This panel, of large dimensions, bears the image of the Maestà represented according to the iconographicTerms 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 tradition of the Hodegetria. This type of Madonna and Child was very popular among lay confraternitiesReligious 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 in central Italy; perhaps it was one of them that commissioned the painting. The image is distinguished among the paintings of its time by the very peculiar construction of the marble throne, which seems to be formed of a semicircular external structure into which a circular seat is inserted. Similar thrones are sometimes found in Sienese paintings between the last decades of the thirteenth and the first two of the fourteenth century. Much the same dating is suggested by the delicate chrysography of the mantles of the Madonna and Child.
Recorded for the first time by the Soprintendenza in Siena c. 1930 as “tavola preduccesca,” the work was examined by Richard Offner in 1937. In his expertise, he classified it as “school of Duccio” and compared it with some roughly contemporary panels of the same stylistic circle. Offner concludes that it belonged to “a slightly more primitive period than the Maestà of Duccio, namely the first decade of the fourteenth century.” In the early 1950s, when the painting began to reemerge from its long oblivion, various scholars, perhaps at Bernard Berenson’s(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 suggestion, pointed out its kinship with the Badia a Isola Maestà, a classification that also convinced Gertrude Coor Achenbach (1960) and Enzo Carli (1965). In the National Gallery of Art, however, the panel was cataloged simply as “Follower of Duccio,” and this classification was in general accepted in the art historical literature. Berenson (1968) noted that the anonymous artist was “close to the Master of Città di Castello,” while James Stubblebine (1979) considered him a “provincial follower” of the same Master. Stubblebine, who attempted to reconstruct the oeuvre of this artist, invented for him the name “San Quirico d’Orcia Master.” The painting’s kinship with the so-called Master of 1310 was also proposed (Conti 1981) but almost immediately rejected (Bacchi 1987). In the more recent literature, the painting generally has been cited under the conventional name of Master of San Quirico d’Orcia (Martini 1997, Bagnoli 2003, Schmidt 2005) or attributed to the Master of Città di Castello (Boskovits 1982, Freuler 2001, Freuler 2004).
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 Duccio di Buoninsegna (Sienese, c. 1250/1255 - 1318/1319) for the cathedral (c. 1287–1288) and in the frescoes of the upper church of San Francesco in Assisi painted by Giotto (Florentine, c. 1265 - 1337) and his companions in the years around 1290. The massive thrones that appear in various paintings of the period were then developed further: they became more elaborate, more lavish in ornament, more richly articulated, and also more rational and optically convincing. During the first decade of the fourteenth century, painted thrones assume ever more pronounced Gothic features. In this development, the Maestà painted by Duccio for Siena Cathedral (c. 1308–1311) may be considered a sure point of chronological reference. Though the marble throne on which that Madonna sits still lacks gothicizing features, its elaborate intarsia paneling, moldings, and foliated friezes suggest that it should date to a phase subsequent to that of the Washington painting.
None of the panels with which the Gallery painting has been compared is securely datable, but the list of the analogies so far pointed out can be extended with the addition of one or two other works that can be dated approximately and usefully compared with the Washington Madonna. Historical considerations suggest, for example, that the fresco in the chapel of Saint Nicholas adjacent to the Collegiata at Casole d’Elsa, attributed by recent studies either to a so-called Casole Master (also known as Master of the Albertini) or to the Master of Città di Castello, postdates 1296 and probably predates 1312. In that work [fig. 1] [fig. 1] Sienese, Maestà, c. 1300, fresco, Chapel of Saint Nicholas, Collegiata, Casole d'Elsa, Mary’s throne may be considered a further variant of the massive marble structures derived from Duccio’s rose window in Siena Cathedral; despite its heavy structure, its richly articulated forms, illuminated by a light flowing into the painting from the left, and its backrest surmounted by a kind of gabled baldachin reveal that this is a work executed probably not later than the years around 1300 and hence close to the other version of the Madonna and Child now in the National Gallery in London, usually given to the same artist. To better define the chronology of the Washington panel it will be useful also to take into consideration some Sienese frescoes of the school of Duccio that can be dated c. 1305. The thrones that appear in these frescoes, though still classicizing in style, are more rational in design, more elaborate in structure, than that of the painting being discussed here.