Friday, November 20, 2020

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 2): Side-Altars and Monuments

The photos in this article are by Nicola dei Grandi, except for the 4th and 9th, which are by myself.

Pope Pius II Piccolomini was born in 1405 in a village within the territory of the Republic of Siena called Corsignano, which he later rebuilt and renamed “Pienza” after himself. In his youth, he had studied at the University of Siena, and in 1450, became the city’s bishop, the office which he held when he was elected to the papacy on August 19, 1458, reigning until his death on August 14, 1464. The next five bishops after him were all members of his large and powerful family, a “dynasty” which lasted until 1597; after an interruption of 31 years, two other Piccolominis held the see for a total of 53 years more (1628-81).
Pius II’s second successor in the see was his nephew Francesco Todeschini (1439-1503), who added the name Piccolomini to his own when his uncle became Pope; he was made a cardinal in 1460, the same year in which the Pope raised the see of Siena to an archbishopric. In 1481, the cardinal commissioned the sculptor Andrea Bregno, a native of Lombardy, to create a large monumental altar in the left aisle of Siena cathedral, at which Masses would be celebrated for the intentions of the family and the repose of its deceased members. Bregno work on the altar until 1485, when the project was taken over by his assistants, and completed the following year. A commission to decorate the altar with several statues was originally given to a Florentine sculptor called Pietro Torrigiani, but was interrupted for reasons unknown after he had produced only one work, the figure of St Francis of Assisi at the upper left. (In the 18th century, a statue of the Madonna and Child by Jacopo della Quercia, not originally part of this project, was moved from one of the church’s other altars and placed in the central niche at top.)
In 1501, the commission was then given to the 26-year old Michelangelo, fresh from his spectacular triumph of the Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica. Over the next 3 years, he would produce the four sculptures to either side of the large central niche, Ss Peter and Paul (lower rank), and Ss Augustine and Gregory the Great (upper rank); the hand of his assistants is evident in all of them apart from St Paul, and they also likely retouched Torrigiani’s St Francis. In the meantime, Cardinal Piccolomini was elected to the Papacy on September 22, 1503, taking the name Pius III in honor of his uncle, but died after a reign of only 27 days (the eighth shortest papacy in history!)
However, because of the incredible impression made by the Pietà, Michelangelo was being bombarded with larger and more significant projects, most notably the David, commissioned by the government of his native city of Florence. He therefore effectively ceased working on the much smaller Piccolomini statues, and after 30 years, the fifth member of the family to serve as bishop of Siena, Francesco Bandini Piccolomini (who held the see for a total of 59 years), finally annulled the contract. It is a testament to the esteem in which Michelangelo was held that the archbishop and his family were as patient with him as they were; the artist was, however, forced to repay them a very considerable sum of money.

