The Duomo, Baptistery & Crypt



Santa Maria Assunta

The word duomo comes from the Latin domus, meaning the house of the Lord. So nothing at all to do with domes.

The earliest cathedral in Siena seems to have been built on the hill called Castelvecchio and dedicated to Saint Boniface, the 5th-century pope. This site became the convent of Santa Margherita, and later the Istituto Pendola.
As the highest point in the city this has always been an important spot, likely since a Roman temple to Minerva stood here. There's been a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary here at least since the 9th century, and a bishop's palace. In December 1058 a synod was held here resulting in the election of pope Nicholas II and the deposition of the antipope Benedict X. The first documented evidence of plans to build a cathedral here date to 1136. The Siena-born Pope Alexander III is said to have consecrated the site in 1179, but this seems unlikely. Work here began around 1220, but it wasn't until 1258 that the overseeing of the work was entrusted to Cistercian monks from San Galgano, an abbey south-west of Siena, a famously capable bunch, who provided the Operaio (works manager) until 1314. The enlarged Duomo was dedicated in 1267.

By 1265 the basic work had been complete and one of the monks, Fra Melano, went to Pisa to commission a pulpit from Nicola Pisano and then in 1280 Nicola's son Giovanni was employed to work on the façade. By 1297 Giovanni had stormed off in a huff at the commune's accusations of mismanagement of funds and materials. Then in 1317 it was decided that the Duomo was going to be too small and in 1335 the foundation stone of a new and massive structure was laid. The work was directed by goldsmith Lando di Pietro.

The plan was that the existing church should become merely the transept of a much bigger building. This work was begun but cracks and errors halted the work, which resumed but was finally halted by the plague of 1348, as the population halved and funding dried up. In 1350 the foundations were found to be woefully inadequate and the materials used so far to have been substandard.  The Florentine architect Benci di Cione was brought in to advise and he advised that if the building continued it would fall down. The remains of this extension, largely the right aisle, still speak of Sienese ambition and hubris and are now used as a car park and the Museo dell' Opera. The space was filled with the Bishop's Place, removed in the 19th century, with the four large windows added in 1898. The proposed new façade, now called the Facciatone, also remains, and you can walk along the top.
During the 1920s the art historian, and mistress and biographer of Mussolini, Margherita Sarfatti proposed that this pre-plague project finally be completed.

The exterior

The gothic façade, first entrusted to Giovanni Pisano at the end of the 13th century. He was probably responsible for the design of the lower level. This facade, covering the previous plain masonry, was sort-of finished in 1377, but it was not until 1878 that the poor-quality mosaics, made in Venice, were added in the topmost triangular pediments, under architect Giuseppe Partini, with the bronze door following in 1958, replacing the wooden originals. This Porta della Riconoscenza was commissioned in 1946 the thank the Virgin for saving the city from German bombs during their retreat from Tuscany. The façade is a mixture of sculpture, stained glass, mosaic and pinnacles, mostly depicting scenes and figures from the life of the Virgin, including the life of her parents, Joachim and Anna.
The 14 statues of the the pagan sibyls, philosophers and prophets who foretold Christ's coming, on the second tier were carved by Giovanni Pisano. Those on the façade are copies from 1869, by Manetti, the originals being now in the Museo dell'Opera, except for one, the bust of the figure of the prophet Haggai, discovered in 1963, which is in the V&A museum in London.
The bas reliefs over the door, of 1297-1300, are by Tino di Camaino, the Sienese sculptor who would carve the Petroni monument inside the Duomo 15 years later. The 36 busts of the prophets and patriarchs around the rose window are copies by Tito Sarocchi of the 14th century originals.
The lantern on the dome dates to the 17th century and is by Bernini.
When the old archiepiscopal palace was demolished in the mid-17th century it exposed the nave wall on that side which therefore needed cladding, in a gothic pastiche style, by Gianlorenzo Bernini.


