Pinturicchio . The Master of Frescoes – The Baglioni Chapel

In my last blog I looked at the Pinturicchio frescoes in the Bufalini Chapel and although the artist had painted numerous frescoes in many places of worship, in this blog, I just want to focus on his artistry in the Bagnoli Chapel, part of the Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, in the town of Spello, Perugia and the frescoes executed by him at the start of the sixteenth century during one of last major commissions.

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Troilo Baglino (left), fresco detail by Pinturicchio in the Baglioni Chapel 

Troilo Baglioni was the prior, later bishop and protonotary of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello, an ancient town and commune of Italy, in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria. He was in charge of the management of the chancellery of that church and the diocese and it was he, who, in 1500, commissioned Pinturicchio to decorate the walls of the Cappella Bella which later became known as the Baglioni Chapel .  Pinturicchio and his workers set about the task in the Autumn of 1500 and completed the commission in the Spring of 1501.  The paintings, typically for Pinturicchio, were completed in such a short period as he had around him, a well-organized workshop, with other masters painting above his drawings. The finished product ensured his artistic reputation and prominence in Umbria.

Baglioni Chapel

The chapel has a quadrangular floor plan with a cross-vault. The entire chapel, all three walls and the ceilings, are covered in frescoes.  The frescoes are themed stories about the childhoods of Mary and of Jesus. a pictorial account of the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, and Jesus at the Temple..

The vaulted ceiling of the Baglioni Chapel

On the vaulted ceiling, we see depicted four Sibyls, female prophets, Tiburtina, Eritrea, Europea and Samia, seated on thrones and flanked by cartouches with prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ.

As you enter the chapel, on the left wall, there is Pinturecchio’s fresco of the Annunciation, which is set in a large Renaissance loggia.  As we look at it our eyes are drawn through, what is termed, the hortus conclusus (enclosed garden) towards the handsomely and meticulously detailed landscape background.  The two main characters in the fresco are Mary and an angel.  Mary had been reading a book which was on a tall ornate wooden lectern but has now been distracted by the angel, who kneels before her with a white lily in one hand, symbolising  virginal purity.  Above them we see God the Father depicted encircled by angels and giving off a ray of light which incorporates the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove (just above the lectern).

Look to the lower right of this fresco.  What is strange about this fresco is that if you look closely under the small bookshelf, you will see a portrait.  In fact, it is a self-portrait of Pinturicchio, featuring the bejewelled inscription, “BERNARDINVS PICTORICIVS PERVSIN[VS]” referring to Pinturicchio’s birth name of Bernardino di Betto.

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pinturicchio (1501)

The rear wall of the Baglioni Chapel features the fresco depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds. It is a depiction of an idyllic scene within an extensive landscape and includes a number of  secondary motifs. In the background, we can see the arrival of the camels of the Magi procession.  The setting in the foreground is a grassy area in front of the stable, and a line of shepherds who have come to visit and bring gifts to the mother and the new-born child.  

The Shepherds by Pinturicchio

The three shepherds stand out as being over-sized.   They have expressive and detailed features, after the fashion of early Netherlandish painting which influenced Pinturicchio. Their facial characteristics are in a way crude, almost scowling and differ greatly from anything else in Pinturicchio’s repertoire of figures. The one exception is the young man on the left with a goat. This is depicted with a more idealized beauty, inspired by ancient reliefs with sacrifice motifs.

The central panel of the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van Goes (1472)

Art historians have put down Pinturicchio’s depiction of his “crude scowling” shepherds as being influenced by the figures of the shepherds in the Portinari Altarpiece which was painted by Hugo van der Goes around 1472.

The figures of the shepherds in the Portinari Altarpiece

In the left background of the fresco on the rear wall we see a meticulously drawn town at the foot of a mountain.  To the right we see a temple-like stable with a window through which we can see a mountainous landscape.  On the roof of the stable sits a peacock, a symbol of immortality. 

In the sky above the nativity scene we observe a cluster of angels on a bank of clouds.  They are celebrating the birth of Jesus in song.

