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Metropolitan Museum Of Art Buys Early Renaissance Masterpiece By Duccio di Buoninsegna

 

NEW YORK, 10 November 2004The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today the purchase of a rare and uniquely important early Renaissance masterpiece by the 14th-century Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna (active by 1278; died 1319). The painting, in tempera and gold on wood, shows the Madonna and Child behind a parapet. The work—the last known Duccio still in private hands—is known as the Stroganoff Madonna, after its first recorded owner, Count Grigorii Stroganoff, who died in Rome in 1910.

While the Museum declines to discuss the price of the acquisition, experts estimate the American museum paid the owner somewhere between $45 and $50 million for the work. The sale was handled through Christie's in London. To purchase the painting, the Metropolitan Museum has committed a substantial portion of long-held funding earmarked for acquisitions, to be supplemented by targeted fundraising for the purchase of this work. Mr. de Montebello noted that the funding tapped for the purchase will not draw on funds raised and specifically set aside for either Museum operations or capital construction and maintenance.

"Like our glorious diptych of the Crucifixion and Last Judgment by Jan van Eyck, or our Saint Jerome by Botticelli, this marvelous painting, small in size but immense in achievement and influence, will become one of the signature works at the Metropolitan Museum," said the director Philippe de Montebello. "Filling a gap in our Renaissance collection that even the Metropolitan had scant hopes of ever closing, the addition of the Duccio will enable visitors for the first time to follow the entire trajectory of European painting from its beginnings to the present.

Duccio di
				
				 Buoninsegna: Madonna and Child
Duccio di Buoninsegna
Italian, Sienese (active by 1278, died 1319)
Madonna and Child, ca. 1300
11 x 8-1/8 inches (28 x 20.8 cm)
Tempera and gold on wood, with original, engaged frame
Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Together with Giotto, Duccio is considered one of the two principal founders of Western European painting. His works are of extreme rarity: only a dozen or so are known, including his famous altarpiece, the Maestà in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Siena. In fact, most of the paintings by this artist in non-Italian museums are fragments from this great and complex altarpiece, which included almost 60 individual narrative scenes (it was cut apart in the 18th century and parts of it dispersed). However, unlike these, the Metropolitan's newly acquired painting is a complete and independent work, not a fragment of a larger one.

Painted circa 1300, the Stroganoff Madonna is the opening page of the most glorious chapter of Duccio's art, culminating in his great Maestà altarpiece (1308-1311), a milestone of Western art that is comparable only to Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

Commenting on Duccio's achievement, Keith Christiansen, the Jayne Wrightsman Curator of European Paintings, remarked: "In certain respects, we might say that Duccio was to Giotto what Matisse was to Picasso. Giotto is the master of the grand statement—grave, weighty figures acting out the human drama on a spatially cogent stage. Duccio is the great colorist. The space of his pictures is more perceptual than rational, and he explored a more lyrical, tender emotional range."

Scholars have drawn an analogy between Duccio's infusion of life into time-worn, Byzantine schemes, and the popular devotional poetry of the Franciscans, on the one hand, and the exalted love poetry of Dante, on the other. As in the writing of Dante and the painting of Giotto, religious subjects are treated in terms of human experience, thereby marking a fundamental change in Western culture.

"So profound is the change that animates Duccio's art during these years," said Mr. Christiansen, "that art historians understandably presume an external stimulus. This must have been a trip to Assisi, where Duccio studied the recently completed fresco cycle of the life of Saint Francis by Giotto and a large équipe of assistants. It has now been demonstrated that this celebrated fresco cycle was completed prior to 1295-96. What impressed Duccio were the illusionistic devices Giotto introduced to frame the individual scenes as well as his ability to create a cogent, pictorial space inhabited by figures possessing weight and density. It was an art that embraced the complex and varied world of human experience, rather than one based on codified types, as had been the case with medieval and Byzantine painting. Duccio responded by exploring in his own art this new world of sentiment and emotional response, but with a lyricism and sensitivity to color that became the basis of Sienese painting. This new, complex vision attains its first clear statement in the Stroganoff Madonna and Child, and it is for this reason that this small panel intended for private devotion is so revolutionary."

In his 1979 monograph on Duccio, British scholar John White characterized the Stroganoff painting as "the first, lonely forerunner of that long line of Italian Madonnas with a parapet which achieved its finest flowering almost two centuries later in Giovanni Bellini's splendid variations on the theme."

The Duccio painting will be put on view in Gallery 3 of the Metropolitan Museum's European Paintings Galleries.


Related Interview: Early Italian Painting: How to buy a Masterpiece


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