New Siena Cathedral floor uncoverings
By popular demand, the days of extraordinary unveiling of Siena Cathedral marble floor are back. After the usual opening, which has now become a fixed appointment, from 18 August to October (18 specifically), another series of uncovering days has been scheduled from June 30 to July 31 2023. Those who therefore had not had the the opportunity to admire the precious ‘marble carpet’ that covers the entire floor of the Sienese Cathedral will be able to do so until October 18 2023. These days are the occasion for new guided visits to the floor of the Cathedral of Siena.
The most “beautiful … that was ever made”
The Siena Cathedral marble floor, the most “beautiful …, large and magnificent … that had ever been done” according to the historian and architect Giorgio Vasari, is a complex of no less than fifty-six squares covering the entire floor of the cathedral and represents an extraordinary example of the art of marble inlay. Made starting from the second half of the fourteenth century, its execution involved the major artists working in Siena, including designers and workers, over a chronological arc that spans five centuries.
What is startling in this work is that the featuring is not merely decorative, but rather historiated, that is, almost in every tarsia there is represented a human figure that is part of real scenes, in which they find themselves episodes from the Old and New Testaments, plus a series of pagan figures belonging to the ancient Canon of the Sibyls.
Siena Cathedral marble floor
Pagan figures in a Christian place
What are the Sibyls, figures linked to the pagan world, doing in a Christian place?
Well, many will certainly not be surprised by the presence of the Sibyls in a church, a tradition already widely attested in the Middle Ages and which already had an illustrious precedent in the Cathedral of Siena: the Pulpit by Nicola Pisano, where the statues of the Sibyls surmount the straight frames from granite columns.
Instead, what is undoubtedly very fascinating in the Siena Cathedral marble floor is seeing that each of the ten Sibyls, represented in the lateral naves of the church, is accompanied by a plaque – to be precise, two for each – with inscriptions in Latin. Eminent scholars, such as Marilena Caciorgna and Roberto Guerrini – authors of an important essay entirely dedicated to the floor – have studied in depth the meaning of these inscriptions; the result is that the messages that we find here are semantically and literally concatenating: therefore what, for example, is announced by the Cumean Sibyl ideally continues in the message engraved in the table of the Cumana, the next Sibyl.
Hermes Trismegistus, Giovanni di Stefano, 1488, Siena Cathedral marble floor
Guided visits to the floor of the Cathedral of Siena
This organisation suggests that Siena Cathedral marble floor is a real path that must be followed. Starting from the central portal of the Cathedral – where an inscription invites us to have a particular ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’ condition before entering the “chaste temple” – the itinerary winds thematically along the side naves, to then return towards the center and then continue in the area of the dome and finally the altar.
Decipher the secrets of this masterpiece
However, the beautiful subjects represented in the fifty-six inlays are not immediately understandable: the inscriptions are almost all in Latin, some figures are difficult to read because they are worn out by time, some scenes have very crowded compositions. That’s why the most appropriate way to contemplate this masterpiece is through the new guided tours of the Siena Cathedral marble floor.
Don’t miss the opportunity to appreciate all the beauty and iconographic complexity of this extraordinary work; you will thus be able to fully understand the messages that are hidden behind the inscriptions accompanying the Sibyls, or decipher the meaning of some objects or gestures that we find inside the inlays, such as for example the books piled up in the image of one of the Ten Sibyls, or the unusual depiction of a man hanging from a tree and being pierced by the spears of some soldiers.
The private guided tours of the Siena Cathedral floor will be the experience that will allow you to take with you the memory of a jewel of art and literature that is almost never visible ⟢