Duccio was the preeminent Sienese painter in the early years of the fourteenth century. He infused the prevailing Byzantine style with a more naturalistic, narrative mode. The Kimbell painting originally formed part of the altarpiece known as the Maestà (Majesty), made for the high altar of Siena Cathedral. The Maestà was among the most beautiful and complex altarpieces ever made. Some sixteen feet in height, it was painted on both sides, the front showing the Madonna and Child enthroned with saints and the rear showing episodes from the life of Christ. The front predella (a boxlike base) depicted events from Christ’s childhood, and the back predella recounted his ministry.
The Kimbell Raising of Lazarus was most likely the final scene of this back predella, providing the climactic proof of Christ’s divinity, when he brings a man back from the dead. The Gospel according to John (11:1–44) tells how when Lazarus fell ill, his sisters Martha and Mary sent for his friend Jesus. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. Duccio shows the moment when Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, prefiguring his own Resurrection.
A noteworthy compositional change is apparent at the lower right. The paint surface, thinned by age, reveals an underlying paint layer showing a horizontal sarcophagus.
This and several other panels became separated from the Maestà after it was dismantled in 1771. Most of the panels are today in the Siena Cathedral museum.
Adult: The Raising of Lazarus
Adult: The Raising of Lazarus, Journey of the Maestà
The compositional change in the figure of the Lazarus from an incumbent to an upright position in The Raising of Lazarus may have been due to the panel’s placement at the far right side of the predella. The more vertical posture would have served as a visual stop at the end of the nine-panel predella. For a painting that is almost seven hundred years old, the Kimbell panel is well preserved. Much of the gilding in the background, however, is modern. The panel was transferred in the early twentieth century, when such interventions were more common. The paint layer is in exceptional condition, although the flesh tones appear somewhat greener than originally intended because the terre verte underpainting has become more emphasized with time. Duccio’s method of applying paint is an excellent example of the egg tempera technique described by Cennino Cennini. Evidence of incised lines, brush underdrawing, water gilding with punchwork, mordant gilding, and finely hatched brush strokes, all of which are characteristic of this method, are visible upon close examination.
Siena Cathedral, as part of the Maestà installed on the high altar between 1311 and 1506;
afterwards, until 1771, in the left transept;
Guiseppe and Marziale Dini, Colle Alto, Val d’Elsa, near Siena, by 1879;
purchased through (Charles Fairfax Murray, London and Florence) by Robert Henry Benson [1850-1929] and Evelyn Holford Benson [1856-1943], London and Buckhurst Park, Sussex, by 1886;
purchased by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York), 1927.
John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. [1874-1960], New York, c. 1929;
by descent to his son, David Rockefeller [b. 1915], New York, 1960;
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1975.