Siena's Cathedrale di Santa Maria, better known as the Duomo, is a gleaming marble treasury of Gothic art from the 13th and 14th centuries.
History of Siena Duomo
Siena's Duomo was built between 1215 and 1263 and designed in part by Gothic master Nicola Pisano. His son, Giovanni, drew up the plans for the lower half of the facade, begun in 1285. The facade's upper half was added in the 14th century.
The 14th century was a time of great wealth and power for Siena, and plans were made to expand the cathedral into a great church that would dwarf even St. Peter's in Rome. The already-large Duomo would form just the transept of this huge cathedral.
Expansion got underway in 1339 with construction on a new nave off the Duomo's right transept. But in 1348, the Black Death swept through the city and killed 4/5 of Siena's population. The giant cathedral was never completed, and the half-finished walls of the Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) survive as a monument to Siena's ambition and one-time wealth.
In the 19th century, the cathedral was extensively restored, including the addition of golden mosaics on the facade.
What to See at Siena Duomo
Large in scale and ornately decorated inside and out, Siena's cathedral is one of the finest examples of Italian Gothic architecture.
The Duomo's unique black-and-white striped campanile dates from 1313, but reflects the Romanesque style. The tall, square belltower has increasing numbers of round-headed arcades with each level and culminates in a pyramid-shaped roof.
The south transept has an entrance known as the Porto del Perdono (Door of Forgiveness), which is topped with a medallion bust of the Virgin and Child by Donatello (original in the Museo dell'Opera). On the north side of the cathedral, a stone set into the wall is inscribed with the mysterious Sator Square.
The west facade was begun in 1285 with Giovanni Pisano as the master architect. He completed the lower level by 1297, at which time he abruptly left Siena over creative differences with the Opera del Duomo. Camaino di Crescentino took over from 1299 until 1317, when the Opera ordered all work to focus on the east end of the cathedral. Attention finally returned to the facade in 1376, with a new design inspired by the newly built facade of Orvieto Cathedral.
Parts of the facade were restored and reorganized in 1866-69 by Giuseppe Partini and again after World War II. All the statues on the facade, many of them designed by Giovanni Pisano, were replaced with replicas in the 1960s; the originals are displayed in the Museo dell'Opera. Pisano's statues depict Greek philosophers, Jewish prophets and pagan Sibyls, each accompanied by an inscription, as well as animals including lions and griffins.
Giovanni Pisano is also believed to have contributed the frieze over the central portal, which depicts the stories of the Virgin Mary and her parents Anne and Joachim. The columns between the portals are richly carved with foliage, putti and animals. The central bronze door, depicting the Glorification of the Virgin, was made in 1958 by Enrico Manfrini.
The golden mosaics in the upper gables were made by Venetian artists based on drawings of 1878 by the Sienese painters Luigi Mussini and Alessandro Franchi. They depict the Presentation of Mary at the Temple, the Coronation of the Virgin, and the Nativity. The large round window is surrounded by busts of 36 patriarchs and a statue of the Madonna and Child.
Extending south from the cathedral is the "Facciatone," a great facade built as part of a major expansion to Siena Duomo in the 14th century. The existing cathedral was to become merely the transept of a huge structure that would surpass even St. Peter's Basilica. But due to the arrival of the Black Death and political conflict, it was never completed. The unfinished right aisle has been partially filled in to house the Museo dell'Opera, from which one can climb to the facade for fine views.
The interior of Siena's Duomo is a rather dizzying sight, with its black-and-white striped pillars and ornate decoration on every surface. There is much to see throughout, including a number of important art masterpieces.
The nave arcades, with rest on pillars with engaged columns of black and white marble, are very tall with round arches. There is no triforium. The walls of the clerestory have black-and-white stripes to match the pillars. Some of the nave capitals, which feature phytomorphic sculptures, are though to have been sculpted by Giovanni Pisano while he worked on the pulpit in the 1260s.
The cornice that runs the length of the nave is decorated with busts of popes made in the workshop of Giovanni di Stefano beginning in 1495. Only four or five terracotta molds were used to make the busts, so many of them are identical. Below are 36 busts of Roman and Byzantine emperors from Constantine to Theodosius.
