DUCCIO di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena)
Tempera on wood, 61 x 78 cm
National Gallery, London
The London Triptych is a portable altarpiece of medium size, consisting of three panels. On the sides, to the left and right respectively, are saints Dominic and Aurea (45 x 20 cm each). St Aurea, a virgin martyr rarely depicted, was the patron saint of Ostia. She is identified by a fragmentary inscription on the panel. On the central panel (61 x 39 cm) is the Virgin and Child with four angels. The upper section shows seven prophets, identified by the Bible verses contained in their scrolls; from the left they are: Daniel, Moses, Isaiah, David (in a perfect central position and distinguished by his name and crown), Abraham, Jacob and Jeremiah.
Opinions vary as to the dating of the triptych, but it is generally agreed to be by Duccio. The overall arrangement of the central piece belongs to the same stylistic phase as the Madonna in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where the figure of the Child (painted very small according to oriental custom) and the slight twist of Mary's body to allow for the wide gesture of her outspread arm, are similar. On the other hand, the obvious taste for decorativeness and the rhythmic linearity of contour, displaying a wholly Gothic tendency, suggest a much later date, some years after the Maestà. Owing to its perfect state of preservation it is still possible to appreciate the glowing tints of the drapery, with its inevitable gilded edges, and the delicate transparency of St Aurea's veil and the Child's little garment.