Simone Martini


Simone Martini's Training Pictorial Production Maestà The Iconography of the Maestà The Maestà and the Dolce Stil Novo


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Maestà

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The first work signed and dated by Simone Martini is the Maestà, a fresco in the Great Council Hall in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall), dated 1315.
It is not only a work of religious content, but also civil and political, and refers to the sovereignty of the Republic of Siena.
The inscriptions seen in the fresco are written in gothic font and belong to the Dolce Stil Novo (Italian for Sweet New Style). They are warnings that the Madonna addresses to the heads of the Republic of Siena, for them to use their power according to the principles of the Buon Governo (Good Government). The relationship between this painting and the coeval literature can be traced even in the date, written in verse.
The fresco reveals both a perfect assimilation of all the components of the training done by Simone Martini, and the emerging of new and modern solutions. Besides the influence of Duccio di Buoninsegna’s style, particularly from the Maestà painted by this Sienese (1) master four years earlier for the Siena’s Cathedral, Simone’s painting is rich of elements that reveal a more modern vision.
 
Compared to Duccio’s figures, still linked to the Byzantine tradition, Simone’s Madonna is portrayed more human and more present. To Duccio’s golden background and sacred figures formation, Simone Martini proposes a sacred representation in theatrical form, with a Queen-Madonna inserted in a tri-dimensional space, surrounded by her court in a very natural way. The characters are not lined up in straight lines anymore, but align themselves in depth under three successive arches, suggesting a more realistic space, almost to the point to form an apse.

The abstract golden background is gone to leave the place to an intensive nightly blue, which creates depth and a very suggestive atmosphere. The immobile and sacred space of Duccio is replaced by a live space, where the divine breath is perceptible in the moving air that makes the canopy’s cloths, the sails and the drapery to undulate.
The divine presence is also in the incredible luminosity of the colours that seem to lighten up the figures from inside. It is almost as if a synthesis between the two main medieval theological visions is captured in this painting: God implied as the splendour of the soul, pertinent to the Byzantine aesthetics and the Pseudo-Dionysus’ idea of God-light from which the gothic style gets inspiration from. Even if we can’t rebuild the personal knowledge of this artist, his broad culture is very clear. Clues that go from England and France are present, and there are references that go from London’s Westminster Abbey altar to the French miniature, goldsmith’s craft, painted glass and enamel that was being developed in Europe and in Siena in the new gothic style.

Among the elements from the Sienese gothic tradition, developed in a very personal way by the artist, elements rather abstract like the line and colour can be noticed. The tri-dimensional construction and the pursuit for spatiality are new elements from giottesque derivation and can be seen mainly in the canopy and throne. Simone Martini’s fine and precise line flows harmoniously from one figure to the other, endlessly describing each shape, each crease and each detail and while dematerialising them at the same time. The colours are delicate and abstract, fantastic, full of transparency and reflection and together with the line, help to make the shapes impalpable and ethereal. Simone Martini realized very particular effects, in a way that it is very difficult to photograph his colours. The dark shades of the ultramarine blue of the sky increase the contrasts, make the colours to lighten up and the halo and embroidery’s gold to shine.

The special attention to details and the ornaments belong to a new vision and recall the miniature technique. It is a thorough description that can be tracked down in the scene, in the clothes, objects, hairstyle and that is used to create a legendary and fairy tale atmosphere.
Typical figures and rooms of the rich and elegant aristocratic society are portrayed, which exists in an all-poetic dimension, removed from reality.
The Madonna, seated in her gothic style throne, wearing a crown and sumptuous clothes, is portrayed as a queen. She holds her son, dressed as a prince, with a royal composure.
The scene unrolls in a decorated place, as if prepared for a party or for an important celebration. The characters have a slender shape, with faces taken from reality but rather idealized. They are extremely elegant, composed and have graceful movements. They represent a chosen mankind. The sacred scene is translated as a royal court where angels and saints are portrayed as knights and ladies. The circumstances remind the spectators of a cavalry tournament who watch a performance from under the imperial box. The two angels that offer flowers to the Madonna remind the ritual of a tribute to a queen.

Notwithstanding the truth observation, the evocation to experienced situations and to medieval traditions, what Simone Martini proposed is a magical world, of pure image, above reality, made only by visual appearances. Each and every reference to materialness is removed: the weight, the physical concreteness, the tactile sensations, have all disappeared. The characters are like apparitions: they seem inconsistent, like spirits made only of colour and light.
They are found in a suggestive and undefined space with fragile, delicate, adorned architecture. It is an impossible place: the inside (as indicated by the prospective floor) is together with the outside (as indicated by the sky in the background); and the night (the dark blue of the sky) is together with the day (intense light on each detail). It is “another” place, supernatural and superior, where these beautiful ethereal creatures live.
And yet, despite this artificial world, there is an exceptional sense of balance with which Simone Martini succeeds to show as simple and natural. He manages to make these unreal characters subsist in this impossible space.

According to a document kept in Siena’s State Archives, the same Simone Martini restored the fresco in 1321.

A. Cocchi.

Trad.: A. Sturmer


Bibliography

P. Torriti. Simone Martini. Dossier Art  n. 56, Giunti, Firenze, 1991
La Nuova Enciclopedia dell'Arte, Garzanti, 1986
E. Bernini. R. Rota. Figura 1. Profili di storia dell'Arte. Editori Laterza. Roma-Bari 2002
G. Cricco, F. Di Teodoro, Itinerario nell’arte, vol. 1, Zanichelli Bologna 2004
G. Contini, M.C. Gozzoli. L'opera completa di Simone Martini. Classici dell'Arte Rizzoli, Milano, 1966
E. Castelnuovo. Pittori girovaghi nell'Avignone dei papi. in: Il romanzo della pittura. Giotto e i maestri del Trecento. Supplemento a La Repubblica, Arnoldo Mondadori, Verona, 1988
P.L.L. de Castris. La Napoli cortese del saggio Roberto.in: Il romanzo della pittura. Giotto e i maestri del Trecento. Supplemento a La Repubblica, Arnoldo Mondadori, Verona, 1988
G. Bonsanti. Simone Martini. Associazione per le Casse di Risparmio italiane, Roma 1994


 

 

Tags:Simone Martini, painting, Madonna, saints, divine, politics, space, line, color, true, spirit, miniature, Alessandra Coxxhi, A. Sturmer, .

Stile:Gotico.

Per saperne di più sulla città di: Siena

 



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