italian-trecento

Annunciation - Simone Martini, 1333, created for the Siena Duomo.

Martini created this narrative altarpiece in conjunction with his brother in law; it is one of four altarpieces created for the four civic saints of Siena for the Siena Duomo. This is one of the first times that a narrative scene appears in an altarpiece; normally, those scenes were placed in frescos. However, it’s hard to remember that this image is a narrative; Mary’s iconic pose and the copious amounts of mordant gilding give the altarpiece an iconic look that quotes the Duccio Maestà and renders Mary in a similar fashion.

Façade of the Orvieto Duomo - Lorenzo Maitani, 1310 - 1456

This façade in Orvieto shows a very painterly design, again reinforcing the preeminence of painters as architects in the trecento. The façade is broken up into three distinct levels, with relief sculptures at the bottom and the four bronze symbols of the evangelists decorating façade, a huge technical feat during this time. Sheets of alabaster cover the windows, a nod to the papal influence that was exercised over the construction of this church. There are also twisted columns, another allusion to Rome and the papacy; these columns can be considered the architectural equivalent of cosmati work, another symbol of the papacy.

Madonna del Latte - Ambrogio Lorenzetti, c. 1332

Ambrogio was Pietro’s brother. This image of the Madonna is radical for its time. Most importantly, the figures are not contained by their frame. Both Mary and Jesus’ halos extend out beyond the border, creating figures that seem to burst out of their confined space. Other artists did not do this; their compositions always stayed within the confines of the frame. Ambrogio depicts the Madonna in a very human fashion: she is breastfeeding (a remarkably baby-like, if a little big) Jesus, and her milk was seen as sacramental and an equivalent to the blood of Jesus. She is highly naturalistic and interactive with the viewer, though still deeply symbolic in nature.