The Maestà (‘Majesty’) was a huge, double-sided altarpiece featuring the Virgin and Child enthroned with saints and angels, made by Duccio, the leading artist of Medieval Siena, and his workshop assistants.
In 1311, when the altarpiece was completed, it was carried in a festive procession from Duccio’s workshop through the streets of Siena to the Cathedral, where it was placed above the high altar for the city’s devotion to the Virgin, its protectress.
Sadly, the altarpiece was not valued so highly in later centuries. By 1506 the Maestà had been removed from the high altar and in the late 18th century it was sawn into many pieces, now scattered across the world in different collections. A few are missing.
Our panel shows an episode told in John’s Gospel. At the centre of the painting, Christ wipes a mixture of clay made from mud and spit over a blind man’s eyes.
The man carries a stick to guide his steps. When he is shown again at the far right of the picture, washing his face in the nearby pool of Siloam, he has cast his stick aside. He is cured!
In this scene, we see the moment of revelation as he sees for the first time. He looks up in wonder, as if to the next panel along, the Transfiguration of Christ, the story being an allegory for the spiritual insight of the converted.
Our fragment was on the back of the Maestà, and formed part of the ‘predella’, the very lowest part of the altarpiece. It would have been one of nine small scenes from the Ministry of Christ, facing the clergy, inspiring them in their faith and work.