Rucellai Madonna

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Rucellai Madonna
Duccio - Maestà - Google Art Project.jpg
ArtistDuccio di Buoninsegna
Year1285 (commissioned)
TypeTempera and gold on panel
Dimensions450 cm × 290 cm (180 in × 110 in)
LocationUffizi Gallery, Florence

The Rucellai Madonna is a panel painting by the late medieval Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna from Siena. Originally painted for the Societa di S Maria Virginis for Florence's Santa Maria Novella church, the painting now resides in the Uffizi Gallery in the same city. The painting depicts the Virgin and Child enthroned, surrounded by angels on a gold background.


The altarpiece was commissioned by the Compagnia dei Laudesi for the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. The Rucellai Madonna is Duccio's earliest work for which there is documentation. The work was designed for the main altar of the church, but the current name reflects its later use in the Rucellai family's chapel, situated within the church. In a contract dated 15 April 1285, Duccio was commissioned to paint a panel for which he was to be paid 150 lire. The contract's only requirements were that the Virgin and Child and "other figures" should be present, but gave no other instructions as to its contents or style. The document stated that if the final work failed to please, the artist would retain possession of the painting and no payment would be made.[1]

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).[2][3] 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.[4]


The façade of Santa Maria Novella (1470) where the Rucellai Madonna originally was displayed.

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.[5]


External video
Duccio's Rucellai Madonna, Smarthistory[6]
  1. ^ Oxford Art Online
  2. ^ Hyman, Timothy (2003). Sienese Painting. New York: Thames & Hudson. p. 23. ISBN 0-500-20372-5.
  3. ^ "Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna". National Gallery. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  4. ^ Maginnis, Hayden (1997). Duccio's Rucellai Madonna. The Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. 64–78.
  5. ^ Polzer, Joseph (2005). "A Question of Method: Quantitative Aspects of Art Historical Analysis in the Classification of Early Trecento Italian Painting Based on Ornamental Practice". Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorisches Institutes in Florenz. 49: 33–100. JSTOR 27655375.
  6. ^ "Duccio's Rucellai Madonna". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved January 31, 2013.


  • Carli, Enzo (1952). Duccio. Milan.
  • Bellosi, Luciano (1994). "Duccio". Enciclopedia dell'Arte Medioevale. Rome.