Tuscan Treasures – IV: Siena

Doing Siena in just one day was a bad idea. In addition to the obvious attractions, the city is a charming place to walk around and explore half-forgotten corners and anonymous monuments.

Siena’s trademark medieval Cathedral (Duomo) inspired generations of architects with its striped façade. Once inside, the imposing scale of the interior and the wonderful floor marble intarsia are sure to distract you for quite some time before you finally notice the imprints of Michelangelo, Bernini, and Nicola Pisano, whose exquisite marble pulpit is one of the highlights. The Piccolomini Library inside the Cathedral is a tribute to the horror vacui that must have obsessed Pinturicchino!

Following the Cathedral, I headed to the Baptistery, where I admired a unique marble baptismal font, the fruit of collaboration between three early Renaissance geniuses: Ghiberti, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia. Following the Crypt and the Oratory with its early Cinquecento paintings, it was time for a break, and that meant only a change of itinerary! First, I had to visit the Museo dell’Opera to enjoy Duccio’s Maestà and his colored rose window.

It was time for lunch. After some delicious panzanella salad and cheesy risotto, I couldn’t resist the sweet temptation of Pasticceria Nannini, where I had traditional panforte and strong tea.

Refreshed, I headed to the scallop-shaped Piazza del Campo, where I found myself at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage historic center of Siena. More art awaited at the Palazzo Comunale which houses the extraordinary Civic Museum. It was here that I had the most comprehensive tour-de-force of Siena’s art from Gothic and all the way to Mannerism. Duccio, Simone Martini, Sassetta, Il Sodoma, Beccafumi…all the heavyweights of Sienese Art are here! At the Sala del Mappamondo, I came face to face with Simone Martini’s huge Maestà, while in the hall next to it (Sala della Pace) I could only sit down and contemplate Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegories of Good and Bad Government, considered among the most important Gothic masterpieces ever. Incredible how the Sienese School remained faithful to the Byzantine aesthetic tradition while its neighbor (Florence) abandoned that very same tradition in favor of perspective, sfumato and other Quattrocento innovations, yielding more realistic and convincing art.

The views from Torre del Mangia brought my visit to a perfect end, and as the tower casted its shadow on the Piazza below, it was almost time to say goodbye. Goodbye Siena!

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