Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto di Bondone
The Renaissance Period changed the way Western art was conceived following the strict and religious tomes of the Gothic era. The Renaissance was inspired by a naturalistic realism emphasizing the human qualities of the religious subject. Both Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto di Bondone were at the forefront of this movement. With this brief essay, I will compare and contrast Buoninsegna’s Madonna and Child to Giotto’s The Epiphany in order to describe their similarities and divergences in the context of the burgeoning European Renaissance.
Although Buoninsegna’s Madonna and Child was created twenty years prior to Giotto’s The Epiphany, the two seminal works share many characteristic traits attributed to the humanism of the Renaissance. For example, both works focus on depicting religious entities in a realistic fashion. This is different from the previous Gothic area that emphasized the spiritual and fantastical nature of religion figures by depicting them in allegorical compositions related to the Scriptures. The figures are composed to scale and their features reflect the naturalness of the human form.
Both works are also created in the same medium of tempera and gold on wood. This was a popular medium of the time that both artists mastered in their time. This was a platform that allowed the artists to demonstrate their mastering of the new style while also creating an artwork that would last through the generations, as evidenced by how well they have sustained their qualities through the present era. The use of gold also distinguished Giotto and Duccio from the masses who could not afford to use this expensive metal in their works. Both Giotto and Duccio were favored by the elite and religious authorities of their time.
Although through both form and content, these two works appear to become synonymous with one another, they differ in many important ways that I will now elaborate.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics that differentiate the two works is the formal compositions. In Duccio’s painting, the Madonna and the child are placed in the center of the framework in a direct relationship to how the viewer would see these images if they were standing there in real life. The parapet technique was an innovative approach in its time and would become a standard benchmark for following Renaissance artists. On the other hand, Giotto’s painting exists in a fictional landscape where space is relative to the size of the overall framework.
Another distinction to be drawn between the two paintings is the way light is projected and emphasized. In Duccio’s work, light is only reflected on the figures of the Madonna and the baby. The background is gold and incorporates light only through its uneven surface and texture. In contrast, Giotto’s work uses light to highlight the trio of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. These three figures have a halo of light revolving around their heads in order to separate them from the other figures in the painting. Giotto’s background also has an arc of shading to it that gives the impression of a night sky behind the foreground elements. Duccio’s background gives the impression that the Madonna and the baby are in an indoor setting due to its flatter background and even shading.
Although these two works are simultaneously focusing on the religious nature of their belief systems, their point of emphasis is different. In Madonna and Child, the nature of the interaction between the mother and the child brings to mind their psychological and biological relationship. The child’s eyes are directed upward at hers and she is depicted with a contemplative facial expression with a very slight smile. The child is pulling the mother’s robe away from her eyes in what appears to be an attempt to make eye contact with his creator. Duccio hints at the mythological existence of his subjects through a faint outline of a halo surrounding the Madonna that is integrated into the background.
Giotto’s depiction is emphasizing the mythological birth of the Jesus as described in the Scripture. His focus combines elements of the fictional and the factual nature of Christianity. By depicting these forms with a humanistic and natural form while at the same time including halos and angels with wings flying in the background serves to create a bridge for understanding the mythological in the context of the present trend towards artistic realism.
Overall, these two works provide a framework for understanding the artistic impulses that were at the center of the burgeoning European Renaissance. Utilizing different points of emphasis of form and function, Giotto di Bondone and Duccio di Buoninsegna both shifted their emphasis towards a naturalism that was absent during the Gothic area. Although they both continued to focus on the religious and spiritual subjects, they aimed to provide a bridge for understanding their present situation in the context of history.