Cf. Giovanna Damiani, in Mostra di opere d’arte restaurate nelle province di Siena e Grosseto (Genoa, 1981), 2:20–24; Alessandro Bagnoli, “Museo della Collegiata,” in Museo archeologico e della Collegiata di Casole d’Elsa, ed. Alessandro Bagnoli and Giuseppina Carlotta Cianferoni (Florence, 1996), 61–62; Julian Gardner, “Duccio, ‘Cimabue’ and the Maestro di Casole: Early Sienese Paintings for Florentine Confraternities,” in Iconographica: Mélanges offerts à Piotr Skubiszewski, ed. Robert Favreau and Marie-Hélène Debiès (Poitiers, 1999), 110–111; Alessandro Bagnoli, “La cappella funebre del Porrina e del vescovo Ranieri e le sue figurazioni murali,” in Marco Romano e il contesto artistico senese fra la fine del Duecento e gli inizi del Trecento, ed. Alessandro Bagnoli (Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2010), 92–111. Of the two kneeling donors depicted in the fresco, the one to the left is Bernardino called Porrina, a famous lawyer of the time, who had died by 1309; the one to the right, his brother Ranieri, who was bishop of Cremona and died in 1312. It cannot be excluded that, as Bagnoli believed, the fresco postdates 1312, with a commemorative intention; but far more probable seems the hypothesis of Damiani and Gardner that the chapel, site of the fresco, was erected, as was often the case, to enhance the importance of the donors while still alive, probably shortly after Ranieri’s preferment to the see of Cremona in 1296.
The peculiar motif of the pronouncedly forward-projecting sides of the throne, forming a semicircle around the seat on which the Madonna is enthroned and supporting a high concave backrest, must have characterized the Madonna no. 565 in the National Gallery in London before the lower part of the panel was sawn off. Julian Gardner (1999) argued for a relatively late date for this painting, c. 1315, because he believed that the figure of the blessing Christ child standing on his mother’s knees derived from