DUCCIO di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena)

Window

1288
Stained-glass, diameter: 700 cm
Duomo, Siena

Between 1285 and 1308, the year the Sienese Maestà was commissioned, documented information exists only on the stained-glass window in Siena Cathedral. The large "oculus" on the wall of the apse is divided into nine compartments, of which five form a cross, while the other four occupy the remaining sectors. On the vertical arm is the story of the Virgin with the Coronation, the Assumption and the Burial. On the horizontal arm, from the left, are the patron saints Bartholomew, Ansano, Crescenzio and Savino. In the corner compartments are the four Evangelists with their names and symbols: in the top left St John and in the top right St Matthew; below are St Luke and St Mark.

Nothing is known about the identity of the master glazier who undertook the job. However, it may be safely asserted that it was Duccio who made the preparatory drawings. In September 1287 the Comune of Siena entrusted the administrator of the Opera del Duomo with the task of arranging for the execution of a stained-glass window, and undertook to supply the necessary money for expenses. This agreement was evidently not kept because in May of the following year the Comune threatened to fine the camerlengo, or papal treasurer, and the administrators of the Biccherna if they did not reimburse the workman with the money for the purchase of the glass. The debt was then paid in two instalments of 100 and 25 lire, to "frate Magio". The presence of St Bartholomew, Siena's ancient patron saint, bears out the early dating since, as the Maestà of 1308-11 shows, he was later substituted by St Victor. At that particular moment in history, the only Sienese painter able to perform such an exacting task, and whose artistic ability had already been proved, was Duccio. A stylistic analysis further supports this conclusion.

Although the work shows marked traces of Cimabue, apparent in the Burial scene and the figures of the Evangelists, it is exemplary in that it anticipates some typical compositional solutions of the Maestà. The angels in the Coronation of the Virgin, resting lightly on the back of the throne, and the solid architectural structure of the latter, assay a new conception of space where the rigidity of the contours, although confined within the lead edgings, is softened by subtle upward movements. The angels' wings extending beyond the frame of the Assumption break up the geometrical severity both of the mandorla enclosing Mary and of the background decorated with insets, and lend a rhythmic energy which adapts well to the overall proportions.

The solid polychrome sarcophagus in the foreground of the Burial scene, and the crowded gathering of figures with haloes reveal an austere monumentality to be faithfully echoed later on in the section of the Maestà dedicated to the same subject. They also clearly reflect Cimabue's style. But perfect harmony between the window and the Maestà was reached in 1311 when the completed altarpiece glowed beneath the rays of the coloured glass, and the iconographical project of the glorification of the Virgin was magnificently realized.

This window is the first surviving, and one of the earliest examples of the design of stained glass by a fresco painter working largely on the scale and in the manner appropriate to his customary medium.




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