Analyse a painting


Art History is about looking at artworks and learning 
how to express your responses to them

How to analyse a painting

Confusion often arises between 'describing' what one sees and 'analysing'. Describing is when you report what the eye sees. It does not ask 'why' or 'how' or try to explain the significance of what is seen. Look at: Duccio's Rucellai Madonna, panel, c.1285. (Uffizi Gallery, Florence).

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This is a short description of what you see in Duccio's work 
Rucellai Madonna.

The Madonna is sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. She is holding the Christ Child on her lap. He looks old. His fingers are lifted. All of the figures have haloes. There is a cloth on the back of the throne.

Here is an analysis of what you see which also explains the significance of what is seen.

Duccio: Rucellai Madonna.

Duccio's painting is elegant and spiritual. The colour is jewel-like and there is great interest in rich fabric and surface pattern. The emphasis of the picture is on the holy figures, not on their physical or human aspect. This is a characteristic of the time it was painted and of Duccio's personal style.

The enthroned Madonna is centrally placed. She holds the infant Christ Child on her lap and gently supports him with her left hand. Christ has the proportions of a miniature adult to symbolise that he was born with the wisdom of an adult. His hand is raised in the traditional gesture of blessing. Angels are symmetrically arranged on either side of the throne. The angle of the Madonna on the throne helps create a sense of depth.

All the figures have haloes symbolising their holiness. This is further emphasised by the elongation of their forms and their body-concealing drapery that uses tonal modelling. Mary's cloak is a rich blue made from crushed semi-precious stone. This was the most expensive colour in the Renaissance and was therefore seen as most appropriate for the mother of Jesus Christ.


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