Madonna and Child
tempera and gold on panel
27.9 x 21 cm
tempera and gold on panel
27.9 x 21 cm
Count Grigoriy Sergeyevich Stroganov, Palazzo Stroganov, Rome (by 1904–d. 1910)
his daughter, Princess Maria Grigorievna Scerbatov
and her children, Prince Vladimir Alekseevich and Princess Aleksandra Alekseevna, Palazzo Stroganov (1910–all three d. 1920)
Prince Vladimir’s widow, Princess Elena Petrovna Scerbatov
and their children, Princess Olga Vladimirovna and Princess Maria Vladimirovna, Palazzo Stroganov (1920–23)
sold to Giuseppe Sangiorgi, Rome, 1923
sold to Adolphe Stoclet, Brussels (1923–d. 1949)
Private Collection (1949–2004)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Siena, Palazzo della Repubblica, Antica arte senese, April–August 1904
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Italian Art, 1200–1900, 1 January 1–March 8, 1930
Paris, Petit Palais, Exposition de l’art italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo, 1935
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Duccio’s ‘Madonna and Child’, 21 December 2004–13 March 2005
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions, 24 October 2008–1 February 2009
Corrado Ricci, Il Palazzo Pubblico di Siena e la mostra d’antica arte senese, Bergamo, 1904, p. 68.
F. Mason-Perkins, “La pittura alla mostra d’arte antica in Siena” Rassegna d’arte 4, October 1904, p. 145.
F. Mason Perkins. “The Sienese Exhibition of Ancient Art.” Burlington Magazine 5, September 1904, p. 582.
Mary Logan. “L’exposition de l’ancien art siennois.” Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 32, 1904, p. 210.
C. Placci, Letter to Corrado Ricci. April 9, 1904, Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna, Carteggio Ricci, “Arte senese, Mostra 1904,” vol. 1, doc. 56; see Ref. Stella 2001.
Emil Jacobsen, Sienesische Meister des Trecento in der Gemäldegalerie zu Siena, Strasbourg, 1907, p. 22, pl. VI.
A[dolfo] Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, vol. 5, La pittura del Trecento e le sue origini, Milan, 1907, p. 556.
Langton Douglas, ed., A History of Painting in Italy: Umbria, Florence and Siena from the Second to the Sixteenth Century, by [Joseph Archer] Crowe and [Giovanni Battista] Cavalcaselle, vol. 3, The Sienese, Umbrian, & North Italian Schools. London, 1908, p. 20, n. 2.
Bernhard Berenson, The Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance, 2nd ed., rev. and enl., New York, 1909, p. 163.
The picture in The Met is a small, devotional panel of exquisite facture. In it, the Madonna is shown exchanging glances with her infant son, who reaches one hand up to push aside her veil. They are shown behind a parapet—one of the earliest appearances of this device marking the boundary between the timeless, sacred world of the Virgin and that inhabited by the viewer/worshipper. The picture first came to public attention at the landmark exhibition of Sienese art held at the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena in 1904 (see Logan 1904, Perkins 1904). Its provenance is unknown prior to its acquisition by Count Gregori Stroganoff (1829–1910), a Russian expatriate who amassed a notable collection of antiquities in Rome in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Subsequently the painting entered the celebrated collection of the Belgian banker and industrialist Adolphe Stoclet (1871–1949), and remained with his heirs until acquired by The Met in 2004. The picture, in its original, engaged frame, was an independent object and did not form part of a diptych: x-rays reveal no sign of hinges, but a damage at the top of the reverse side of the panel is evidence of a hanging device. The two blackened areas along the bottom of the frame are burns, presumably from candles lit below the picture.
The most novel feature of the painting is the illusionistic parapet, based on the fictive architectural surrounds of the frescoes of the life of Saint Francis in the Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi, a cycle that dates to the years of the papacy of Nicholas IV (1288–92). The parapet displays an obvious interest in pictorial space as a means of relating the fictional, sacred realm of the painting to the world of the viewer/worshipper and eliciting from him or her an empathetic response. It is not known when Duccio visited Assisi, but since it was one of the most frequented pilgrimage places in Italy as well as a unique site of artistic innovation and exchange, he may have visited it on more than one occasion. Moreover, for the nearby city of Perugia Duccio painted an altarpiece, of which only the central panel survives (Galleria Nazionale, Perugia). No less important is the emphasis Duccio places on touch: the child’s grasp of his mother’s veil, her left index finger bent under a fold of his robe, and the way Christ’s right foot gently makes contact with his mother’s wrist and sleeve. French ivories probably inspired the motif of the Child grasping his Mother’s veil and perhaps also the free-hanging veil that falls in elegant folds. Such details confer a tactile quality on the painting that further responds to the emphasis in thirteenth-century devotional practice on experiencing sacred figures as real. By establishing a new spatial and physical relationship with the viewer, Duccio’s picture encourages precisely this kind of mental attitude.
There is still no consensus on the precise chronology and attribution of Duccio’s paintings. His only two securely dated works are the Rucellai Madonna (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), commissioned in 1285, and the Maestà for Siena cathedral, documented to 1308–11. This leaves more than twenty years of activity without a single certainly documented work. Moreover, both the Rucellai Madonna and the Maestà are large, formal, public commissions, quite different in character from Duccio’s exquisitely intimate paintings for private devotion. Despite this situation, there has developed a consensus that the work closest to The Met’s painting in style, figure type, and spatial interests is the Perugia Madonna and Child. The Met’s and Perugia paintings, together with the triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints Dominic and Aurea (National Gallery, London), and what is probably a companion triptych at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, all suggest a pivotal moment in Duccio’s career: one that lays the groundwork for the great achievement in the narrative panels of the Maestà. Given the very sparse visual and documentary evidence we have, the Metropolitan’s picture, which seems to be the earliest in the group and the one in which the echoes of Assisi are most clear, can only be dated broadly to the decade ca. 1295–1305, although probably closer to the earlier date than to the later.
Examination of the panel with infrared reflectography has revealed a fine underdrawing for the drapery of the Virgin. ❖