Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Duccio Exhibit (by Sarah)

SIENA (#38)

Today, we went to the current big show in Siena – Duccio’s works. We met my dad’s past professor, Professor Cornice, at the exhibit. He offered to take us along with a specific group of his friends. We stood in line for a while and went through security and we were finally ready to start learning.

Of course, as we followed Professor Cornice through the exhibit, he explained everything in Italian. Alex and I followed along for a bit and then we had no idea what was going on. We were left to read the text on the walls (that was in both English and Italian) while the group was lead by Cornice. It really was not that bad reading the English, Alex and I talked about everything we saw and discussed a little about the paintings and put together what we both knew. I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as intellectual as Cornice’s explanation, but it was a start.

Crucifixion from the Maesta' di Duccio
My dad was listening very closely and picked up most of the main points. We were able to go home, eat lunch, and then come back to the exhibit, and use our same tickets to get in. This time, we had my dad explain everything to us, and got a lot out of it.

During this time period, artists were mostly painting religious scenes. We saw how the crucifixion scene really developed over time. (See story on the Crucifix museum in Pisa).  Duccio was one of the many artists who painted the feelings, for example the hopelessness and sadness of the people watching him be crucified. We also saw many paintings of the saints.

San Francesco was one of the popular figures. The story behind him was that he was very rich, and decided to give away all of his belongings to the less fortunate. He wanted to have his own religious group separate from the church. He went to the pope and asked if he could have his own group, but each time, the pope turned him down. Then, one night, the pope had a dream about San Francesco. The church was crumbling, and San Francesco was beneath it, holding it up.  The next day, when San Francesco came to ask if he could have his own followers, the pope said yes. Now, for an explanation of the actual painting. The way that San Francesco was painted was of him in sort of rags, symbolizing him having nothing. It was actually painted very elegantly, which is ironic because elegance and wealth was everything that San Francesco was against. So, the catch was that through time, San Francesco became part of the church. He was incorporated by artists as “just another saint”.

Saint Peter was another popular character. His story was that he was fishing when Jesus came up to him. Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water to Jesus. Saint Peter was the oldest apostle. He was given two keys, one silver and one gold, which were to enter and leave heaven.

Byzantine Maesta' from 13th C
Maesta' di Duccio

Madonna of Bern by Duccio
Of course, the Madonna and Jesus was the scene that was painted the most. For most of the Middle Ages, they were painted together in thrones as rules. Around 1200 in Italy, they started to paint Mary in a throne with Jesus as a child. This scene is called the Maesta' or Magesty.

Over the years, they became more expressive. At first, Jesus was more godlike, blessing the viewer, practically weightless on Mary’s hand. Later on, Jesus became more like a baby, with real weight resting on Mary and sometimes even touching her face. They went from being pictured as gods to being a more realistic mother and child.

Steve's Schema for Sienese and Florentine Painting
in the 14th Century

My dad explained to us the artists and how they influenced each other over time. Here is a list of the main artists, their time line and how they influenced one another in Siena and Florence.

We then left the building where this part of the exhibit was, and went to see the rest of his works in another building that were too big to be moved from their places. This is where we saw many original pieces from the Duomo, which had been heavily weathered down. Upstairs was the location of none other than the biggest painting of the Maestà. Luckily, Dad was able to explain most of the people and story line.

The Maestà was probably the most gorgeous, elegant painting I have ever seen in my life. It was Duccio’s biggest and most famous piece, the largest painting in the history of Italian Art. When he finished the painting, it was put on a sort of wagon and paraded around the city. The parade and festivities lasted for three days. It was the pride and joy of Siena, and was put right up in the altar of the Duomo. Mary and Jesus are seated on a huge throne and surrounded by saints and angels. On the bottom of the throne, Duccio wrote a personal message in Latin addressed to Mary. It said “Mater Sancta Del sis causa Senis requiei sis Ducio vita te quia pinxit ita (O Holy Mother of God, grant peace to Siena and life to Duccio who has painted you thus).” The back has the story of Jesus' life.

The "Passion of Christ" from Duccio's Maesta' in the Museo del Opera del Duomo di Siena

In my eyes, I see Duccio as very arrogant for putting something so selfish in such a beautiful piece of artwork.

All in all, it was a fabulous learning experience. Dad wants to take the ladies in my mom’s Italian class for a little tour of the exhibit, but as for me, I think two times was enough.

COMMENTS from the original blog

2004-05-05 17:04:5938 Barbara
Re: The Duccio Exhibit (by Sarah)
If you want to learn more about San Francesco, you should visit Assisi which we stayed in for three days at the end of our Tuscany tour.  But that meant we had to travel to Umbria, but it's not too far from Siena.


stefanoq said...

OMG I just love this post, absolutely everything about it. The fact that Sarah was so honest about "two times being enough" and having "no idea what was going on" when Cornice was talking only makes the rest of it more impressive because it was sincere. So great. Thank you, Sarah.

stefanoq said...

Duccio was "arrogant?" Really? You bet. He was a rock star. That piece cost a fortune. We know because the contract drawn up between Duccio and the Commune of Siena survived. It's particularly remarkable to think that there were no such documents AT ALL -- NONE -- from only two generations of artists before. All of them are known to us only as a "school" or "workshop." The cult of the artist as an individual with a desire to express themselves and to distinguish themselves in Western Civilization starts right here....