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.