Duccio: Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin

Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin, Duccio
Duccio, Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin, from the Maesta altar, tempera on panel, 1308-11, Sienese proto-Renaissance style.

The front of the Maesta Altar is Duccio’s depiction of Life of the Virgin by Maximus the Confessor. On the Top-left panel of the Maesta altar lies the the beginning of the end of the Virgin Mary’s life. From the left panel, “The Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin,” to the right panel is a timeline which ends at “The Burial of the Virgin.”

The composition of this panel is sectioned in two parts which is divided by the column of the door located slightly off center to the left. The left side of the column is the Archangel Gabriel giving news of Mary’s death. The angel presents the virgin with a palm branch that symbolizes the coming of death and the paradise that awaits her. The arch door and the use of highlight to show the thickness of the wall is commonly seen in Duccio’s technique. Furthermore, he has created the illusion of depth with the doors are slightly ajar in the dark background which enhances the figures in the third dimension. Nonetheless, the angel’s position within the arched door is noticeably odd. While Gabriel is handing the palm branch to Mary, the angel’s arm is clearly within the room that Mary is in. However, the angel’s feet is still within the door and behind the column.  

On the right side is the Virgin. She is preying in the Holy Sepulchre (Jesus’ Tomb) reading on a psalter (calendar/prayer book). The most noticeable subject is the Virgin in shock of the news with her hands raised up because of the upsetting news. She is dressed in the traditional blue pigment dress that symbolizes important figures in art during the century. A talent Duccio had is understanding vanishing points and use of space which this panel has two points. First, the column’s capital surrounding Mary align and the vanishing lines come together at her figure. The second vanishing point is above the Virgin, where the roof panels accurately jointed to create a three dimensional room.

Quick Notes:

  • The front of Maesta Altar is Duccio depiction of Life of the Virgin by Maximus the Confessor (Translator of one of the earliest complete biographies of Mary, the mother of Jesus).
  • 13 Panels, left to right timeline of Mary’s beginning of the end of of her life.
  •  Composition: two parts which is split in the middle by the door column.
    • Left: the Angel Gabriel
    • Right: the Virgin preying in the Holy Sepulchre.
  • The Angel Gabriel presenting a palm branch which symbolizes the coming of death and the paradise that awaits.
  • Duccio had understanding of vanishing points and use of space to create depth
    • Arch door and the use of highlight to show the thickness of the wall is a technique to create depth while the doors are slightly ajar in the dark, making the figure ‘pop’ out.
    • Two vanishing points: column’s capital surrounding Mary has vanishing lines joining together at her and sealing panels joint above Mary to illustrate third dimensional room.
  • Odd positioning of the Angel Gabriel. This is because the angel’s arm is clearly within the room that Mary is in, however the angel’s feet is still within the door and behind the column.

Vanishing Points

More Buffed art on the Maesta Alter, “Christ Entering Jerusalem” by Duccio comparison with Giotto’s here.

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