Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life and on the Countryside by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338-40)

Today is my final look at the three frescoes which were collectively known as Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government and were painted by the Italian artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti.  My Daily Art Display today is the third fresco entitled Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life and on the Countryside.

This fresco is on the long wall of the Sala della Pace in the Plazzo Pubblico, the town hall in Siena and is opposite the wall which bears the fresco entitled Effect of Good Government on the City and the Country which we looked at yesterday.  The artist again uses the same forms and compositional devices as for the other two frescoes, but inverts them.   The fresco unfortunately is in poor condition and some of the plaster has fallen away over the years due to climatic changes within the building.  This was one of the main reasons why fresco paintings died away.  Of course another reason was that the frescoes could not be moved and so if you had a fresco on the wall of your house and you sold the house, the fresco had to be part of the sale !  Wooden panel painting came more popular.  They at least could be moved from one venue to another but the wooden panels warped and cracked due to changes in temperature and humidity and so a different surface medium had to be found (invented) and lo and behold we eventually discovered canvas.

The main focus of the allegorical part of the fresco is the malevolent-looking figure representing Bad Government and labelled Tyranny who sits on his throne and stares out at us.  The figure is neither male nor female, although it has flowing woman’s hair.  We can see it is cross-eyed and pig-like.  It has a demon-like appearance with horns and fangs.  The figure, with a gold cup in its hand, is bloated and we are thus to believe that such bloatedness is due to its corruption.  Whereas in the Allegorical fresco Effects of a Good Government we saw the figures of the Cardinal Virtues, in the form of the female figures of Peace, Fortitude and Prudence on the left, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right, we now see personifications of Avarice, Pride and Vanity fly over the head of Tyranny and it is flanked by three clearly labelled seated figures, Cruelty, Treason and Fraud on Tyranny’s left and on his right sit Frenzy, Divisiveness and War.  At Tyranny’s feet is a goat, a symbol of lust.  On the floor below the enthroned Tyranny is the vanquished and bound figure of Justice, her scales lying broken besides her. 

To the left of the fresco we can see the city of Siena.  It is clearly falling to ruin.  Houses are being torn down and set ablaze.   Streets are in a mess and full of rubble.  Robbers roam the streets freely, all around one can see soldiers committing acts of violence and some thugs can be seen dragging a woman off by her hair.  This fresco, for the observers of the time, was to be a salutary warning of what would happen to the city if the rule of law was to fail.

Bad Government and the Effect on the Countryside

On the right hand side of the fresco, similar to yesterday’s fresco, we see the countryside outside the city walls.  However, unlike yesterday, when we were treated to the sight of workers harvesting their crops and tending their animals, in this fresco we see what happens to the countryside when a Bad Government is in power.  The only activities we see are ones of death and destruction with houses and entire villages in flames.  The countryside has been laid bare and barren.  The trees are not bearing fruit and the land is not being cultivated.

 So there you have it, three massive frescoes in one room.  Would it not be exciting to stand in that room and take in the magnificent work of this 14th century artist ?

Author: jonathan5485

Just someone who is interested and loves art. I am neither an artist nor art historian but I am fascinated with the interpretaion and symbolism used in paintings and love to read about the life of the artists and their subjects.

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