Italian art: The Siena Cathedral
- WTI Magazine #95 Sep 15, 2017
In Italy there are hundreds of cathedrals, but very few of these have developed over time a system of preservation, exhibition and enjoyment of the artistic heritage inside the building in a structured and organized way at all levels. San Pietro in Rome, San Marco in Venice and the Duomo of Florence give the possibility to enter in crypts and treasure museums, on bell towers and diocesan museums, in choirs and sacristies. But so far, only the Cathedral of Siena has been able to set up a total journey through the history of the church, at 360 degrees and from every possible angle, up to a glance at the future.
It starts from the floor, an immense masterpiece of illustrated marble inlays depicting the Sibyls in the side aisles, scenes of the Old Testament in the Transect and in the Choir, and a series of geometric decorations of such magnificence and meticulousness as to disorient the eye and fragment the view into hundreds of scenes, capturing the details of the drawings and materials.
We then move on to the Piccolomini Bookshop, where the future Pius III Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, had Pinturicchio illustrate a series of ten stories about the life of his maternal uncle Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini, Pius II, a great humanist and scholar of the fifteenth century.
One of the most striking findings of recent years has been that of the frescoes in the crypt, where the thirteenth-century frescoes are of such a high quality, that they have helped scholars to redefine the origins of the Sienese school of painting and retrodate it for a taste and decoration not only belonging to the fourteenth century but evidently already to the previous century.
In the Baptistery, besides finding another monumental cycle of frescoes, you can admire a baptismal font in which the major sculptors of 1400, Jacopo della Quercia, Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti have left a trace.
Then there is the Duomo Nuovo, an imposing and unfinished building of which we can see the internal facade and the right aisle, while the central nave and the left aisle have remained in the open sky forming a really majestic scenic backdrop. In the right aisle of the Duomo Nuovo is the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, in whose statuary collection you can find the entire decoration of the 14th century façade, works by Duccio da Boninsegna, Giovanni Pisano and Pietro Lorenzetti.
There is also another museum in the Cathedral complex of Siena, it is housed in the Oratory of San Bernardino and is the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, where works by Beccafumi, Sodoma and the Salimbeni brothers are exhibited. On such an enormous historical and artistic heritage, the work of the Duomo wanted not only to invest, but also to constantly improve the proposal of museuming the complex.
This is how the "Door of Heaven" was born, that is to say a path on the top of the church from which it is possible to see at a breathtaking glance the entire flooring of the Duomo at tens of meters high, to appreciate the stained-glass windows, the views and the ancient masonry structures.
"Under the Duomo", the last initiative concerning the cathedral, on the other hand, uses cutting-edge technologies. It is a journey inside the splendid architectural setting of the Oratorio dei SS. Giovannino and Gennaro with a video mapping that recreates the history of the site and the Tuscan city. Siena Cathedral offers ten sites of interest concentrated in a few meters, and accessible from above and below, from past and future, from near and far. A rare experience.