The Wisdom Mount on the floor of Siena Cathedral

floor of siena cathedral

The Monte della Sapienza, one of the floor scenes of the Siena Cathedral

The Monte della Sapienza (Wisdom Mount)  is one of the scenes of the floor of the Siena Cathedral. The scene, created with the complex technique of the marble inlay, is one of the most appreciated when visiting the floor of the Cathedral of Siena.

The work, created at the beginning of the sixteenth century by specialised marble craftsmen based on a design by the great painter Pintoricchio, is one of the most beautiful in terms of technical complexity and chromatic richness of the entire floor.

Positioned along the central nave of the Cathedral, the Monte della Sapienza was not born as an isolated scene but fits into a thematic context in which the clients, particularly close to the Neoplatonist philosophical ideals – which a few years earlier had characterised the Florentine cultural environment, especially the one around the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici – they wanted to re-propose an exhortation to pursue those ideals in the Sienese cathedral.

The Image of Monte della Sapienza on the floor of Siena Cathedral looks more or less like a square in which, on a black background gotten with slabs of black serpentine stone, the jagged shape of a mountain made with a red stone stands out. This mountain is actually an island surrounded by a sea which, rendered with gray marble, recalls rather leaden shades, those requested by patrons who wanted to evoke a menacing sea, capable of wrecking ships. The shipwreck is exactly what Zeno of Citium managed to escape, one of the characters represented among the group of men in the centre of the inlay.

That naked female figure with a billowing sail

The story of Zeno of Citium is quite fascinating in view of the Neoplatonic significance of the scene. Closely related to the figure of this Greek merchant, who the sources say lived in the 4th century BC, is that of a woman with sinuous and elegant shapes, completely represented while holding a sail that is almost blown away by the wind. You can discover the beautiful story behind Wisdom Mount on a guided tour of the floor of the Siena Cathedral ⟢