On the right-hand wall as you enter the Baglioni Chapel there is a large fresco pictorially recounting the story of the Dispute with the Doctors. .  It is based on an occurrence in the early life of Jesus depicted in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke.  Twelve-year-old Jesus had accompanied Mary and Joseph, and a large group of their relatives and friends to Jerusalem on a Passover pilgrimage.. On the day of their return, Jesus hung back in the Temple, but Mary and Joseph thought that he was among their group and she and Joseph headed back home.  It was not until a day after they returned that they realised Jesus was missing, so they returned to Jerusalem, finding Jesus three days later among a group of philosophers.   

In the background we see the Temple of Jerusalem with its large dome.  The scene follows an arrangement which Pinturicchio had already used in his fresco on the wall of the Bufalini Chapel, which itself originated from a Perugino fresco in the Sistine Chapel, Delivery of the Keys.  At the centre of the depiction stands the Child Jesus who is debating with and surrounded by two groups of philosophers from the Temple of Jerusalem. His books are scattered on the pavement in front of him. By contrast, the richly dressed scholars either clutch their books close to their chests or read aloud from them. The temple can be seen in the background and is characterized by a large dome. The crowd is formed by standard set of characters which includes young spouses, wise men, toothless women and others, all of whom are witnessing the dispute.

On the left of the crowd, dressed in the dark robes of a protonotary apostolic (a prelate who is a member of a college charged with the registry of important pontifical proceedings). It is a portrait of Troilo Baglioni, who commissioned the frescoes for his chapel

[Photo Credits: tyle_r]
Pinturicchio’s frescoes in the Piccolomini Library

Pinturicchio’s many paintings and frescoes can be seen throughout Italy.  Between 1481 and 1482, he worked in Rome, and collaborated with Perugino on the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. From this his career flourished and he worked uninterruptedly in the service of five popes: from Sixth IV to Julius II, passing through Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, and Pius III.  He also received commissions from well-to-do and important clients such as the della Rovere family and Pandolfo Petrucci, the lord of the Italian Republic of Siena.. In Siena, among the many works, he created the extraordinary cycle of the Piccolomini Library in the Duomo of Sienna, and completed frescoes in the chapel of San Giovanni Battista.

Bernardino di Betto (Benedetto), the Italian painter known as  II Pinturicchio dies in Sienna in 1513 aged 61.

Pinturicchio the Master of the Fresco. Part 1.

Over recent months I seem to have concentrated on writing about artists who were practicing their trade during the Victorian period and the first couple of decades of the twentieth century.  Yet, when I look back on my earliest blogs I seemed to have favoured the Dutch and Flemish painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Today I am going to deviate again and look at the life and work of the fifteenth century Italian Renaissance painter Pinturicchio.  I came across the artist and one of his major fresco commissions when I read the excellent blog io sto a casa, written by Jackie, an American teacher who lives with her Italian husband in Le Marche, Italy. She and her husband are lovers of art and often travel around the country visiting places of interest which hold artistic treasures.  It was she who mentioned the artist Pinturicchio in one of her recent blogs.

2008 Italian postage stamp

Bernardino di Betto was born around 1454 in the Italian city of Perugia.  He was also known by his nickname, Il Pinturicchio, meaning “little painter” because of his small stature.  His parents were a family of artisans, his father being a cloth tanner.  His early life seems to have been filled with unhappiness, compounded by the death of his father from the plague when Pinturicchio, was just a teenager.  His first foray into the world of  fine art came when the talented miniaturist, Giapeco Caporali opened a bottega (a workshop of a major artist in which other artists may participate in the execution of the projects or commissions of the major artist) close to Pinturicchio’s father’s house at Porta Sant’Angelo. Pinturicchio worked there for a time and would take a share of the profits of the work completed in the studio.  In 1481 Pinturicchio joined the painters’ guild in Perugia.  Perugia was at that time experiencing a great artistic fervour and the central Italian city was becoming a renowned hub for artistic activities of which Pinturicchio contributed. Once Pinturicchio had enrolled in the guild of Artists and Painters in Porta Sant’Angelo, Perugia, his output began to be recorded.  He received many commissions and joint commissions for his fresco work.

Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome

Meanwhile, in Rome, the first phase of the work on the Sistine Chapel had been on-going.  The fresco work had been carried out by some of the Italian Masters, such as Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Signorelli,  Cosimo Rosselli and Pinturicchio.  The first phase of this massive undertaking came to an end around 1482 and most of these Italian Masters returned to their home cities.  This is with the exception of Pinturicchio who did not go home but instead remained in the city and set up a workshop. as he could take advantage of the opening left by the other great artists. He then chose a group of Italian painters who had collaborated with him at the papal chapel.  His group contained artists from the many regions of the country who were willing to remain in Rome and work for him.    Having set up this group and with many of the renowned artists having left the eternal city he was awarded his first commission in Rome by Nicolò Manno (Riccomanno) Angeli Bufalini, a consistorial lawyer and one-time bishop of Venafro, for his family chapel which was part of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome, which stands on the Capitalone hill. Pinturicchio’s frescos in the Bufalini Chapel depicted scenes from the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena and Saint Francis. The commission was to remember the reconciliation that took place between the Bufalini family and the Baglioni of Perugia, thanks to St. Bernardino.

Bufalini Chapel ceiling

Pinturicchio and his team set to work on the chapel around 1484.  On the vaulted ceiling there are depictions of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each seated on a cloud, in front of a dark blue, star-studded background.  

Bufalini Chapel floor

The chapel itself has a quadrangular base, with the vault and floor decorated with cosmatesque mosaics. The Cosmatesque style takes its name from the family of the Cosmati, which flourished in Rome during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and practiced the art of mosaic.   The inside of the chapel comprises of three sides and the frescoes on the three walls are dedicated to the life and miracles of St. Bernardino of Siena, an Italian priest and Franciscan missionary, who was canonized as a saint in 1450, and who was very popular during the Renaissance.  The frescos also featured two stories of St. Francis.

The back wall of the chapel, the altar wall, is decorated by a fresco entitled The Glory of Saint Bernardino.  It is horizontally divided into two sections.  The lower section depicts San Bernardino standing on a rock with outstretched arms.  His right hand points up to Christ. In his left hand he holds an open book in which one can read:


“Father, I have shown your name to everyone”,

Above him are two angels who are in the process of crowning him.  Either side of him stand two saints,.  On his right is St. Louis of Toulouse adorned in in his solemn episcopal robes and on his left stands Saint Anthony of Padua in a Franciscan habit..  In one of St Anthony’s hands he holds the flame symbolising his piety whilst in the other he holds a book symbolising his knowledge.  The background of this lower section is a landscape with rocks, lakes and mountains, which extends the depth of the space.  This scene is probably one Pinturicchio would have recalled from his homeland.

In the upper part of the fresco we see Christ in the act of blessing.  His figure is encased in a mandorla. The term mandorla means an almond-shaped frame that surrounds the totality of an iconographic figure.  Surrounding Christ are worshiping and music-making angels.

Left-hand wall of the Bufalini Chapel

On entering the Bufalini Chapel, the wall to the left comprises of two scenes one atop the other, divided by a painted frieze. The upper part is a lunette, a half-moon shaped, or semi-circular, arch, which depicts St. Bernardino being penitent before the Porta Tufi in Siena and this fresco shows a young Bernardino’s first hermitage.

Upper lunette

The fresco on the lower part of the left-hand wall is much more interesting.  It depicts the Funeral of Saint Bernardino. 