The interior

Gothic, essentially in its vaulting and looming quality, and somewhat overwhelming when you first enter, due to the stripes and there being decorated surfaces all over. Also the crowds and the roped-off areas guiding your route. Somewhat generic stucco busts of Popes stare down from a frieze bellow the clerestory all round the church.  The gallery of 172 terracotta popes is where the original wooden roof sat - the clerestory level being a later, more gothic, addition. These popes originally included Pope Joan, a mythical figure, but it was removed around 1600 on the orders of Clement VIII.
A set of
Twelve Apostles by Giovanni Pisano adorned columns inside. In the 18th-century works by Giuseppe Mazzuoli replaced the originals (now in the Opera Museum). The black and white postcard (see below) shows these 18th-century Apostles in situ. These replacements were themselves replaced by reproductions of the originals and acquired in 1895 by the Brompton Oratory in London, where they remain. The reproduction of the Pisano studio's originals are now to be found outside on the roof of the nave and right-hand aisle.

Left side
The first three paintings over the altars on the left can safely be skipped, as can much of the late 16th/early 17th century painting in here.
 The fourth is the standout pale monumental marble
Piccolomini Altar (see right) commissioned in 1491 by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini from Lombard sculptor Andrea Bregno. The statues of Saints Gregory and Paul in the two main niches to the right and Saints Pius and Peter in the niches to left are by Michelangelo, who also started the Saint Francis in the upper left niche, finished by Pietro Torrigiani. (Torrigiani it was, according to Vasari, who busted Michelangelo's nose during a fight in the Brancacci chapel, was banished from Florence, and ended up in England, working for Henrys VII and VIII, among others.) Michelangelo's somewhat lacklustre work dates to 1501/3 and is one of three projects, between the Pieta in Rome and the David in Florence, which he left unfinished - he was commissioned to carve fifteen figures here. The sculpted Virgin in the central upper niche is by Jacopo della Quercia. The small sweet gold-framed Virgin and Child (1390) painting in the centre is by Paolo di Giovanni Fei and is presumably a copy of the one in the Opera museum. Its wooden frame has traces of sixteen compartments for relics.
Further on Pintoricchio's fresco of the Coronation of Pius III as Pope is over the carving-embellished entrance to the Piccolomini Library with cases containing open graduals and breviaries. The  vivid and and restored-looking ceiling and wall frescos, of c.1503, above the cases are considered Pintoricchio's masterpiece, executed with the help of Giacomo Pacchiarotti. The library was made out of the old cathedral canonry for donor Francesco Todeschini, who was Pope Pius III for 10 days, to honour, and house the Greek Latin and Hebrew codices of his mother's brother Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who was Pope Pius II and was a true, and quite rare, Renaissance man amongst the Renaissance popes. Pintoricchio had been a pupil of Perugino and brought a number of fellow pupils with him, including Raphael. The latter's involvement in this cycle has been contested since Vasari. There are lots of cartoons of the scenes by the young Raphael, though. The cycle begins at the rear to the right of the window and depicts ten incidents in the life of Pius II and amounts to an oddly comprehensive program for someone who was neither a saint nor a ruler. On display are the Duomo's choir books, illustrated by Sano di Pietro, Girolamo di Cremona and Liberale di Verona amongst others. Liberale's work is the most famous, including the striking miniature from Gradual 12 showing the Allegory of the Wind with his big blue hair. He came to Siena in 1466 from the fruitful scriptorium of Santa Maria in Organo in Verona.
Around the corner past the Library is the domed Capella di San Giovanni Battista, the work of Giovanni di Stefano, the son of the painter Sassetta, finished in 1482 and created to house an arm relic of the saint donated by Pope Pius II Piccolomini. The font (1484) and the bases of the decorated columns are the work of Antonio Federighi, also responsible for part of the pavement and the water stoups by the entrance. The bronze stature of Saint John the Baptist in the gilt-decorated central niche is by Donatello, made in Florence in 1457 and damaged in transit here. Dingy, damaged and restored frescoes by Pintoricchio and paintings by Giovanni di Stefano.

