GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)

Ognissanti Madonna (Madonna in Maestà)

c. 1310
Tempera on wood, 325 x 204 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The attribution of the large painting of the Madonna from the Florentine church of the Ognissanti (All Saints), now housed in the Uffizi Gallery, derives from a written notice from the early 15th century. The panel, described as the Ognissanti Madonna after the church in which it was originally installed, has the same strength of representation as the frescoes at Padua, and is therefore dated by art historians as having being painted in the first decade of the l4th century.

From the moment we look at the wooden panel painted in tempera we are fascinated by the gleaming solemnity of the paintwork. A fine web of golden edgings on the robes, of halos, and of decorative elements blends the golden hue of the background with the representation as a whole. Both the delicate shades of violet and pink, the warm green and red, and the flesh colours of the figures thus take on a brilliant luster, which allows the panel to shine with incomparable splendour.

Giotto turns to a type of picture known as the Maestà - the Madonna surrounded by saints and angels - which is especially well-known because of the Maestà by Duccio, begun in 1308, the one-time altarpiece of the cathedral at Siena, and through the great fresco in the Sienese Town Hall, completed by Simone Martini in 1315. These two examples of mature Sienese art have a relatively wide format: the numerous saints kneel and stand in rows to the left and right of the Virgin's throne. There they could be said to lead a "life of their own" — some look into the centre of the picture, others look at one another, and yet others direct their gaze out of the picture. Giotto's panel, on the other hand, is vertical in format and thus approaches the size and proportions of an older type of portrayal of the Madonna. This aspect is made particularly clear in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where the Ognissanti Madonna is exhibited next to Duccio's Rucellai Madonna and the Madonna S. Trinità by Cimabue, both of which were executed in the 1280s.

This representation of the Maesta, with its novel conception of the subject and its delicate style of painting, worked through with gold, numbers among the high points in Giotto's panel painting. Here, the natural portrayal and the solemnity of the mother and child are intensified in a special way. The clear perspectival composition, in which the clearly directed gaze of the surrounding figures is included, makes the Child's gesture of benediction appear as the focal point, both optically and as regards content.

Restored in 1991