Annunciation with St. Margaret and St.
The Annunciation Triptych (1333)
Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus
The triptych consists of a large centre panel illustrating the Annunciation, flanked by two side panels showing Saint Ansanus on the left, and Saint Margaret (or Saint Maxima) on the right, plus four tondoes in the upper cusps: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel. The central panel shows Archangel Gabriel entering the house of the Virgin Mary to announce that she has been selected to give birth to Jesus. Gabriel holds an olive branch (a traditional symbol of peace) in his left hand, while his right hand indicates the Holy Ghost's dove as it descends from heaven. The background is entirely gilt, with a vase of lilies in the middle, representing the purity of the Virgin Mary. The work originally decorated the Chapel of Saint Ansanus in the Cathedral of Siena, and was part of a series of four altarpieces - commissioned during the period 1330-1350 - dedicated to Mary and to the city's patron saints (St. Ansanus, St. Crescentius, St. Sabinus of Spoleto, and St. Victor). The other three are the Presentation at the Temple (1342) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Active 1319-48) for the Altar of Saint Crescentius; the Nativity of the Virgin (1342) by Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45) for the Altar of Saint Sabinus; and a Nativity (1351) attributed to Bartolomeo Bulgarini for the Altar of Saint Victor.
Siena's great cathedral (designed and built 1215-63) was the centrepiece of the city. Its exterior walls were adorned with green and white marble, and its facade was decorated with a variety of Gothic sculpture and stone carvings. Inside, there was more marble decoration and - like other Gothic cathedrals - a mass of stained glass art creating beams of coloured light. But the most striking of the cathedral's decorations - all ornamented with extensive gold leafing as well as lapis lazuli, one of the rarest and most expensive colour pigments - were its panelled altarpieces exemplified by Martini's Annunciation.
This altar painting offers a perfect example of the highly developed focus on line in Pre-Renaissance painting of the 14th century. Surrounded by the brilliance of the golden decoration, the figures are presented in a non-realistic space, typical of Gothic-style Byzantine art. And yet within these parameters Martini succeeds in evoking a powerful dynamic between the gesture of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin's emotional response. Gabriel is depicted in a way that indicates movement - his gown is still swirling due to his sudden arrival - while the Virgin seems almost to recoil at the startling announcement of her holy pregnancy, discarding her book in the process. This animated scene is what makes this medieval painting so different from other Gothic paintings. Although limited in scope by the flat two-dimensional style of the trecento, Martini succeeds in creating a dramatic "moment" which is truly modern.
Maesta (1315) Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Guidoriccio da Fogliano fresco (1328) Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
St Louis of Toulouse Crowning King Robert (1317) Capodimonte, Naples.
Deposition from the Cross (1334) Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.
For an interpretation of other paintings of the trecento not cited above, see the following articles:
of Christ (Kiss of Judas) (1305) By Giotto
of Christ (1305) By Giotto
of Good and Bad Government (1338-9) By Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Altarpiece (1394-99) By Melchior Broederlam
Wilton Diptych (1395-99) by Unknown Artist
For the meaning and interpretation of other 14th century altarpieces, see: Homepage.
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