The uncovered floor of Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral uncovered floor tour is an unmissable opportunity not only to admire a jewel of Sienese art but also to enjoy the vision of a rare work of its kind.
Also this year the long-awaited days of uncovering the floor of the Siena Cathedral return from June 27th to July 31st and then again from August 18th to October 18th 2022.
For those who are aware of this event for the first time, this ‘marble carpet’ is an extraordinary set of fifty-six squares that cover the entire ground of the Duomo and were almost entirely made using the marble commesso technique (marquetry). The whole work, however, is not only a delight for the eyes but also represents an extraordinary iconographic cycle of particular thematic complexity. Through the tour we retrace almost all the fifty-six panels, meeting figures such as Hermes Trismegistus, the ten Sibyls of the ancient canon, Moses and the Stories of the Exodus, the Stories of Elijah and Acab, David the Psalmist and the Stories of Abraham.
The most “beautiful … that had ever been done”
The floor of the Siena Cathedral, the most “beautiful …, large and magnificent … that had ever been done” according to the historian and architect Giorgio Vasari, was built starting from the second half of the fourteenth century and was completed in the first half of the sixteenth century . Its execution involved the major artists working in Siena during the Renaissance, such as Giovanni di Stefano known as Sassetta, Antonio Federighi, Matteo di Giovanni, Pintoricchio and Domenico Beccafumi.
These personalities have left important artistic testimonies in the city, both in painting and in sculpture.
Not a simple decorated floor
What is extraordinary in this work is that the representations visible are not merely decorative, but rather historiated, that is, in almost every inlay there is the representation of figures which, in some cases, go to compose real scenes which refer to episodes from the Old and New Testament; other of these splendid images are pagan figures that reflect the ancient Canon of the Sibyls, as described in some authoritative texts by Christian authors such as Lactantius, a rhetorician who lived between the third and fourth centuries AD.
Pagan figures in a Christian place
What are the Sibyls, figures linked to the pagan world, doing in a Christian place?
Well, to many people the presence of the Sibyls in a church will certainly not surprise, since it is a lore already widely attested in the Middle Ages and which in the Cathedral of Siena already had an illustrious precedent: the Pulpit by Nicola Pisano, where the statues of the Sibyls surmount the straight frames. from the granite columns.
Sibyls, female priests of the pagane antiquity
On the other hand, what is undoubtedly very fascinating in the Floor of the Duomo of Siena is to see that each of the ten Sibyls, represented in the side aisles of the church, is accompanied by a table – 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 deeply studied the meaning of these inscriptions; the result is the messages that we find here are semantically and literally concatenating: therefore what for example is announced by the Cumaean Sibyl ideally continues in the message engraved in the table of Cumaean, the next Sibyl. The Siena Cathedral uncovered floor tour has as its focal moment the reading of the figures of the Sibyls.
This setting suggests the Siena Cathedral uncovered 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 “most chaste temple” – the path winds thematically along the side aisles, to then return to the centre and then continues in the area of the dome and finally of the altar.
Deciphering the secrets of this masterpiece
The beautiful subjects represented in the fifty-six inlays are not, however, easy to understand: the inscriptions are almost all in Latin, some figures are difficult to read because they are worn by time and faithful wear and tear, some scenes have very crowded compositions. This is why the most appropriate way to contemplate this masterpiece is through the Siena Cathedral floor tour.
Do not 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 that accompany the Sibyls, or decipher the meaning of some objects or gestures that we find inside the inlays, such as the books stacked in the image of one of the Ten Sibyls, or the unusual representation of a man hanging from a tree and being pierced by the spears of some soldiers.
Siena Cathedral floor tour 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.