Duccio, The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea, c. 1315, tempera on wood, 42.5 x 34.5 cm (National Gallery, London)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] We’re in the National Gallery in London. We’re looking at a really rare painting, a painting by Duccio. There are very few in the world. This is “The Virgin and Child with Saints.” It’s got at the top of it a little teeny image of King David.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:17] From the Old Testament.

Dr. Zucker: [0:18] He is surrounded by Old Testament prophets, who are identified with their scrolls.

Dr. Harris: [0:25] It’s standard iconography. You have the prophets who foretell the coming of Christ. Below here, we have a triptych, so when the wings are opened, Mary and Christ are revealed.

[0:37] It’s wonderful, in that you have the prophets at the top who are always there with King David. When the triptych is opened, the revealing of the truth of their prophecy.

Dr. Zucker: [0:46] Comes to be.

Dr. Harris: [0:48] King David was thought to be or understood to be an ancestor of Christ.

Dr. Zucker: [0:51] He is wearing a blue that relates directly to the blue that Mary wears. There is a kind of intimacy here that is absolutely revolutionary and is the foundation of the Renaissance later. Look at the way that the Christ child looks up really adoringly at his mother.

Dr. Harris: [1:06] Grabs hold of her veil to make sure he sees her face.

Dr. Zucker: [1:11] Look at the delicacy of that veil. That’s one of the most beautiful areas of this painting, the way in which he gathers her veil in one hand.

Dr. Harris: [1:18] Yeah, it’s very sweet.

Dr. Zucker: [1:19] Pulls on it with the other. It creates this very soft arc between them, this bridge between them. Duccio is a Sienese artist, and certainly Duccio’s work is characterized by the sensitivity to the decorative, both in the subtlety of color but also in form, a kind of interest in the decorative for its own sake.

[1:38] You really see that in the way that Christ pulls at the inner garment around Mary’s neck and creates a series of really beautiful and rhythmic folds.

Dr. Harris: [1:47] Playful lines and curves that carry down around the golden hem of Christ’s garment and Mary’s garment.

Dr. Zucker: [1:56] You see it also in the rendering of Saint Aurea, who’s a rare saint to be shown in paintings of this time, I think of any time. Saint Dominic on the left as well. Both of those saints are so direct.

[2:09] They seem to be almost stepping out of the picture plane. There’s a sense of truthfulness, of veracity almost, that seems so precocious for this moment.

Dr. Harris: [2:19] When we look overall at the painting, at this little altarpiece, it would have been a private altarpiece for private devotion that someone could carry around if they moved and wanted to have the ability to worship and pray. It’s important to remember that this is an aid in prayer.

[2:35] When we look at it, there’s a real sense of the physical presence of the saints on either side and of that emotional connection with Mary and her physical presence. We’re seeing the beginnings of this change to the Renaissance.

Dr. Zucker: [2:50] It’s so interesting that Duccio is creating these connections, which will lay the foundation for the Renaissance, which will come a century later. At the same time,, this is so firmly rooted also in the medieval tradition.

[3:04] We’re never very far from that. Not only do we have these broad gold fields, which are really representation of the divine light of heaven—

Dr. Harris: [3:11] They’re heavenly.

Dr. Zucker: [3:11] —there is no rational relationship between the figures in terms of scale. Of course, there’s that strong Byzantine influence still in the elongation of the nose: look at Mary, at her fingers, even as Duccio begins to explore the possibility of creating a more intimate and emotionally charged rendering.

[3:32] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Duccio, The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea," in Smarthistory, November 18, 2015, accessed April 24, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/duccio-the-virgin-and-child/.