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The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel

Duccio1308 - 1311

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Washington, DC, United States

This work comes from the front predella, the separate horizontal band of narrative scenes at the base of the great Maestà altarpiece that depicts Mary, the patron saint of Siena, in majesty with angels and saints. A contract of 1308 states that the huge altarpiece for the cathedral of Siena was to be painted entirely by Duccio di Buoninsegna; it is probable, however, that the artist took on assistants to help carry out the project.

In the Nativity, Duccio employed conventional Byzantine elements, such as the cave setting, the glowing colors, and the multi–scene composition. Mary is shown in the usual Byzantine manner — larger than the figures around her yet — her large size also underscores the importance the Virgin held for the Sienese. The bracketing side panels portray Old Testament prophets holding scrolls that foretell the birth of Christ.

Duccio's unique contribution to the Byzantine style is his use of elegantly flowing lines, most evident here in the drapery folds and mountain ridges. The soft, undulating brushstrokes downplay the austerity of the earlier style, as do the sensitive rendering of the Virgin's face and the individual characterizations of Isaiah and Ezekiel, expressing a true sense of human feeling.

Details

  • Title: The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
  • Date Created: 1308 - 1311
  • Physical Dimensions: w870 x h480 cm (overall size)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Andrew W. Mellon Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: tempera on single panel
  • Theme: religious, Old Testament
  • School: Sienese
  • Provenance: Commissioned, as part of the Maestà for the Duomo, Siena, and installed on the high altar 9 June 1311, until sometime before 1878;[1] private collection, Florence; acquired 1884 by the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin;[2] exchanged 1937 for Hans Holbein's Man with a Lute through (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[3] purchased 26 April 1937 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[4] gift 1937 to NGA. [1] Maestà removed from high altar and partially dismantled 1506; transferred to S. Ansano, Castelvecchio, 1771, and cut into sections; major panels in Duomo 1795, but several small panels missing; panels remaining in 1878 transferred to Museo del Duomo. [2] Inv. no. 1062A. [3] See Miklós Boskovits and Erich Schleier, Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Katalog der Gemälde, Frühe Italienische Malerei, Berlin, 1988: VII VIII (Forward by Henning Bock), and Helmut Ruhemann, The Cleaning of Paintings, London, 1968: 41. [4] Mellon/Mellon Trust purchase date and/or date deeded to Mellon Trust is according to Mellon collection files in NGA curatorial records and David Finley's notebook (donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1977, now in the Gallery Archives). oned, as part of the Maestà for the Duomo, Siena, and installed on the high altar 9 June 1311, until sometime before 1878;[1] private collection, Florence; acquired 1884 by the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin;[2] exchanged 1937 for Hans Holbein's _Man with a Lute_ through (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[3] purchased 26 April 1937 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[4] gift 1937 to NGA.[1] Maestà removed from high altar and partially dismantled 1506; transferred to S. Ansano, Castelvecchio, 1771, and cut into sections; major panels in Duomo 1795, but several small panels missing; panels remaining in 1878 transferred to Museo del Duomo.[2] Inv. no. 1062A.[3] See Miklós Boskovits and Erich Schleier, _Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Katalog der Gemälde, Frühe Italienische Malerei_, Berlin, 1988: VII-VIII (Forward by Henning Bock), and Helmut Ruhemann, _The Cleaning of Paintings_, London, 1968: 41.[4] Mellon/Mellon Trust purchase date and/or date deeded to Mellon Trust is according to Mellon collection files in NGA curatorial records and David Finley's notebook (donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1977, now in the Gallery Archives).
  • Artist: Duccio di Buoninsegna

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