GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)
Ognissanti Madonna (detail)c. 1310
Tempera on wood
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
An angel kneels at either side of the step, left and right. We can recognize the space occupied by their strong, softly-modelled bodies very clearly by the way in which they either overlap or provide a glimpse of the steps behind. They do not hover like Cimabue's angels, and do not appear to have been simply applied to a flat surface like those of Duccio, but kneel with life- like gravity. In one hand the angels hold a vase containing a lily and red and white roses, the symbols of Mary's grief and of her purity. They look up at her. In order to overcome the distance, they bend their backs slightly and tilt their heads backwards. Doing so lends their gaze a certain directness and focus. And all the figures - the standing angels and the saints - are aligned with the centre in this way.
The intensity of these gazes reflects the perspective layout of the picture as a whole and concentrates adoration on the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. It is exactly this feature which distinguishes the Ognissanti Madonna from all other Maestà representations by Giotto's younger and older contemporaries. The elevation of the central figures thus becomes almost completely natural, beyond all representative function and symbolic perspective, which Giotto - quite the child of his time - does not eschew, but does modify.