The fresco on the lower part of the left-hand wall is much more interesting.  It depicts the Funeral of Saint Bernardino.  The setting is a city scene with a chessboard-like pavement.  It is painted using geometrical perspective, which enables the depiction of a three-dimensional form as a two-dimensional image which carefully looks like the scene as visualized by the human eye.  The vanishing point is a building similar to one depicted in Perugino’s painting, Delivery of the Keys, although Pinturicchio has two buildings of different heights at the sides. On the left is a loggia,  a covered exterior gallery or corridor, supported by piers decorated with fanciful gilded candelabra. On the right is a cubic building connected through a double loggia to the landscape and the bright sky in the background.

See the source image
Pietro Perugino’s painting, Delivery of the Keys.(1482)

The foreground is dominated by the Saint Bernardino’s funeral. We see his body laid out on what is termed a catafalque, a decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state. Its presence increases the sense of spatial depth

Riccomanno Bufalini

All sorts of folk, friars, pilgrims and the “common” people approach the body to pay their respect. Look at the tall figure in the left foreground wearing the brown robe, with a fur-lined hood and gloves.  He is Riccomanno Bufalini, the person who commissioned the frescoes.

Sight restored.

The remaining characters we see standing around the coffin often portray a series of miracles attributed to Bernardino during his life.  We see the once-blind man who was healed and given back his sight by the body of Bernardino, standing by the head of the coffin pointing to his eyes.  There is the resurrection of someone possessed by the Devil, the healing of the stillborn baby of John and Margaret Basel, the healing of Lorenzo di Niccolo da Prato, wounded by a bull, and the pacification of the warring Umbrian Bufalini and Baglioni families.

The Blessing
The peacock

The right wall of the Bufalini Chapel features a double mullioned window.   Pinturicchio has implemented an illusionistic perspective, when he painted two imitation symmetrical windows, one depicting a blessing from God the Father and the other featured a peacock which was an early Christian symbol of immortality.

There is also a fresco featuring, on the left, a scene from the life of St. Bernardino of Siena in which we see him receiving the religious habit. It is set in an oblique perspective that exploits the decorated pillars with a grotesques arch. Finally, there is a small scene on the right featuring, in the background, a view of the Verna Sanctuary over a rocky peak which depicts St. Francis in the act of receiving the stigmata, in honour of the Franciscan foundation of the Aracoeli.

Under the real window is an illusory opening depicting five characters: among them is an aged friar, perhaps the convents prior, and a lay figure that resembles him, perhaps an administrator of the basilica.

In the next blog I will be looking at the frescoes by Pinturicchio on the walls of the Baglioni Chapel in Spello.

………………………………to be continued.

St George and the Princess of Trebizond by Pisanello

St George and the Princess of Trebizond by Pisanello (1436-38)

When I was travelling around Italy last week the one thing I noticed, which was different from here in Great Britain, was the fact that most of the churches were open to visitors even if some, especially in tourist areas, had admission fees.   In my country most of the churches are locked up unless a service is in progress for fear of vandalism or theft.  The one exception to this open-policy was Milan cathedral which for some reason would not let individuals inside, just admitting pre-booked guided parties.  I have no idea the reason behind this and my lack of ability to speak Italian put me off questioning the very large armed policemen, who stood guard at the door.

The other difference between the churches I visited in Italy and the ones in my country was that the Italian churches seemed to all have frescoes and paintings adorning their walls whereas the churches I have visited here, although often architecturally attractive and have beautiful stained glass windows, one rarely comes across works of art.  Maybe that again is to do with possible vandalism and theft.  During my short vacation I visited Verona and after the obligatory visit to “Juliet’s balcony” I decided to visit a couple of the churches and I am so glad that I did.

I visited the church of Santa Anastasia and it was here I came across a wonderful fresco above the entrance to the Pellegrini Chapel which is just to the right of the main altar and which according to the guide book was done by an artist called Pisanello.  I decided that when I returned home I would find out a little more about the artist and his fresco and feature it in My Daily Art Display.  So here is what I found out.

