The overabundance of religious edifices might lead you to believe Siena has long treasured religious expressions on the expense of secular art. But a visit to the Civic Museum will definitely change your mind. Located in the sumptuous Palazzo Pubblico, part of the local UNESCO patrimony, in the tourist and administrative heart of the city (Piazza del Campo in Terzo di Citta), the museum occasions you a delightful insight into the art the Siena-born masters have created over the centuries.
The history of the majestic edifice Palazzo Pubblico goes way back, somewhere between the late 13th and the early 14th century. But the background of the museum it is home to is of a more recent date. Thus, the historic trajectory of the palace and the background of the museum have obviously intertwined. For instance, Palazzo Pubblico is known for the repeated and extensive restoration works it has undergone in time. The ones carried out in the late 19th century were motivated by the authorities’ ambition to open the palace to the public.
The objective encouraged the authorities to bring the final touch, such that in the first half of the 20th century (the 1930s) Museo Civico was opened, proudly showcasing the patrimony of the monumental palace.
Museo Civico is housed by Palazzo Pubblico which is in itself a tourist highlight of Siena. From afar, you can spot the red brick facade and the several elements which embellish it: a cornice and symbols of the Nine who ruled the city.
The exhibits are showcased in collections divided into several theme or historic rooms. Even if some of them might not live up to your expectations, you should complete the museum tour: some of the works are truly worth seeing and, why not, studying, if you’re a scholar of Italian art.
Sala di Balia is located on the palace’s piano nobile, right behind the base of the staircase, and it was built as part of a wide reconstruction project which also envisaged the plan of the so-called Cappella dei Signori. It was built in the honor of Pope Alexander III, as the frescoes inside prove.
The frescoes were executed in the early 15th century (1407) by two Aretino artists, Spinello and son Parri, depicting scenes from the life of the pope, back then Rolando Bandinelli Paparoni. A memorable naval battle, the so-called Battaglia di Punta San Salvatore, is particularly eye-catching. The frescoes aside, the room is also filled with inscriptions related to historical episodes of crucial importance.
Sala del Risorgimento, opened in 1890, is dedicated to Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II. The decision to arrange a room of this kind was made after the death of the king, since it was the understanding of the Sienese authorities they had, one way or another, to honor his memory.
Lively images of the king are conveyed by the frescoes which were executed under the supervision of Luigi Mussini, by his students and coworkers, most outstanding works referring to Pietro Aldi’s Meeting of Vittorio Emanuele II with General Radetsky in Vignale and Meeting of Teano (historical encounter between the king and Garibaldi). Also worth admiring are works by Amos Cassioli (depicting scenes of the Battle of Pelestro and the Battle of San Martino) and by Cesare Maccari, as well as the allegorical representations of freedom on the ceiling.
A statuary containing works by Giovanni Dupre, Tito Sarrocchi and Enea Becheroni, Siena-born artists of the 19th century, is also showcased, next to the very uniform of the king he had worn in the battle of San Martino (the king gave the uniform to Luigi Mussini as a token of appreciation for the portrait the latter had executed for him).
Named after a lost masterpiece by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Sala del Mappamondo boasts of sheltering the first – and one of the most impeccable, for that matter – works of Simone Martini, i.e. Maesta. This one is located on the left of the room, its right side counterpart, a fresco depicting Guidoriccio da Fogliano, being still under debate in respect to its authorship. While chances are it too is a work by Simone Martini, specialists argue it might just as well be attributed to Duccio, Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti, or even Memmo di Filippuccio.
These two frescoes aside, the room also contains Lippo Vanni’s 1363 Battle of Val di Chiana, and Giovanni di Cristofano Ghini’s Battle of the Poggio Imperiale executed in collaboration with Francis Andrea.
Before entering Sala del Concistoro, you can admire a fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (now detached from the wall where it was initially painted) and Matteo di Giovanni’s Madonna and Child (both located in the antechamber of Sala del Concistoro). The entrance proper is made through a 15th century portal, presumably executed by Rossellino.
Sala del Concistoro is replete with paintings of Greek and Roman inspiration, frescoes executed between 1529 and 1535 by Domenico Beccafumi. These works are deemed a height of the Mannerist style cultivated by the Montaperti-born artist. The motifs, allegories and themes he chose to insert in his works were meant to inspire the authorities meeting here to act to the greater good of the city by following the example of the heroic deeds of the Roman and Greek predecessors.
Sala della Pace, also called Sala dei Novi (Hall of the Nine) due to the fact this is where the Council of the Nine met, takes its name from one of the allegorical figures rendered on the frescoed walls. The room is by far the most popular stop on the museum’s tour, which is no wonder, given it is home to perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Medieval painting of secular inspiration in Europe.
The frescoes confront in an allegorical manner the opposite perspectives of the Good and Bad Government and Their Effects on the Town and Countryside. This monumental work by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (commissioned by the city in 1338) depicts in minute detail the landscape of Siena in both hypostases (ruled, on the one hand, by a sage old man and, on the other hand, by a tyrant), each scenario being dominated by the allegorical figures of Peace and Serenity (effects of the Good Government) and Cruelty, Fraud, Deceit and Terror (effects of the Bad Government).
Formerly serving as antechamber for Sala del Concistoro, the nowadays Anticappella is frescoed with allegorical figures of Virtues (Justice, Generosity, Strength, Prudence and Religion) and Greek and Roman heroic figures (the likes of Cato and Scipio). All of the murals are the work of Taddeo di Bartolo, including the detailed depiction of Rome, the Eternal City, and the oversized figure of San Cristoforo, on the opposite side of the entrance. The centerpiece is the so-called Golden Rose, work of Simone da Firenze, exposed in a window showcase in Anticappella.
Taddeo di Bartolo has left his artistic print on the Chapel too: all the Marian scenes above the altar and on the left wall were created by him between 1407 and 1408, rendering stances like the Annunciation, the Departure of the Apostles, the Assumption of the Virgin, and the Funeral of Mary. Domenico di Niccolo is another great artist who embellished the room: the finely carved wooden choir (1415-1428) and the central chandelier infuse the room with a majestic Gothic expression. The organ on the right side of the altar dates back to 1520, and it is the work of Giovanni d’Antonio Piffaro.
The table below lists all information on the address of Museo Civico, opening hours, ticket prices and reservations. Keep in mind that the so-called biglietti cumulativi allow you to visit some or all of the attractions included in the network of tourist objectives administrated by Comune di Siena, including, but depending on your options, Museo Santa Maria della Scala, Museo dell’Opera, Battistero di San Giovanni, Church of Sant’Agostino.
The validity of the tickets varies according to sundry factors (number of objectives included, tourist season, etc.). Opening hours and ticket prices are subject to modification, so you are redirected to the official website of the museum in order to keep posted with the updated information.
The Civic Museum of Siena is the attraction you should visit in order to make an idea about the secular art created over centuries by the Sienese artists.
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