The north transept is home to a bronze statue by Donatello of an emaciated St. John the Baptist, a companion piece to his Mary Magdalene in Florence. In the south transept is the Chigi Chapel, outside of which are paintings of St. Jerome and St. Mary Magdalene by Bernini. The Renaissance high altar is flanked by angels by Beccafumi.
The celebrated pavement of Siena Cathedral features 59 etched and inlaid marble panels created from 1372 to 1547. The subjects include sibyls, scenes from Sienese history, and biblical scenes.
Several important Sienese artists contributed to the project, including Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, Pinturicchio, and especially Beccafumi, who designed 35 scenes from 1517 to 1547. The Hill of Virtue by Pinturicchio is the fourth scene from the back of the nave.
The panels in the nave and aisles are usually on display (although roped off for protection) but the those in the transepts and apse are kept under protective cover, except from August 23 to October 3 during the Palio. Most of these are by Beccafumi.
An important panel in the north transept is Matteo di Giovanni's Massacre of the Innocents (1481). The painter was worryingly preoccupied with this theme - his disturbing paintings can be seen in the Palazzo Pubblico and Santa Maria dei Servi.
A major highlight of the interior is the octagonal Gothic pulpitby Nicola Pisano (1265-68), assisted by his son Giovanni and others. It was created just a few years after Nicola's pulpit in the Pisa Baptistery (1260) and represents a further maturing of his artistic style.
Four of the eight outer columns rest on lions, while the base of the central column is populated by the personified liberal arts. The seven marble panels depict the life of Christ in crowded scenes full of movement and life:
About halfway down the nave on the left is the entrance to the Libreria Piccolomini, famed for its beautifully preserved Renaissance frescoes. The library was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, Archbishop of Siena (later Pope Pius III), to honor the memory and book collection of his maternal uncle Enea (Aeneas) Piccolomini, who became Pope Pius II.
The library was constructed in about 1492, inspired in part by the opening of the Vatican Library under Pope Sixtus IV in 1475. The ornate marble entrance in the north aisle of the cathedral was sculpted by Lorenzo di Mariano (a.k.a. Marrina). The lunettes bear the coats of arms of Cardinal Francesco and Pius II. Above the portal is a large fresco by Pinturicchio (1505) depicting the coronation of Pius III.
The walls of the library are beautifully decorated with ten frescoes by Pinturicchio (1502-07) depicting the eventful life of Pope Pius II. A young Raphael may have been among the pupils who assisted. Each scene is labeled with a Latin inscription, taken from the pope's biography by the humanist writer Giovanni Antonio Campano. The story begins at the end of the room next to the right-hand window, then proceeds clockwise around the room. The scenes depicted are as follows:
The impressive vault of the library, also painted by Pinturicchio (c.1502), is ornately decorated with grotesques, scenes from classical mythology, and a variety of putti, satyrs, nymphs and tritons. The three large squares in the center depict the Rape of Proserpine, the Piccolomini coat of arms, and Diana and Endymion.
The walls are lined with display cases carved by Antonio Barili in 1495-96 and filled with an important collection of 30 richly illustrated Renaissance choir books from 1465 to 1515. In the center of the room is an elegant sculptural group of the Three Graces, an ancient Roman copy of a Hellenistic design bought in Rome in 1502 by Cardinal Todeschini to decorate the library. Frequently copied in the Renaissance era, it was used as a model by Pinturicchio, Raphael and Canova. The marble base was sculpted by Giovanni di Stefano.
Quick Facts on Siena Duomo
|Names:||Duomo di Santa Maria dell'Assunta · Il Duomo · Siena Cathedral · Siena Duomo|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (Assumption)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.317759° N, 11.329050° E|
|Address:||Piazza del Duomo|
|Hours:||Mar 15-Oct daily 9am-7:30pm;|
Nov-Mar 14 daily 10am-1pm and 2:30-5pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Siena Duomo|
- Personal visit (April 30, 2008).
- Barbara Tavolari and Marilena Caciorgna, Siena Cathedral, Baptistery (Sillabe, 2008). ISBN 978-88-8347-407-1.
- Alta Macadam and Ellen Grady, Blue Guide Central Italy with Rome and Florence (London: Somerset Books, 2008), 419-24.
- Duomo - Frommers.com
- Frescoes in the Piccolomini Library of the Duomo in Siena by Pinturicchio - Web Gallery of Art
Map of Siena Duomo
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