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Two Paintings of the Maestà: The Intersection of Art and Politics in Fourteenth-Century Siena
By Gilbert Jones
Paper given at the Fifth Annual Graduate Student Symposium: Language and Communication in the Middle Ages: the Visual, the Lyrical, the Liturgical, the Legal, the Dramatic, the Kinetic, the Spatial, Translation, Lingua Franca, and Literacy (University of North-Texas, 2010)
Abstract: The two seemingly disparate institutions of sacred and secular power were inextricably linked during trecento Siena. These connections are evident in a number of artistic creations; two of the most notable are Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Maestà on the high altar in Siena Cathedral and Simone Martini’s Maestà on the east wall of the Sala del Consiglio in the Palazzo Pubblico. Although the Maestà is a religious subject, both of these Maestà images combine religious and secular elements. While both Maestà have nearly identical compositions and iconography, by examining the materials and function of each painting and the surrounding visual decoration in their original settings, it is possible to imagine how the fourteenth-century Sienese viewer might have distinguished the sacred from the secular in these works, while at the same time linking the sacred and secular by entrusting their city to the Virgin Mary. This paper explores the ways in which images with almost identical subject matter can be better understood when viewed within the context of their function and surrounding visual program within their original locations. It explores the medieval viewer’s ability to distinguish between the inextricable themes of civic pride and religious devotion in relation to the two Maestà paintings.