Duccio di Buoninsegna
Biography of Sienese Gothic Pre-Renaissance Painter.

Pin it

Madonna and Child with Six Angels
(1300-05) National Gallery of Umbria,
and Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319)


Early Career
Famous Paintings
The Maesta
The Stroganoff/Stoclet Madonna
Artistic Influences

Madonna and Child (c.1300)
The Stroganoff Madonna
New York Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Among the greatest paintings of the
Medieval era.

See: Proto-Renaissance.
For details of painters/sculptors
see: Proto Renaissance Artists.


The most celebrated painter of the Sienese School of painting, and one of the most famous medieval artists of the Italian trecento, Duccio di Buoninsegna is to Siena what Giotto is to Florence, except that his painting doesn't quite have the degree of naturalism that makes Giotto such a revolutionary artist. Instead, Duccio infuses the austere beauty of traditional Byzantine art with a new lyricism, as well as some of the new humanity being propagated by the new Franciscan and Dominican orders. Working with pigment and egg tempera, he produced mainly religious paintings with unique vividness. His exquisite colouring, use of gold decoration, and fine drawing skills contributed to the emergence of International Gothic style and set the standard in Siena and beyond. He is best known for the Maesta Altarpiece (1311), a masterpiece of Gothic-style Christian art commissioned by Siena Cathedral, and the Rucellai Madonna (1285, Uffizi, Florence). In 2004, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City purchased his panel painting the Stroganoff Madonna and Child (c.1300) (Stoclet Madonna), for an estimated $45 million. Along with Cimabue (c.1240-1302) and Giotto (1270-1337), Duccio di Buoninsegna remains one of the most influential figures of Pre-Renaissance Painting (c.1300-1400).

For an idea of the pigments
used by Duccio di Buoninsegna
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.


Early Career

Information about Duccio's life derives entirely from documents relating to his activity as a painter, a property owner, a citizen, and fines for misdemeanors. For instance, in 1279 and 1302 he was fined for trespassing. He was also fined for his refusal to complete his army service, and also, supposedly for sorcery! If we have no idea how he learned the art of painting, or who he trained under, we do know that he acquired a range of artistic skills. His early works include the decoration of the account books of the Sienese government, and the design of the huge stained glass window (1287–88) in the apse of the Cathedral of Siena. Later, he painted numerous examples of altarpiece art and small wooden panels for private devotion.

Duccio's Famous Paintings

His first known painting commission was the Crevole Madonna (1280, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena). This was followed in 1285 by a commission for the enormous panel of the Madonna and Child with angels - now known as the Rucellai Madonna - for the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella, (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). After this it is believed he visited France. In 1296 and 1297, the presence of a 'Duche de Siene' is listed in Paris, which perhaps explains the increasing Gothic influence in his work. About 1300, he completed the Madonna and Child which now rests in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, before receiving in 1308 the most important commission of his career - the contract for the huge Maesta for the High Altar of Siena Cathedral. Comparable with Giotto's fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, the completed 25 square-metre altarpiece was carried in public procession from Duccio's workshop to the Cathedral.


The Maesta for Siena Cathedral

The core of the Maesta - meaning, the Enthroned Madonna and Child surrounded by Saints and Angels - occupied the main panel facing the congregation. Above and below the Madonna were smaller panels (predella panels) painted with images of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, along with small figures of Saints. Most of these panels would have been visible only to the priest. The reverse of the main panel featured twenty-six scenes from the Passion, while above and below were smaller panels showing scenes from the Life of Christ. The work comprises a total of 84 panels. Although the altarpiece was dismantled in 1711, most of the panels remain in the cathedral museum (Siena Museo dell'Opera del Duomo).

The Stroganoff/Stoclet Madonna

In this private devotional work, the Madonna is depicted as though standing behind a parapet — a device that bridges the hieratic world of the divine figures and the real world of the viewer. Created about 1300, the painting represents the transition from Medieval to Renaissance art and paves the way for the religious art of Simone Martini (1285-1344), the brothers Ambrogio Lorenzetti (active 1319-48), Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45), Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-69), Giovanni di Paolo (1400-82) and Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516).

Artistic Influences

Some of Duccio's inspiration for the Maesta and other works of the time may have come from his trip to France (1296-7). But art scholars consider the main impetus to stem from a visit to Assisi, where Duccio is believed to have studied the fresco cycle of the life of Saint Francis, painted by Giotto and his helpers. It is now known that this famous series of fresco wall paintings was finished before 1295–96. Duccio employs some of Giotto's devices in his own works, and sets his scenes within a human context rather than one based on codified types as exemplified by Byzantine art, but his approach is more lyrical, decorative and colour-oriented than naturalistic.

Even so, Duccio's style was profoundly innovative for the time. He employed greater characterization in his figures and demonstrated a new mastery of narrative, almost on a par with Giotto. In the works of both these great Gothic painters, religious subjects are shown in terms of human experience, thereby marking a revolutionary moment in the history of art.

Stroganoff Madonna and Child Controversy

Although familiar to art experts from photographs, the small devotional painting known as The Stroganoff Madonna and Child (c.1300) - purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art - had not previously been on public display for more than half a century. In 2006, James Beck, a scholar at Columbia University, gave his opinion that the painting was a 19th-century forgery. This completely contradicts the view of the Met's curator of European Paintings. The celebrated British scholar John White, working from photographs of the Madonna, characterized the picture as being the first in a long line of Italian Madonnas with a parapet, which attained its zenith some 200 years later, in Giovanni Bellini's magnificent variations on the same theme.


No more than a dozen independent works attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna have survived. They, along with fragments from the Maesta, can be found some of the best art museums in the world, including: The Met NY USA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA; The Frick Collection, New York, USA; National Gallery, London; the British Royal Art Collection; Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, Siena; Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena; Museo d'arte sacra della Val d'Arbia, Buonconvento, near Siena; Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy; Odescalchi Collection, Rome; Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, Italy; Berne Museum of Art, Switzerland.

• For biographies of other great European painters before 1800, see: Old Masters.
• For more biographical details about famous painters, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

Visual Artists, Greatest
© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.