January 26, 2021

Holy Week with Duccio: The Entry into Jerusalem

duccio entrySource: Web Gallery of Art

“The scene Entry into Jerusalem is unusual because of the attention given to the landscape, which is rich in detail. The paved road, the city gate with battlements, the wall embrasures, the slender towers rising up above and the polygonal building of white marble reproduce a remarkably realistic layout, both urbanistically and architecturally. The small tree, withered and leafless, that shows behind Christ’s halo, is the fig-tree that Christ found without fruit. Florens Deuchler has suggested that the literary source is a historical work of the first century A.D., the De Bello Judaico by Flavius Josephus which was well-known in the Middle Ages. The panel by Duccio is a faithful reproduction of the description of Jerusalem in Book V.” (WGA)

“What made the Maesta so special? First, Duccio’s representation of space. Not the compact, tightly structured, cubic space we have come to associate with the work of Giotto, in which the architectural setting is invariably conceived to enhance the figural content, but a more pictorial, panoramic spatial setting incorporating a plethora of details culled from the world of everyday life, so that the event relates to the contemporary world of his viewers.” (Christiansen)

* * *

Duccio di Buoninsegna (d. 1318) is a seminal figure in Western painting. From Siena, he “attained a position of prominence in Italy surpassed only by his somewhat younger Florentine contemporary Giotto…” (Duccio and the Origins of Western Painting, Christiansen). His masterpiece, one of the great works of Western art, is the Maesta, a large altarpiece. The installation of this altarpiece was one of the most memorable events in Sienese history, an event that reveals the close connection in that age between religious and civic life.

The Maesta is a double-sided screen nearly fifteen feet tall and more than sixteen feet wide that graced the cathedral in Siena. On the front of the altarpiece is the Virgin (the city’s patroness) enthroned and surrounded by saints and angels, including four patron saints of Siena. Under the Virgin are panels depicting the early life of Christ. The impression given is that Jesus’ incarnation, birth, and childhood was marked by the motherly care of the Virgin Mary. Above the Virgin are panels depicting scenes from her last days.

The back of the altarpiece tells the Gospel story. It is made up of panels displaying the public life and ministry of Christ and scenes from the Passion and Resurrection accounts. During Holy Week this year, we will post some of these panels, with descriptions, for your viewing and contemplation.



  1. Wonderful and refreshing!

    Holy Week–Hosanna! http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/491/

  2. What a beautiful picture! The faces of the people look almost “modern” in painting style — three-dimensional, with individual features and expressions. I suppose the gentlemen climbing trees in the background are tearing off palm branches for the crowd to lay down? Also, wasn’t the Lord mounted on a foal, but here there seems to be a baby donkey *beside* the donkey He’s riding on.

    FWIW, one of my favorite poems, by Chesterton, is this:

    The Donkey
    By G. K. Chesterton 1874–1936

    When fishes flew and forests walked
    And figs grew upon thorn,
    Some moment when the moon was blood
    Then surely I was born.

    With monstrous head and sickening cry
    And ears like errant wings,
    The devil’s walking parody
    On all four-footed things.

    The tattered outlaw of the earth,
    Of ancient crooked will;
    Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
    I keep my secret still.

    Fools! For I also had my hour;
    One far fierce hour and sweet:
    There was a shout about my ears,
    And palms before my feet.

  3. it’s so fascinating to me how poorly the perspectives are done in older paintings, yet for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel wrong.

    what a magnificent piece.

    • Remember, this is the beginning of Western art, pre-Renaissance, when accurate representation began to take over.

      • …and post-Schism, so that the constraints of Byzantine iconography are being cast aside. The featureless golden sky is still there, but you can begin to see secular space emerging.

        Contrast with the Byzantine icon here: oracle-instantclient11.2-jdbc-

  4. My bad. You don’t want a Java connector for your databases, do you?


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