Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 12): Paintings and Sculptures in the Cathedral Museum

The remaining three parts of our series on the cathedral of Siena (which began two months ago!) will all be about items now in the church’s museum. This first part will cover major artworks which were formerly in the cathedral (apart from the most important, the Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna, which already had its own post), the second liturgical objects, and the third vestments. Our thanks once again to Nicola for sharing these photos with us.
The Crevole Madonna, by Duccio, ca. 1284, one of his very earliest works, named for a small town about 12 miles to the south of Siena where it was originally displayed. The Byzantine influence on the artist, who was then about 30 years old, is particularly evident in the use of gold lines to create the sense of depth in the Virgin’s robes. By the time he painted the Maestà, about 25 years later, he had shifted, very much under the influence of Giotto, towards one of the key techniques of Renaissance painting, omitting the lines and creating the sense of depth with different shades of color.
Part of an altarpiece by another Sienese native, and one of the best painters of the generation after Duccio, Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290 ca. – 1348), a real master of optical perspective; ca. 1320-30. From left to right: St Benedict in the white habit of the Olivetan Benedictines, who were founded by a native of Siena, St Bernard Tolomei; St Catherine of Alexandria; St Mary Magdelene; St Francis. In the cuspids, left to right, St Peter, St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, and St Paul. Note how the variation in shades within the white of St Benedict’s robe, the pink of St Catherine’s etc., create the volume of their figures.
Sano di Pietro (1406-81) another Sienese native, (“Sano” is a nickname for “Ansano”, from St Ansanus, the evangelizer of Siena), The Preaching of St Bernardine of Siena, 1440s. The incomplete façade of the church in the background has black and white stripes, reminiscent of the “balzana”, the city’s official banner and shield, which is white above and black below. St Bernardine, who died in 1444, was a great promoter of devotion to the Holy Name, a subject on which he preached through the length and breadth of Italy, bringing peace to its many faction-torn cities. He was such an effective and reknowned preacher that the crowds which came to hear him were very often too great to fit into even the largest churches, and had to gather in the piazzas instead, despite the fact that (as is clearly seen in many early depictions of him) he had no teeth. (Notice also that the crowd is separated into a men’s and women’s section.)
An image of the Virgin and Child known as “The Madonna of the Large Eyes”, painted in the second quarter of the 13th century by an anonymous artist known as the Master of Tressa. This was the first image of the Virgin Mary to be venerated on the main altar of the cathedral, the one before which the Podestà (chief magistrate) of Siena, Bonaguida Lucari, at the head of all the city’s leaders and a large crowd of the citizenry, made the vow dedicating their city to the Virgin before the crucial battle of Montaperti in 1260. At the time, the panel was almost certainly incorporated into a much larger reredos, and surrounded by smaller images (now lost) of the principle episodes of the Virgin’s life.

St Paul Enthroned, with scenes of his conversion to the left and beheading to the right; ca. 1516, by Domenico Beccafumi (1486 – 1551), who also worked in the cathedral itself. The artist was born at Montaperti, where Siena had so signally defeated her rival Florence in 1260; it is an interesting irony that a native of that place should be the last painter of the Sienese School as a truly separate artistic current of the Renaissance. Four years after his death, Siena was conquered by Florence, which by then had long been the dominant power in Tuscany, and became thenceforth to a large degree culturally dependent on it. It is also the case that by the mid-16th century, the Italian Renaissance had run its course and shifted to Mannerism, the prelude to the Baroque; while the elderly Michangelo (also a Tuscan), working on the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica, and the forces of the Counter-Reformation had made Rome the new artistic capital of Italy.

Matteo di Giovanni (1428 ca. – 1495), a native of Borgo San Sepolcro (like the great Piero della Francesca) who worked most of his career in Siena; The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Angels and Ss Anthony of Padua and Bernardine of Siena (whose toothlessness is clearly visible here).
Giovanni di Paolo, also Sienese (1398-1482), St Jerome, ca. 1440.
A particularly fine collection of wooden statues made by Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438), one of the few Italian sculptors who worked equally well in wood, bronze and marble, between 1419 and 1424. (We have seen him recently in the cathedral, the baptistery, and in the collegiate church of San Gimignano.) From left to right: St Anthony the Abbot (whose feast is tomorrow); St Bartholomew, who was long honored as a patron of Siena; the Virgin and Child; St John the Baptist; and St John the Evangelist.

Another St John the Baptist...
and St Nicholas.
A 15th century sculptural group of the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St John, and a St John the Baptist.
Polyptych of the Madonna of Humility by Gregorio di Cecco (1390 ca – after 1424.)

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