You know, the Florentines get all the credit. And it's important to remember that there was another major city in the 1300s that was also in Tuscany that was another independent republic. And this is the Republic of Siena, with the capital city of Siena. And there was an enormously important and influential painter there whose name was Duccio. And so let's look at one of his most important paintings, The Rucellai Madonna.
We're looking at a painting of the Madonna holding the Christ Child surrounded by 3 angels on either side and 12 feet high. It's a very large painting.
Yeah, it's a huge painting. In fact, the Virgin Mary herself is twice the height, if not larger, than a human being. It's an altarpiece that's meant to be seen at a great distance within a huge church.
And there's so many decorative patterns here on the throne. In the spaces in between the posts that make up the throne, we see reds and blues. And then we've got more patterning in the drapery behind the throne.
The characteristics that you're referencing are seen by our historians to be the definition of Sienese art of this time—highly decorative, highly patterned, and with a subtlety of color that we don't often see in the Florentine.
First of all, Mary's whole body is in this lovely ultramarine blue, which was a very expensive paint. But the angels, you see purples, and greens, and pinks, and blues.
And they're subtle and prismatic in a way that we don't so much see in the flatter colors of the Florentine style.
It's hard to see that Mary's sitting in her throne. The throne itself is so flat.
It's almost the background against which she's seen. There's so much details and so much decorative patterning in the throne, especially in the cloth that drapes the throne, that its structure gets lost, because pattern, of course, does emphasize the two-dimensional.
You know, when I look at Sienese art, especially the Rucellai Madonna, I tend to think of an artist who is so in love with the ability to create beauty. That pattern and form tend to trump the overall representation and the emphasis on any kind of naturalism or any physicality.
For instance, look at the Byzantine-influenced hands of Mary. Look how long those fingers are. It's almost as if the artist has gotten lost in the length of those fingers as they wrap around Christ's waist.
They're very beautiful, those hands. I'm thinking also about the amount of gold here. We see the disappearance of all of that gold through the 1300s into the 1400s. Here, the painting's value is largely in that ultramarine paint that was expensive and in the use of gold. And what happens during the Renaissance is that the artist himself is valued. The artist's skill becomes more valued. Not that Duccio's skill wasn't valued, but the value was also heavily in the materials that were used, that were often dictated by the patron.
Now, the ultramarine blue that you're referencing was actually made of the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. And during the Renaissance, the only mines that were available for lapis were in Afghanistan, still a remote place for us in the 21st century. One can only imagine how exotic and rare and difficult importing from Afghanistan would have been in the 1200s.
And here we have an enormous quantity of that color being used.
This is, in some ways, ostentatious. In some ways, this is a painting that is broadcasting its value, its wealth, its importance. What's so interesting is this was a commission for the main altar in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, although it's by a Sienese artist. And Santa Maria Novella is the main Dominican church, that is, one of the mendicant orders, this order of begging monks that had renounced worldly possessions. So there's this interesting kind of tension.
We mentioned that this is called the Rucellai Madonna and that's a later title. This painting was later moved away from the main altar in Santa Maria Novella and into the Rucellai Chapel, that is, the private chapel that was controlled by the Florentine family, the Rucellai.