|Artist||Duccio di Buoninsegna|
|Type||Tempera and gold on panel|
|Dimensions||450 cm × 290 cm (180 in × 110 in)|
|Location||Uffizi Gallery, Florence|
The Rucellai Madonna is a panel painting by the late medieval Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna from Siena. It is the largest surviving panel painting of the dugento. Originally painted for the Laudesi confraternity’s chapel in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella church, the painting was moved to the adjacent, much larger Rucellai family chapel in 1591 (bence the modern title of convenience). It now resides in the Uffizi Gallery in the same city. The painting depicts hovering angels carrying the enthroned Virgin and Child enthroned, against a gold background.
The Rucellai Madonna is Duccio's earliest work for which there is written documentation. The altarpiece was commissioned by the Compagnia dei Laudesi, a lay confraternity devoted to the Virgin, to decorate the chapel they occupied in the transept of the newly-built Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The contract for the painting, dated 15 April 1285, is the oldest Italian document of its kind to survive. The contract states that Duccio was commissioned to paint a panel depicting the Virgin and Child and "other figures,” for which he was to be paid 150 lire. It enjoins the artist to work on no other commissions while completing the altarpiece, and specifies that the entire work must be painted by Duccio alone without workshop assistance. The contract also requires the artist to pay for and use ultramarine blue for the Virgin’s robe and real gold leaf for the background. The framed panel itself—the largest of the dugento—was supplied by the Laudesi. The patron had the right of refusal.
In the 16th century, the art historian Giorgio Vasari mistakenly attributed the Rucellai Madonna to Duccio's contemporary, Cimabue, in his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. This mistake went unchallenged for centuries; in the 19th century Frederic Leighton was to show the Rucellai Madonna paraded through the streets in his first major painting, which bore the title Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna Carried in Procession (1853-5). In 1889, however historian Franz Wickhoff compared stylistic choices between the Rucellai Madonna and Duccio's Maestà, and soon other critics agreed that Duccio had indeed painted the Madonna.
The work, measuring 4.5 by 2.9 meters, may be the largest surviving painting of Italian 13th century art. It is tempera on a five-pieced poplar panel; the frame is of the same wood. The Virgin's robe was found during its 1989 cleaning to be azurite-based paint. The Virgin is shown looking directly at the viewer, as the Christ Child is seen sitting on her lap, giving a blessing. The Madonna is large in scale, taking up the majority of the frame. Her robe is finely modelled and her gold halo incised as if to illuminate her presence. Duccio's use of gold represents the family's holiness and the unearthly realm they inhabit. Six angels are seen holding the ornate throne, and are painted in shades of green, pink, lilac and blue. Their positions in front and behind the throne suggest they are either lifting it up, or bringing it down to earth. The frame is decorated with thirty roundels containing portraits of Apostles, prophets, saints and patriarchs. It is clear from the attention to detail that Duccio was highly concerned with idealism and beauty, rendering each figure softly, with delicate features and adoration.
The Rucellai Madonna has spatial complexity, emotion, intimacy and a refined choice of color, unprecedented in the Italian art of its time. Duccio had improved upon the popular Byzantine art, characterised by two-dimensionality and hard contours, and had created one of the first pieces of what became known as the Renaissance. Duccio's humanization of the holy family was never before seen in Byzantine art, and although the Virgin and Child maintain their formal qualities, the level of intimacy and inclusion of the viewer within the painting is innovative.
|Duccio's Rucellai Madonna, Smarthistory|
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