Antonio di Puccio Pisano is thought to have been born in Pisa around 1395 and was to become one of the great fresco painters of the early Italian Renaissance and the Quattrocento, which was the collective name given to the cultural and artistic events of 15th century Italy and includes the artistic styles of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.  He was educated in Verona and it has been documented that he worked in Pisa, Venice, Florence and Verona.  Pisanello’s subjects include Arthurian legends and other courtly stories. They reflect the chivalric ideals of his noble patrons. The decorative nature of his work comes from the work of early 15th century artists such as Gentile da Fabriano, a leading exponent of the International Gothic genre.  Pisanello and Gentille collaborated on the frescoes of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice and they both worked at the court of the Gonzaga princes in Mantua.  Pisanello returned to Verona around 1436 and started work on the Pelligrini Chapel in the church of Santa Anastasia, which is the work of art I am featuring in My Daily Art Display today.

The fresco is entitled St George and the Princess of Trebizond and was completed in 1438.  It is based on what was a favourite subject of the period, Saint George, the Princess and the Dragon.  The fresco is in the crown and spandrels of the arch at the entrance to the chapel.  Sadly the fresco in the left-side spandrel has deteriorated badly.  It shows a barely discernible scene of the dragon’s lair where the creature had devoured its prey and all that was left were the bones of the victims which are surrounded by hideous animals which are scavenging the remains.

In the right spandrel we see the heroic St George with his curly golden hair, who has just dismounted from his horse after his gallant rescue of the princess.  The rescued damsel stands side on to us.  There is regality about her stance.  Her head is held high and just take a look at the splendour of her dress with its long train.   Both the Princess and her rescuer are dressed in the finest clothes of the day.  Unfortunately the gold and silver used in the fresco has fallen away over time but one can only imagine how spectacular the fresco would have been when Pisanello had completed it. 

It is interesting to note the way he has painted the two horses one of which we see from behind, the other seen head-on.  There is a perspectival foreshortening of the animals and this painting technique was starting to become popular with artists at this time.   The background is dominated by an enchanting city with its Gothic towers and ornate stonework.    In the left-hand background we see two hanged men swinging on the gallows.  Maybe they were thieves or traitors.  In the foreground we have a ram, what looks like a golden-coloured boar and a dog.

Whilst I was looking around the church I came across a girl on some scaffolding meticulously carrying out restoration work on another of the church’s frescos and it brought to mind the age-old argument as to whether frescoes should be restored or should they be left to slowly decay and thus one sees the original and not a “touched-up” offering.

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 ?

Effect of Good Government on City and Country by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Sala della Pace in the Plazzo Pubblico, Siena

Yesterday, (February 12th) I looked at one of three frescoes painted on a wall of the Sala della Pace in the Palazzo Palace, Siena by the Italian artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti.  Yesterday’s fresco was on the end wall of the room opposite the windows (shown on the left of the picture above).  Today, My Daily Art Display looks at the long fresco on one of the side walls of the room.  This fresco is entitled Effect of Good Government on City and Country Life (shown on the right hand side of the picture above)

Effect of the Good Government on City and Country Life by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1338-40)

The Effect of the Good Government on City and Country Life fresco was painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and is situated on the longer wall (14.4m long) of the room. The picture above shows the left hand side of the very long fresco depicting the city.  This panoramic fresco represents several scenes indicating the life of Siena and its environment in the 14th century. It depicts life under a good government.  The fresco illustrates the centre of the city with all its beautiful buildings, undifferentiated architecturally, which establishes justice and the equality of the citizens. There is a school for the children of the city as well as shops for the city’s traders and merchants who can be seen busily at work.  In the background, one can see men working hard on roofs of buildings.  Everybody is busying themselves to keep the city running smoothly.  In the middle foreground the dancing young women probably represent the nine Muses symbolising beauty and justice.

The Effects of Good Government (countryside)

The picture above shows the right hand side of the long fresco depicting the countryside outside the city walls, where Lorenzetti has painted farm workers in the fields, harvesting the crops as well as an abundance of livestock, illustrating that food was plentiful in this well governed city. 

"Security" with the scroll

Hovering above the city walls is the personification of Security, holding a small gallows in one hand and a scroll in the other.  The text on the scroll promises safety to all who live under the rule of law and the gallows acts as a reminder to those who do not obey the rule of law.

