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Madonna with Child

The Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena

Simone Martini

(1284 - 1344)

Date : C. 1310 | Medium : Tempera on board

The Virgin and Child painted shortly before 1310 is acknowledged as the oldest work of Simone Martini – one of the most remarkable of all Sienese painters. As the central part of a polyptych, it was once confined by several volets as evidenced by the visible signs of attachment on the sides of the panel.

At the time, Martini worked in the studio of Duccio, who was undoubtedly his Master. Like the latter, he set out to humanise the divine. The subtly nuanced skin tones, the chubby body of the Child and the sad and delicate face of his mother display a sensitivity that contrasts sharply with the disembodied idols of icons.

While the painter adopts the motif of the Hodegetria, the Virgin who shows the way to Christ, he humanises the subject with tender and natural gestures, especially in the hand of Jesus grasping the thumb of Mary. The Child is shown in an unusual way. Rather than looking at his mother, he is addressing a saint in the right pane of the polyptych in order to connect parts of the altarpiece and energise the entire composition. This innovative interest in the concrete and in material effects is particularly evident in the fluid transparency of the veil of Christ. As in Duccio’s previous work, the move away from tradition is confirmed by the white veil of Mary, which replaces the usual red maphorion. However, the iconic tradition is respected in the gold background and golden rays. Nevertheless, their positioning causes the fabric to fall naturally and reveal the presence of a body underneath.

Deeply influenced by the courtly spirit of French Gothic art, Simone Martini infuses his work with a precious decorative grace captured especially in the ornaments on the edge of the Virgin’s veil. Simone Martini ended his long career in Avignon at the new papal court which thus became a vehicle for the dissemination of Sienese culture.


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