Duccio was the preeminent Sienese painter in the early years of the fourteenth century. He infused the prevailing Byzantine style with a more naturalistic, narrative mode. The Kimbell painting originally formed part of the altarpiece known as the Maestà (Majesty), made for the high altar of Siena Cathedral. The Maestà was among the most beautiful and complex altarpieces ever made. Some sixteen feet in height, it was painted on both sides, the front showing the Madonna and Child enthroned with saints and the rear showing episodes from the life of Christ. The front predella (a boxlike base) depicted events from Christ’s childhood, and the back predella recounted his ministry.
The Kimbell Raising of Lazarus was most likely the final scene of this back predella, providing the climactic proof of Christ’s divinity, when he brings a man back from the dead. The Gospel according to John (11:1–44) tells how when Lazarus fell ill, his sisters Martha and Mary sent for his friend Jesus. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. Duccio shows the moment when Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, prefiguring his own Resurrection.
A noteworthy compositional change is apparent at the lower right. The paint surface, thinned by age, reveals an underlying paint layer showing a horizontal sarcophagus.
This and several other panels became separated from the Maestà after it was dismantled in 1771. Most of the panels are today in the Siena Cathedral museum.