Visiting the Siena Pinacoteca, one of the largest gold background collections in the world
Visiting Siena is an important experience in getting to know a symbolic centre of the medieval civilisation of Tuscany and Italy. However, the visit of the town would be very limited if it were limited to the points of major tourist attraction, such as the Duomo and Piazza del Campo. One way to enjoy the quintessence of the city is a tour in the National Pinacoteca. The gallery, which is located a few meters away from the Cathedral complex, boasts one of the largest collections in the world of paintings with gold background, with tables ranging from the first half of the thirteenth century to works dating back to the Baroque era.
The gallery is housed within two of the most elegant buildings in the city, in Gothic style, which belonged to two illustrious Sienese families. The visit to the Siena Pinacoteca therefore turns into a remarkable sensory experience to understand and appreciate the art and history of Siena. Our tour will start from the elegant courtyard of the museum, decorated with an elegant portico that houses works from different city contexts and beyond – mostly with a religious theme – also spokesperson of Renaissance art that is little known in the city of the Palio.
The paintings by Duccio di Buoninsegna
By following a chronological path, the visit will start from the second floor, where we have the first evidence of Sienese painting, dating back to the thirteenth century; the first protagonists of the local art scene were personalities such as the “Maestro di Tressa”, Guido da Siena and Dietisalvi di Speme. The Pinacoteca guided tour continues in the rooms with the works of one of the great representatives of painting in the town: Duccio di Buoninsegna; the author of the Maestà in the Cathedral, present here with works such as the “Madonna dei Francescani” and some polyptychs, is the spokesperson for a very particular phenomenon in the history of the Sienese art that leads it to stand out from other realities: the presence of an ‘oriental’ matrix that moves from dynamics that we will discover together.
Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers
After having seen the works of the “Patriarch” Duccio, with the Siena Pinacoteca guided tour will be the turn of the painters of the next generation, in the same degree of fame as the master, such as Simone Martini, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. A substantial number of works of the two painter brothers are here preserved, some of which are great masterpieces that were once kept in churches and city offices, a manifestation of the great power reached by Siena in the first half of the fourteenth century. It will not seem real to find yourself in front of the great names and masterpieces of Sienese painting, still dazzling with gold as you will notice while you will be in front of these refined works.
When we see the paintings of artists working after the plague of 1348, you will see that, contrary to popular belief, these paintings are distinguished by amazing artistic skills. It will then be the turn of the first great masters of the fifteenth century, where, although some formulas will seem the stereotypical repetition of the great fourteenth masters’ works, you will instead see how behind these polyptychs are hidden details of the anecdotic that will surprise you. Of the great painters of this century, little known in the history of art, you will be able to see personalities of great quality, such as Stefano di Giovanni known as Sassetta, with some panels of the Wool Guild Polyptych, one of the most praised works at the time. In addition to seeing the polyptychs by Sano di Pietro, one of the most present artists in the city, you can see how unfairly the fifteenth century is not so appreciated while there are refined paintings by Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Neroccio di Bartolomeo de’ Landi.
The Madonnas with child, arranged in series in one of the rooms, are a repetition of fine lines and great delicacy. After seeing the second floor, we will go and discover the great masterpieces of the mature Renaissance, preserved on the first floor of the Pinacoteca. There are the works by an artist that will probably leave you dismayed at how different they are from what you have seen up to that moment, that is, those of Domenico Beccafumi, such as with the Triptych of the Trinity and the spectacular Fall of the rebel angels. By visiting these rooms you will realize how Sienese art dialogued with the novelties coming from other parts of Italy, in particular from Florence. Of the “Mecherino” we will see the works that are from the ecclesiastical commissions and from the Confraternities wanting to stay updated on the great artistic novelties of the moment.
The spectacular Fall of the rebel angels
One of the works that will surprise you most will certainly be Beccafumi’s Nativity of the Virgin, a work of extraordinary chiaroscuro marking a qualitatively very high point in the history of Sienese art. We will then follow with admiring the wonderful cartoons for the Siena Cathedral marble floor, where the “Mecherino” infuses, with great creative flair, an engaging evocative force, capable of recalling the impetus and severity of the deeds of the biblical patriarchs .
The other great artist that you will discover in the Siena Pinacoteca guided tour is Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as the “Sodoma“, of whom we will see together the Deposition from the cross, a large altarpiece from the church of San Francesco, where you can see how the artist – who stands as one of the apexes of Sienese painting together with Beccafumi – revolutionized the local tradition with the Raphaelesque novelties of the Roman shipyards.
We will end our Siena Pinacoteca guided tour with the painting of the seventeenth century, once totally artistically unknown in the case of Siena, but which is absolutely worthwhile, if only for an artist like Bernardino Mei of whom you will discover that he had a lot to do with in Rome with a painting genius such as Caravaggio. At the end of this experience you will understand what you would have missed if you had left Siena without having visited this casket of wonders.