Not far from the Piccolomini altar, in the left transept, is this altar dedicated to the Holy Cross, the privileged altar for Requiem Masses. In the Middle Ages, the armies of the Italian free cities were usually accompanied by a carroccio, a large wagon with an altar on it, and a crucifix set behind the altar facing the priest; it also often carried the city’s standard. A Mass was said for the troops on this altar before the battle, and sometimes, the wagon would be pulled back and forth behind the lines during the battle, while one priest after another said Mass for the city’s victory. The carroccio was the rallying point for the troops, and its loss in battle was considered a definitive sign of defeat: a more elaborate and serious version of Capture-the-Flag. This crucifix was for a long time erroneously believed to have come from the carroccio used at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, in which the army of Siena and her allies defeated those of Florence and her allies, which outnumbered them three to one. In reality, it is the work of an unknown artist of the mid-14th century, while the stucco relief behind it was done around the turn of the 17th century.
The wooden beam in the upper right of this photograph is one of the two draw-bars of the carroccio used at Monataperti; the other is attached to the pillar on the opposite side. These were offerred by the city as ex-votos shortly after the victory.
At the end of the 17th century, the confraternity which had charge of the altar of the Holy Cross, known as the Congregation of St Peter, commissioned statues of four Sienese Popes, two for each transept. In the left transept are those of Pope Pius II (by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, 1692-5) ...
and Pope Pius III (by Pietro Balestra, 1703-6).
In the right transept stands this statue of Pope Alexander III Bandinelli (by Melchiore Cafà and Ercole Ferrata, 1665-74), the first Sienese Pope, who reigned from 1159-81, and is traditionally said to have consecrated the cathedral on November 18, 1179.
Facing it is this monument to Pope Alexander VII Chigi, whose family was from Siena, and who took the papal name Alexander in honor of Alexander III. This was done by Antonio Raggi from 1661-63, on a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was a personal friend of this Pope, and would later design his funeral monument in St Peter’s Basilica.
Against the counter-façade (on the right as one exits the church), stands this statue of Pope Marcellus II, born to a family called Cervini, from Montalcino in the Republic of Siena. He was the last Pope to keep his baptismal name, and died only 22 days after his election in April of 1555, the sixth shortest papal reign! Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli is named after him; his nephew St Robert Bellarmine remains, along with St Charles Borromeo, a powerful argument in favor of papal and ecclesiastical nepotism. This statue was originally made by Domenico Cafaggi in 1591 as an image of Alexander III; after the new statue of that Pope seen above was installed, this one was converted into Marcellus II in the 1680s by adding the beard.
Moving back to the left side of the church: in 1462, the last Byzantine ruler of southern Greece had sent several relics to Pope Pius II for safekeeping ahead of the inevitable Turkish invasion of his state. Most prominent among these was the head of St Andrew the Apostle, but also the right arm of St John the Baptist, which the Pope then donated to his former cathedral; this chapel was built next to the left transept to house the relic in 1482. When Donatello came to Siena in 1457 to work on the cathedral’s baptismal font, he brought this bronze statue of the Baptist, incomplete and in pieces, with him, but was unable to find a buyer for it, and left it behind when he returned to Florence in 1461. It was completed by another artist, Cristoforo Gabbrieli, and placed in the chapel as soon as it was built. The walls of the chapel were frescoed by Pinturicchio, but suffered significant damage from humidity, and were ineptly repainted twice. The object in the middle of the chapel is known as the “pozzetto del sabato santo – the Holy Saturday well”; it is not a baptismal font, but rather a receptacle for holy water blessed on Holy Saturday (by Antonio Federighi, 1465-8).

Also in the left transept is this altar dedicated to St Ansanus, traditionally said to have been the evangelizer of Siena in the mid-3rd century. The altarpiece of St Ansanus Baptizing the Sienese is by Francesco Vanni (1593-6), and a reliquary of one of the Saint’s bones sits on the altar.

The altar of the Nativity on the opposite side of the church.
The altar of the Epiphany in the left aisle, with the altarpiece of The Adoration of the Magi by Pietro Sorri, 1588.

The funerary monument of Marco Antonio Zondadari, a native of Siena who served as Grand Master of the Knights of Malta from 1720-22; by Giuseppe Mazzuoli.
The funerary monument of the Sienese jurist and poet Bernardino Perfetti (1681-1746).
This plaque was made to commemorate the first of Pope Gregory XII’s two long stays in Siena, which lasted from September 4, 1407 to January 23 of the following year; the second would last from July 19 to October 26 of 1408. Underneath his shield are seen those of the twelve cardinals who accompanied him. Gregory was the Pope whose abdication in 1415, the last until 2013, would pave the way for the resolution of the Great Schism of the West.

“The lord Pope Gregory XII entered Siena on the 4th day of September, with twelve cardinals, so that the schism might be taken away, and stayed there until the 23rd day of January; and by the authority of the same lord Pope and cardinals, many indulgences have been granted in this church. And the arms of the lord Pope and cardinals were set here as an everlasting monument of this fact at the time of the eminent man Don Caterini, chief of works of the cathedral, in the year 1407.”

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