“Appearance to the Apostles while at Table”, (Maesta) Duccio di Buoninsegno, 1308 -1311, Museo dell’ Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena. You can view this image in high resolution at
Duccio shows the Risen Christ appearing to the eleven apostles as recounted in today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke. This is actually a small panel from a very large and complex altarpiece know as the Maestà, which was installed with great ceremony above the main altar of Siena’s Duomo in 1312. The front of the altarpiece showed the Madonna and Child enthroned and surrounded by saints and angels. It bore the inscription: “ Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus.” In 1771, the altarpiece was taken apart but many of the panels are preserved in Siena’s Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo and it has been possible to reconstruct what it would have looked like. This particular panel was positioned on the top tier on the back of the altarpiece, which showed scenes from the passion and the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would have been seen only by the clergy in the choir. Duccio drew on all four gospels in the scenes he depicted and in this one clearly he is showing today’s passage from Luke. Notice the broiled fish on the table which are mentioned by Luke. The apostles are grouped together sitting at the table. A rather poignant detail is that Christ stands at the empty space which perhaps had been his before his death. The eleven apostles look “startled and frightened” . As one they look towards him. Duccio conveys the drama by maintaining spatial distance between the apostles and Christ. Christ shows them his hands and soon will ask for something to eat. One way of interpreting Luke’s comment, that they thought they were seeing a ghost, is that in this appearance, and unlike in others, they are able to recognise Christ, but can’t believe that he could be alive. It will be the evidence of his bodily reality and the opening of the scriptures to them that will bring them to faith. Luke’ Gospel also lays emphasis on the continuity between what Christ had said to them during his ministry and the events which are now unfolding. Perhaps one of loveliest things about this painting is that this continuity is expressed by showing Christ looking as he did before his death. Later artist’s would show the Risen Christ wrapped only in his shroud. While Duccio has used gold to indicate Christ’s glorified state, we see before us very much the same Christ who had entered Jerusalem just a week before. On a very human level, this suggests the joy that will be theirs as they go out witness to the Resurrection.
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