Duccio – The Three Marys At The Tomb

Duccio shares with his younger contemporary, Giotto, the honor of having led painting from the Byzantine style back to Roman naturalism, and thus of having inaugurated the modern epoch. Like Giotto, he combines naturalism with original, well-integrated designs. But his figures have, as a rule, less massive strength than Giotto’s, and more gentle, fluent grace. In the picture shown, the four figures are typically slender and supple, with outlines that bend into flowing, repeated curves. (Notice the right side of the angel, and the right hand of the foremost woman). The rhythm thus established is carried on into delicate arabesques of drapery, especially in the angel. There the decorative quality of line anticipates Botticelli, though with more restraint. In both the angel and the foremost Mary, there is a quality which Giotto often lacks: that of suggesting the sway and pressure of actual limbs beneath the voluminous drapery; this increases the general effect of life and movement. The. faces, however, are more stereotyped in the conventional, uniform Byzantine sadness. In other panels, such as The Kiss of Judas, they are given more varied expression.

Though fluent line is a distinctive quality in the picture, it is not emphasized to the point of ornateness, and it is well supported by other pictorial effects. Two other, bolder, linear themes—the straight lines and angles of the tomb, and the jagged mountain range — contrast with the sinuous drapery-curves, and thus invigorate the total design. The dynamic interplay is heightened by distorted perspective in the tomb-cover, which slants upward to the right, off-setting the opposite slant of the angel’s arm and the shrinking women. Further life is added by strong light-and-dark contrasts between the figures, and between various planes of the tomb and mountains. The planes thus lighted (side and cover of tomb, and four slanting mountain-sides) are arranged like spokes of a wheel, whose axis is the right hand of the fore-most woman. There is a strong suggestion, in these planes; of an upward, revolving movement out of the tomb, and every outline of the figures contributes to it. Obviously, this movement is in harmony with the resurrection subject. Much fading, and the coming through of green under-painting in the faces, make it hard to imagine the original colors. But surviving traces suggest an approach to naturalism in the flesh, cloth and stone, along with a more medieval brilliance in the wings, sky and haloes. The flat Byzantine sky does not destroy an effect of spacious grandeur, produced by the dignified slender height of the figures, and the vision of lofty peaks behind them.

[In the Cathedral Library are frescoes by Pinturicchio, and book-illuminations by various painters. Most of the latter combine medieval coloring with Renaissance model-ling.]