Duccio di Buon Insegna, The Nativity
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
These three panels are from the front predella of Duccio's Maestà, pieces of which are now dispersed in a number of different museums. When it was complete the predella featured seven narrative scenes on the life of Mary alternating with six portraits of prophets. The National Gallery's segment has Isaiah on the left and Ezekiel on the right.
As in many of the panels of the Maestà Duccio follows Byzantine iconography: The child's manger is in a cave, with the beasts behind and the recumbent mother in front. The midwives washing the baby are another feature common in the East though losing favor in the West during the 14th century.
As traditional in both East and West, Mary wears a red robe under a blue mantle marked by a star (here just visible at her right shoulder).
Each of the six prophets in the predella holds a scroll with a phrase of his that was believed to foretell something about Mary's life. According to the museum, Isaiah's scroll reads ECCE VIRGO CONCIPIET [et] PARIET FILIU[M] [et] VOCABITUR NOMEN EIUS [E]MANUE[L], "Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). Ezekiel's reads VIDI PORTA[M] I[N] DOMO D[OMI]NI CLAUSA[M] VIR NO[N] TR[AN]SIBIT P[ER] EA[M] DOMIN[US] SOLUS I[N]TRAT ET[?] IT [?] P[ER] EA[M], "I saw a door in the house of the Lord which was closed and no man went through it. The Lord only enters and goes through it (see Ezekiel 44:2)
Directly above the front predella was a single large panel, 83 x 167 inches (211 x 425 cm.), with the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints and angels. It is now in the Siena Cathedral's Museum, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
Read more about images of the Nativity.
Read more about images of Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Source: National Gallery