Tomorrow I will talk a little about the third fresco in the Sala della Pace, Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on City and Country Life.

Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

My Daily Art Display today will, I hope, tempt you to travel and by so doing actually see today’s work of art.  Your journey will be well worth it and for those of you who live close to my proposed destination, I have to say I am indeed very jealous.   I have been there and the whole area is so beautiful and full of many places and things to see.  As an added bonus  for my female readers, I will also offer you an alternative way to lighten your hair à la Sienna !!


Sala della Pace

You need to go to Italy.  You need to go Tuscany.  You need to visit the beautiful city of Siena and to find today’s offering you need to visit the Plazzo Pubblico. The erstwhile palace is now the town hall.    Inside this beautiful building is the Sala dei Nove, also known as the Sala della Pace, where the nine chief magistrates held their meetings. 

On three walls of this high-ceilinged room is the fresco series painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and this work of his is looked upon as one of the most revolutionary and remarkable endeavours of the Renaissance.  Over the next three days I will show the three frescos, which are collectively known as Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government.  The aim of the frescos was to acclaim the political doctrine of the government of the Nove, who retained power in Siena until 1355.  The commissioning of the frescoes was uncommon for that time period as they were not commissioned by the church, as was the norm, but by the governing body of the city.  The scenes in some of the frescoes had nothing to do with religion and were definitely of a secular nature which in 14th century Italy was very unusual.  The group of frescoes elaborate on two themes.  Firstly that of justice and secondly the importance that private interests must always be secondary to the interests of the majority and  therefore for the common good of the majority.

Allegory of Good Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1338-40)

The painted frescoes essentially work on two levels, one allegorical and symbolic and the other concerned with description and exemplification, while the whole cycle covers three walls of the great hall.   On the wall opposite the window, which is 7.7 metres long, is Allegory of Good Government, which is My Daily Art Display for today.    

The Allegory of the Good Government is situated on the smaller wall of the room and faces the windows. The fresco is built up from three horizontal bands. In the foreground the figures of contemporary Siena are represented. Behind them, on a stage, there are allegoric figures in two groups, representing the Good Government. The two groups are connected by the procession of the councillors. The upper band indicates the heavenly sphere with the floating body-less ghosts of the virtues.

The enthroned man on the right side of the middle band represents the city of Siena and embodies the Good Government.   Around his head the four letters C S C V (Commune Saenorum Civitatis Virginis) explain his identity. At his feet sit two children who are the sons of Remus, Ascius and Senius, the founders of Siena according to the Roman legends. On both sides of Siena the virtues of Good Government are represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude and Prudence on the left, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right. On the far left of the fresco the figure of a woman, the personification of Justice, can be seen as she balances the scales held by Wisdom who is floating over her throne.  On the viewer’s left, a convicted criminal is beheaded; on the right, figures receive the rewards of justice. At Justice’s feet, the personification of Virtue, also, unusually for the time, portrayed as a female figure, passes virtue among twenty four recognizable images of prominent male citizens of Siena. The men face towards the largest figure in the image, a judge located in the centre-right.   The figure of Justice bears a resemblance to the figure of Mary, Queen of Heaven, the patron saint of Siena, on a throne. The Judge reflects the tradition in the Christian Last Judgment to have God or Christ judging the saved on the left; the damned on the right. While classified as medieval or proto (pre)-renaissance art, this fresco shows a transition in thought and an evolution in theme from earlier religious art.

The judge is surrounded by additional personifications including Peace, who is represented as a fashionable, white-clad contemporary female figure with elaborate blonde hair.  Although blonde hair was fashionable it was not the dominant hair colour of Italian women from this region but it was not unusual in those days for women to lighten their hair by streaking it with urine and letting it dry in the sun!

Below the fresco there is the signature of the painter:


Tomorrow and the day after I will look at the other two frescoes which appear on the walls of the Sala della Pace.