The Gathering of Saints in the Maesta

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

The Maesta was created  between 1308 and 1311 by Duccio for the high altar of the Siena Cathedral.  It was painted in egg tempera on wood panels, the grain of which were matched to avoid warping.

The original altarpiece had pinnacles on the top and a base with additional images as well:

Conjectual reconstructions of the front and back of the Maesta Altarpiece

The Maesta took two and a half years to complete; as stipulated by their contact, Duccio and his assistants pursued no other projects while they worked on the altarpiece.  When it was completed, the altarpiece was carried from Duccio's studio to the cathedral by the people of Siena.  Later when it was removed from the cathedral, the altarpiece was cut in half so the front and the back could be viewed more easily.

The central panel is 7 feet high and 14 feet wide; the Virgin Mary is about lifesize.  The altarpiece had to be large so as to be appropriate for the large cathedral.  The greenish tone of the underpainting shows through on the figures since the flesh tones have faded.  The gold leaf of the background and halos has also faded over time.

The front of the Siena Altarpiece

The Virgin Mary and Jesus in the Siena Altarpiece

Detail of the Virgin Mary and Jesus

The saints kneeling in the front row of the front panel are the patron saints of Siena.

The saints on the left side of the front of the altarpiece

Details of the saints on the left side of the altarpiece

The saints on the right side of the altarpiece

Details of the saints on the right side of the altarpiece

The central panels are now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Siena; some small panels are located in other museums around the world.

Material for this post is drawn from "The Majesty of Duccio and Giotto," one of the lectures in The World's Greatest Paintings (public library) by William Gross, and all of the photos are drawn from the Web Gallery of Art.