The Siena Civic Museum in the ‘Palazzo Pubblico’, a symbol of medieval civilization
The Siena Civic Museum tour is an unmissable experience to get to know a symbolic place of medieval civilization – one of the most famous in Italy and in the world. The elegant building, which overlooks Piazza del Campo – one of the most beautiful in Europe and equally full of civic symbolism, linked as it is in the history of the Government of the Nine Lords – is the monument still evoking with its frescoes cycles the golden age of Siena, also offering one of the most interesting celebratory art itinerary from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century.
We will begin our Siena Civic Museum tour from the outside, observing the unique white marble structure rising on the left of the building and which refers to an event that, due to its drama, has marked the entire history of Europe. Entering the building, the first room you will find is the Cortile del Podestà (Podestà Courtyard); traditionally linked to the Palio race, the courtyard stands out for its remarkable elegance, so much so that it offers the irresistible temptation to take pictures from different angles due to its wonderful views.
When we are here, I will point out to you the strangeness of a statue crippled in the limbs, called by the Sienese people “the Mangia” (the eating): we will see together what is the story giving rise to this nice name.
The nineteenth century room
Entering the museum we will climb up the stairs to find the first important objects related to the history of Siena: some coffers and a bell; the latter, together with the statue of the war captain Blaise di Montluc, have to do with the military events of the glorious Republic of Siena. The first room of the Civic Museum, instead of taking us to the Middle Ages, is surprisingly a tale of one of the important pages about the unity of Italy, namely the “Risorgimento”, of which Siena also played a not secundary role; the objects present here are evidence of some Sienese who participated in Garibaldi’s deeds, while the frescoes by Mussini with the battles of Magenta and Solferino recall some of the salient moments of the Independence Wars fought in Northern Italy.
The Loggia dei Nove and the Sala di Balia
The civic art gallery also offers us precious, albeit few, celebratory testimonies of local history, as with the beautiful canvases by Amos Cassioli recalling the deeds, also immortalized in Dante Alghieri’s verses of the Comedy, by Provenzano Salvani.
We will continue the Siena Civic Museum tour by going up to the Loggia dei Nove (the None Lords Loggia), where you can admire a breathtaking view of the Val d’Orcia with the Mount Amiata on the background, all framed by the picturesque ocher-coloured houses of the town.
We move then to the Sala di Balia, where some frescoes from the end of the fourteenth century celebrate the Pope Alexander III, protagonist in local events with, according to a tradition, the inauguration of the first Siena Cathedral and then, more generally, in the disputes with Federico Barbarossa in the investitures fight. By the Concistory Room you will see one of the most magnificently frescoed sixteenth century rooms in Siena, with paintings by Domenico Beccafumi; the Roman republican stories offer interesting insights to understand the turbulent political events affecting the Tuscan city in that century, a period coinciding with the last act of its glorious independence.
We will conclude our Civic Museum tour with the visit of two beautiful rooms which are also among the best known for the precious testimonies of the fourteenth century Sienese painting.
The sumptuous Majesty of Simone Martini and the mysterious figure of Guidoriccio
In the Sala del Mappamondo (the world map Room) you will see the refined Maestà painted by Simone Martini. Work of 1315, the scene has a strong knightly connotation and, together with the many more typical details of the goldsmith’s art used by the artist – such as the stones set and in relief – it can be counted among the most precious works of medieval painting. In addition to its technical preciousness, Simone Martini’s Maestà is one of the first literary testimonies of the fourteenth century thanks to its scrolls with vernacular inscriptions in prose. In front of the Majesty you will see the remains of a particular world map, an object that had given this name to the room. Overcoming the circular shape of the map is the image of Guidoriccio da Fogliano, nowadays one of the most mysterious characters in the Sienese art history.
The allegory of “good government”
The last room we visit in our Siena Civic Museum tour is the Sala della Pace (the Peace Room), an environment taking its name after the allegorical figure of the Peace painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti for what is one of the most famous profane themed frescoes cycles of Europe: the Allegory of Good and bad government and its effects in the city and in the countryside.
This work, which unfolds on three walls, is a masterpiece of fourteenth-century painting not only for the rarity of the subject but also, and above all, because it offers us an insight into the life and society of the time, which is also the reason the frescoes were subjected to numerous historical, artistic, anthropological and economic studies as well as for researches about the history of costume. On the side dedicated to the effects of good government in the city, I will show you the details of the buildings represented in Siena and still present today of which Lorenzetti could already see made at the time he was painting.
In the part of the frescoes dedicated to the countryside, we will see how, thanks to the toponyms present, Siena had such political ambitions that led it to emulate the great maritime republics.
A very special animal
In the happy image of the countryside, one detail will arouse your attention: it is a pig of a typical breed of Siena.
After the wonderful images by Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and Beccafumi you will understand why you could not miss a Siena Civic Museum tour: it is not a visit to a museum but the discovery of the quintessence of a city so much loved and praised in the world as an emblem of the municipal civilization of the Middle Ages.