Posted by Gemma Boon
In one of the books we rediscovered in our library today we can read how one of the founders of The Rijksmuseum Twenthe, J.H. van Heek, shared a painting with a friend. Quite literally, because the painting was divided in two pieces. The first half of this medieval altarpiece named The Kneeling Carmelite is still on show in Huis Bergh, the former residence of J.H. van Heek.
No one would ever consider dividing an altarpiece today, but back in the days it was actually quite common practice. It explains all the incomplete altarpieces and masterworks from the Early Modern Time in museums worldwide. Take the story of Duccio’s Maèsta.
This panel was part of the back predella of Duccio’s ‘Maestà’, and was immediately to the right of ‘Jesus opens the Eyes of a Man born Blind’. Another panel from the ‘Maestà’ is in the collection, ‘The Annunciation’.
The ‘Maestà’ was a monumental double-sided altarpiece ceremoniously delivered to Siena Cathedral in June 1311, and placed on the high altar. At the time it was the richest and most complex altarpiece in Christendom, but it was dismembered in 1771, and although most of it is in the Cathedral Museum in Siena, several predella panels and pinnacles are dispersed in collections throughout the world. The front of the altarpiece shows the Virgin and Child enthroned with saints and apostles, the predella depicts Christ’s childhood, and the pinnacles, the last days of the Vigin. On the reverse the narrative runs from Christ’s earthly ministry through his Passion to his latter day appearances.