Art and Architecture in Medieval Siena: Reverence and Rivalry in the City of the Virgin by Rocky Ruggiero, Ph.D.
The Tuscan city of Siena was one of the most important in medieval Europe, as well as the main political, economic, and artistic rival of its neighboring city of Florence. Artists such as Duccio Di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, and the brothers Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti were members of one of the continent’s most important schools of painting and were assigned the task of decorating the great monuments of the city. Rocky Ruggiero, a specialist in the Early Renaissance, examines the religious and civic art and architecture in Siena in order to understand the city’s unique beauty and its competitive relationship with Florence.
10–10:45 a.m. Competing Cathedrals
To express their civic pride, the Sienese began the construction their great cathedral in 1226. When completed in 1300, they were surprised to discover that Florence had recently undertaken the construction of a cathedral that was intended to be “the largest in all of Tuscany.” Not to be outdone, the Sienese began the construction of a Duomo Nuovo (or new cathedral), which, if finished, would have been the largest church in all of Christendom.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Siena, Duccio, and the Blessed Virgin Mary
On September 4, 1260, the Sienese forces routed the city of Florence in one of the greatest military upsets in history at the Battle of Montaperti. The people of Siena firmly believed that it was the Queen of Heaven herself who had directly intervened on their behalf. In thanks, the city commissioned a series of paintings of the Virgin Mary to adorn the high altar of their cathedral. The greatest of these paintings was Duccio’s breathtaking Maestà, which was once the largest Italian altarpiece ever painted.
12:15–1:15 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:15–2:30 p.m. A New Civic Order
In the middle of the 13th century Siena became a republic. This new political reality brought with it an expanded market for art and architecture, which would no longer be used exclusively for religious devotion and glorification, but also to embody and express the city’s values. The city’s most important civic structure, the Palazzo Pubblico, still serves as Siena’s town hall and preserves some of the most important murals of the 14th century.
2:45–4 p.m. Tyranny and Justice for All
Siena’s executive city council consisted of nine elected officials who met in the Palazzo Publico’s Room of the Nine, the medieval commune’s equivalent of the Oval Office. The walls were decorated with the first-ever-medieval fresco cycle with a secular theme, known as the Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Painted nearly seven centuries ago, this revolutionary series of frescoes demonstrates that the governing principles of an effective democracy transcend time.
Ruggiero, who divides his time between Italy and the United States, has lectured on Italian art and architecture for American university programs in Italy for the past 20 years, including those of Syracuse, Kent State, Vanderbilt, and Boston College.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit
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