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Following the Saint David's Pathway today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Eighth grade boys found themselves standing before Duccio's c. 1300 AD painting of the Madonna and Child--a 2004 acquisition by the Met for a mere $45 million.

Holding her child gently in her left arm, Mary looks beyond her son with a palpable melancholy tenderness, while the baby reaches out his hand to brush the veil from her face. The formal rigidity and impersonal forms of Byzantine art give way in this piece to intimate gesture--the birth of a new way of perceiving and representing the world--a cultural transformation is underway in western art.  Remnants of the Byzantine style linger for sure--in the gold background, Mary's elongated fingers, and the non-childlike child--but the colors of their clothing, along with the sense of intimate human interaction, leave us with the distinct sense that the two figures exist in a real space, and in real time. An analogue to the human experience, Duccio captures the emotional bond between mother and child and marks the dawn of a new era.  Duccio is departing from pre-existing convention.  He's challenging the accepted norms of his time.

Considered the founder of Sienese painting, Duccio in Madonna and Child, defines a sense of space.  By including a simple parapet wall along the base of his painting, Duccio separates the fictive world of the painting from the real world of the viewer.  Art can do this.  It has the ability to take us places far from our "real" world and yet help us see our own reality more clearly, more profoundly.  True beauty lies in "truth"  and we need art to help us see truth.  As we contemplate this year of "The Aesthetic" at Saint David's, Duccio has a role to play. 


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