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Video transcript

The back of the Maesta is astonishing. It's every bit as large as the front, but has many, many more panels. But, Duccio isn't conceiving of each one enitrely separately. He's thinking about how to unify all of these scenes together and make them really legible for a viewer. A great example of that is if you look at the three central scenes. At the bottom, you have Christ in the garden. He's asking his Apostles to remain awake while he has a private meditation with God. But after the Apostles left, we see them a second time, this time fast asleep, not having heeded his request at all. I do want to make note of the three central trees in that image. Those trees are echoed in the image just above, which is the arrest of Christ. This is the betrayal, and you can see Judas, who has already been paid pieces of silver by the Roman authorities to identify Christ with a kiss. You see Christ being abandoned by his followers, or most of them, who flee. But, Peter comes to his rescue, and on the left side you can see Peter actually taking out his knife and slicing off the ear of one of the soldiers. So, we have a continuous narrative in both of those panels. We do, especially since we see those trees sort of a second time. And, they are echoed in both scenes. But, what's most interesting, I think, is if you go one more step up, you see a double height scene, and this is the Crucifixion. Now, of course, the Crucifixion is incredibly important, and so, is given much more room. But, those three trees, now, have become three crosses. So, Duccio's thinking about ways that he can visually bring the scenes together, uniting formal elements between the panels. Let's take a look at the first double panel. You might think about it the way that an illuminated manuscript will sometimes have a large opening captial letter. It gives us the idea of where to begin. That's right. This is the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and we see Christ entering rather humbly into the gates of Jerusalem. And we can identify Christ because he's larger than the other figures and there's a halo. He's riding in on a donkey. All the elements that are delineated in the Gospels are here. You have people in the trees, you have people laying down cloth before him and can see his Apostles following behind him, and the people of the city literally pouring out of the gates. In order to give us a sense of a real crowd coming to see Christ, you'll notice that there's actually a reverse perspective because the figures in the back are larger than the figures in the foreground and also higher, which would not be the case in correct perspective. But, Duccio's given this wonderful impression of a real crowd of people present to see Christ and his followers entering Jerusalem. There does seem to be a love of architecture and the rendering of architecture, almost for its own sake. And look at those beautiful lancet windows. And it's this interesting combination of architecture and a space for the figures to occupy, but then, also this gold background that indicates the heavenly and the spiritual. So, this mixture of both. You mention the gold background, and as you look across not just this panel, but all of the panels on the back of the Maesta, not to mention the panels on front of the Maesta, there is just an enormous amount of gold. It is literally a treasure, and one can only imagine what it would've looked like in the stark white and black marble space of the Cathedral. Unfortunately, this painting was taken off of the altar and was ultimately, in the 18th century, cut up for private purchase. This was a moment when the so-called Italian primitives became sought after by some collectors. The result is we don't have all of the paintings in Siena, but many of them are scattered in museums around the world. There is one panel, for example, at the Frick Collection, and it would be lovely to understand these paintings in one place.