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The Transfiguration
Duccio
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Christ stands at the centre of this small square panel. The moment shown is the Transfiguration, when Jesus ascended a mountain and became filled with heavenly light, shown here by the golden striations (stripes) on his robes. Suddenly the Old Testament prophets Moses (on his left) and Elijah (on his right) appeared and began to speak with him. God then spoke, singling out Christ as divinely favoured: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’

Jesus’s disciples, at the bottom of the mountain, raise their hands in fear, dazzled by the sight. This scene was the eighth of nine images that formed the back of the predella (lowest part) of the Maestà, a five-tiered, double-sided altarpiece. It was the focus of the devotion of the Virgin in Siena and it is the only known signed work by the city’s leading artist, Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Key facts
Artist Duccio
Artist dates active 1278; died 1319
Full title The Transfiguration
Group Maestà Predella Panels
Date made 1307/8-11
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 48.5 x 51.4 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by R.H. Wilson, 1891
Inventory number NG1330
Location in Gallery Room 52
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Maestà Predella Panels

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These three small panels come from the altarpiece known as the Maestà (‘Majesty’), made for Siena Cathedral. It is the only surviving signed work by the city’s leading artist, Duccio di Buoninsegna. These paintings formed part of the predella, the lowest part of the altarpiece.

The Maestà was painted on both sides: The Annunciation comes from the front predella, while the Healing of the Man born Blind and the Transfiguration were originally placed next to each other on the back of the predella. The predella itself was shaped like a rectangular box, with images on both sides, providing support for the large, double-sided picture.

When the picture was completed in 1311 it was carried in a festive procession across the streets of Siena to the cathedral, where it was placed above the high altar. There it became the focus of the Siena’s devotion to the Virgin Mary, who was considered the protector of the city.

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