Renaissance Paintings Comparison

Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, Proto-Renaissance), Madonna and Child, c.1300, Number: 2004.442, and Raphael Sanzio (Italian, High Renaissance), Madonna and Child with Saints, c. 1504, Number: 1630 ab. Both these paintings were done during the Renaissance. The Italian Renaissance painting refers to each painting done in the period beginning late 13th century to late 16th century and occurs within present day Italy area. This period is divided into Proto-Renaissance (1300 to 1400), followed by Early Renaissance (1400 to 1475), the High Renaissance (1475 to 1525), and the final period of the Renaissance is Mannerism (1525 to 1600). During these periods, the term Madonna referred to a noble woman. Mary, the virgin, represented this nobility as she was widely referred to as “our lady”. Given this dignity bestowed upon her, it was common to find paintings of her and the infant Jesus, especially in Catholic Church theme paintings. This paper compares these two paintings, focusing on their descriptions and themes, as well as other artistic elements, such as use of space, dimensions, and articulation of human forms in the paintings. Despite being of different periods, the two paintings have a few similarities, such as the application of Byzantine styles.

Madonna and Child is Duccio di Buoninsegna’s painting of the year 1300 depicting Mary, Jesus’ mother holding the baby Jesus. The painting was done in tempera and made golden on a wooden panel. It is still in its original connected frame. According to Hosack, Chilvers & Zaczek (2011), including its frame, the painting measures 11.0 inches x 8.3 inches (27.9 cm x 21 cm).  The New York’s Metropolitan Art Museum purchased this painting in 2004 at a cost slightly higher than USD 45 million. Despite its small size, the painting maintains a powerful presence as it is eye capturing from a distance and commands complete attention with its bold golden colors. Raphael Sanzio’s painting, Madonna and Child with Saints, is dated 1504 year, done on an oil and gold on wood medium. The painting’s main panel overall dimensions are 172.4 cm x 172.4 cm while the painted surface is 169.5 cm x 168.9 cm. The artist used the color symmetrically, positioning the figures evenly on the surface.  The use of light and shadows helps to create a balancing effect of the pictures on the surface.

In Duccio’s painting, the central figure is Mary, while the infant Jesus complements her nature and attributes as the artist wished to portray her as a tender individual. The virgin, looking beyond the child with glum tenderness, holds the baby in her left arm. Conversely, the child slightly touches her veil. This intimate gesture brushes aside forms of Byzantine impersonality and rigidity. This is unlike Raphael’s painting, in which both, Madonna and the child are central figure. These two figures are larger than usual traditional paintings of this type. However, both, the paintings’ clothing and arrangement are atypical.  In Rapahel’s painting, the virgin wears a red gown, which symbolizes the passion of Christ. Additionally, her blue mantle signifies her royalty in heaven as a queen while her throne complimented this fact, as well as the Catholic Church’s majesty. Unlike Duccio’s painting, whose main focus was on the virgin Mary, Raphael’s painting had other peripheral figures; St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Helen. Saints Peter and Paul were both apostles, while Saints Catherine and Helen were royal saints at birth. St. Catherine carries an emblem of Christian martyrs. Unlike Duccio’s picture, which could have been for personal devotion, this picture was hanged in church in a place where nuns prayed.

Duccio’s painting contains elements of Western art though it still contains certain elements of Byzantine style, especially the gold background and the Madonna’s elongated fingers, as well as the baby’s unchildlike features. However, their clothing’s colors are incredibly preserved and there are convincing senses of human interaction, making the figures seem to subsist in real time. The painting, dated circa 1300, reveals candle burn spots on its fame, which shows its original use as a devotional image (Hartt & Wilkins, 2006). Duccio placed the virgin at an angle behind a fictive wall. It is recognizable that the painting represented an exit from a pre-existing convention. Duccio used these subtle changes to develop an image of inspirational tenderness and emotional humanity. The Metropolitan Museum considers this painting to be a rare and unique masterpiece of the Early Renaissance.

On the contrary, the Metropolitan Museum of Art dates Raphael’s painting as circa 1504, having been made either in late 15th century or early 16th century. This was during the High Renaissance period. Although the painting’s colors are slowly fading, Raphael used bold colors, especially on the male saints, to indicate his future style. Despite the serene composition of the figures, the striking bold colors propose his compensation for Catholic’s conservative nature. While Raphael’s painting suggested a preservation of the conventional painting style, Duccio represented an exit from these styles, depicting a welcome of the Western painting style. 

Both paintings had religion or Catholic Church as their central themes. Duccio used his painting to exemplify a progressive but traditional painting style, which thrived through the Proto-Renaissance period. This painting is a fundamental landmark in the shift from Medieval to the Rebirth. In this picture, Duccio sought a flatter painting style, which he obtained from Byzantine art, then instilled it with an exquisite color sense and a range of cautiously articulated figures bestowed with a deep human emotion to achieve an inspirational effect. This effect provided Duccio’s painting with an emotional and physical dimension, which enabled it to be a “stand alone” painting.  In contrast, Raphael aimed at creating realistic three-dimensional figures with natural attributes.  To create this effect, Raphael utilized an early perspective form to give the picture an extra space and depth.

In Duccio’s painting, he positions the Virgin against a parapet. Artists used this early illusionistic device to connect and separate the timeless space absorbed by divine figures and the actual time and space of the viewer. On the contrary, Raphael uses a pyramidal composition, which enabled him to make good use of space and light to illustrate Madonna’s bright face.

In conclusion, both these paintings illustrate a strong sense of Catholicism, especially the place of the Virgin Mary’s life and her dignity. Both set to portray her tenderness towards humanity, each of the paintings reflects its period’s artistic use of Byzantine style in paintings. Duccio’s picture represents an exit from conventional art styles to the adoption of Western one. However, he still employs Byzantine styles, especially the use of bold golden background. Duccio develops an inspirational image with a physical and emotional dimension, while Raphael focuses on developing a three dimensional realistic figures with ordinary attributes.  Duccio adopted a flattering style from Byzantine art forms to display the sentimental human feeling in his painting. On the other hand, Raphael adopted a pyramidal composition, which enabled him to make good use of light and shadows.

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