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Secret meanings of the masterpiece fresco “Maesta” by Simone Martini

The student of the great founder of the Renaissance, Giotto and favorite Modigliani, Simone Martini, embodied Siena artistic principles in his work, introduced many innovations into painting art, which became a guiding star for young masters, and also created a truly masterpiece fresco – “Maesta”, about the true meanings of which art historians disputes today.

Martini’s painting is melodic, symbolic and poetic (this was influenced by friendship with the poet Francesco Petrarch). One legend has come to the present. It is said that Simone Martini painted a portrait of the beautiful lover of Petrarch – Laura. Giorgio Vasari (author of the famous Biographies), wrote that the portrait was as amazing as the girl herself. In response to the portrait, Petrarch presented Simone with poetic lines:
⦁ Neither Polycletus, glorified in art,
⦁ Not a thousand others like him …
⦁ and the second one is:
⦁ When I put the brush in Simone’s hand,
⦁ The master was suddenly seized with inspiration …

“Maesta”
Indeed, few of his contemporaries could compare with the skill of Simone Martini. One of the masterpieces in the artist’s work is the fresco “Maesta” (1315). This is the first fresco that adorned the council hall in the Palazzo Pubblico, built in 1304 and 1310. The colors faded over time, the plaster crumbled, but the former solemnity and luxury of the fresco remained.

A deep blue background emphasizes the brilliance and radiance of golden hues, the sophistication of the frame and, of course, the beauty of the throne of the Virgin Mary. The fresco shines with golden, blue and pink colors of the palette. It is framed by a luxurious ornament of the type of embroidered Persian carpet. The frame is decorated with twenty medallions depicting the Blessing Christ, the Prophets and Evangelists (in the corners, each with its own symbol), as well as shields with the coat of arms of the people of Siena – the lion. Flowers and white and black coat of arms are attributes of Siena, the city for which the fresco was created for the town hall. In addition, Martini is a master of the Siena school of painting.
Fresco premise
The main message of the fresco comes from its location: it is the palace of city government in Siena, built for the Council of Nine (advisory body) and podesta (head of administration). Thus, the inscription on the scroll held by the baby Jesus (“Love justice, who judges the earth!”) Is the basic principle of good government and instructive advice for those who will sit and rule in the town hall. The Council of Nine is addressed not only by Jesus, but also the Virgin Mary herself. She encourages them to rule the city in the name of those moral and religious principles that guarantee harmony and justice.
Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child appear on a golden majestic throne. The Virgin Mary holds Jesus, who gives the blessings with dignity. Two major innovations in the Renaissance are associated with their figures. The first is a rather arbitrary adherence to strict canonical rules in portraying the faces and poses of Bible heroes. The revival is the beginning of that era of the New Age, when the Mother of God could be written in the image of a wife or sister, and the boy of Jesus – in the face of a neighbor’s boy. This is the time when the masters of painting felt freedom and could afford the impermissible, from which the masterpiece was born. Progress is driven by freedom, initiative and courage. And such courage to cross the permissible possessed Simone Martini. The second thing that catches your eye is a majestic throne, as if carved in a very expensive jewelry workshop. The viewer sees the Virgin Mary not as a modest woman in simple attire, but the Virgin Queen on a magnificent throne, in a luxurious robe and crown with jewels. The halo above her head and the head of Jesus is not just a glow, it is a magnificent, golden and elegant cloud. The absolute innovation of Simone Martini in comparison with the analogues of “Maesta” is an impressive canopy of red silk, crowning the whole scene against a dark blue background. Italy at that time was actively developing trade and economic relations with the East, and Middle Eastern influence in many aspects manifests itself in this work.

On both sides of the throne, angels are symmetrically depicted holding out golden trays of Madonna with flowers of sky-high fields, roses and lilies. The pillars on which the canopy rests are supported by the apostles Peter, Paul, and John the Theologian, as well as John the Baptist. The supporting posts of the canopy are located in perspective, which gives a feeling of the depth of the composition.
The inscription in Italian is written in gold letters on the red bar at the bottom of the fresco: “In 1315, when Diana (= Spring) had already opened her flowers, and Juno (= June) exclaimed that she turned (= June 15), then she painted me Siena by the hand of Simone. ” Thus, Simone signed his work and indicated the date of its creation.
The art of Simone Martini contains many other innovations, for example, a personal interpretation of the elements of French Gothic – on the fresco this is the pointed arched structure of the throne, precious materials on the fresco and gold ornaments – all this gives the whole scene a secular mood. But there is something more.

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