The transept
Next is the crossing, two altars wide, and the famous pulpit by Nicola Pisano, finished in 1268, after his Pisa Baptistery pulpit, with the help of his son Giovanni and Arnolfo di Cambio. The panels, showing scenes from the Life of Christ, duplicate those on the Pisa pulpit, but are deeper and more detailed.
Carrying on, to the left of the presbytery is the corner Capella di Sant'Ansano which has both the dark pavement tomb of Bishop Pecci of Grossetto (1426-7) by Donatello (shifted to the left and tilted so as to not be walked on) and the unrestrained wall tomb of Cardinal Riccardo Petroni by Tino da Camaino of 1314/18. The latter is said to have been influential on Italian tomb architecture for the next century and to have had its scenes very influenced by those on Duccio's Maesta of just a year previous.
To the right above it is a tall thin stained glass window depicting full-length Saints Francis, Blaise and Anthony by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop. The altarpiece in here is the large Saint Ansanus Baptises the People of Siena of 1593-96 (see right) by the Sienese mannerist Francesco Vanni. It replaced Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi's famous Annunciation, with Saints Ansanus and Massima (see The Altars of the Patron Saints below right) presumably because that work was looking old fashioned. It's replacing a Marian subject with an episode featuring the city's obscure patron saint is also a reflection of its time.
The (usually closed) sacristy entrance is in the left wall of the presbytery. It contains a very damaged fresco cycle of the Life of the Virgin of 1411/12 by Benedetto di Bindo, one of the more major of the minor painters that followed the Lorenzetti and Simone Martini. In the vaults of the chapels here he also painted The Four Evangelists and The Four Doctors of the Church. Also in here some fragments remain of frescoed scenes from the lives of the four patron saints of Siena by Domenico di Bartolo, painted c.1438.
The high altar of 1352 is by Baldassare Peruzzi, the Sienese architect best known for collaborating with Raphael on the Palazzo Farnesina in Rome for the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. The stained glass in the large round window is from a design by Duccio from 1288, making it very early for such work in Italy. It's a copy, the original now being in the Museo dell'Opera, and features a very early depiction of the Assumption. The back of the presbytery has carved stalls with intarsia panels by Fra Giovanni da Verona, famed also for his work in the church of Santa Maria in Organo in his home city. The panels were originally in the choir of the Abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore but were brought here in 1813 and inserted into the backrests of the 14th-century stalls. The frescoes above are mostly by Domenico Beccafumi and Ventura Salimbeni.

Right side

...was fenced off on my visit...
The right side has thinner pickings, but there's the Capella del Sacramento nine chapels down opposite the Capella di Sant'Ansano. It has five bas reliefs probably removed from a dismantled pulpit carved by Domenico dei Cori in 1425.
Nearer the main door, mirroring the position of the Capella di San Giovanni Battista opposite, is the Roman Baroque style Capella Chigi, built in 1659/62 to a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Alexander VII, Fabio Chigi, a Sienese pope, it was the last major addition the Duomo's fabric. It was intended to house the venerated Madonna del Voto, an anonymous 13th-century painting which has been attributed to Guido da Siena and, most recently, to Dietisalvi di Speme. This image, cut down from a larger work, possibly a dossal, previously called the Madonna delle Grazie, is the one which tradition says is the Virgin before which the pre-Montaperti dedication of Siena to the Virgin was made. Two of the four niche statues - the ones nearest the door - are by Bernini - the Mary Magdalene and Penitent Saint Jerome, as is the gilded bronze frame for the Virgin, with its angels and putti, and the design of the railings.

The fifth altar, after four more skippable altars mirroring those opposite, from the door on the right is the Tomb of Tommaso Piccolomini, above the door to the campanile, by Neroccio di Bartolomeo Lando. Below are bas reliefs depicting episodes from the life of the Virgin by Urbano da Cortono, a collaborator with Donatello known for his Tomb of Cristoforo Felice in San Francesco in Siena.


The pavement

Begins with geometric patterns and some scenes outside and progresses to 56 figurative intarsia marble panels inside. Made between 1349 and 1547 and involving almost every artist who worked in the city between these dates, preparing the cartoons that the stonemasons would then make into coloured marble. The panels initially echoed the black and white stripes of the walls, but by the time the biblical and civic subjects in the transept were being made the colouring had got richer, using red and yellow too. New Testament subjects were avoided as it was thought blasphemy to walk on Christ, his Mother, and the saints. By 1600 the floor was being covered with boards to protect it from wear. Replacements and repairs of worn panels followed, largely in the 19th century by sculptors Leopoldo Maccari and Antonio Manetti.

Built in 1313, it has six bells, the oldest one being cast in 1149. It has a relief of the Virgin and Child of 1458 by Donatello over the door. He had returned to Siena in 1457 hoping to be asked to make the bronze doors, but was disappointed.

Lost art
in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

The Museo here has rooms of stuff, mostly from the Duomo, and was created in the 19th century by walling up the first three arches of the right-hand aisle of what was planned as the new huge cathedral in the 14th century. Here much of the statuary, replaced by copies in the 19th century, can be seen up close, and Duccio's stained-glass window for the choir.

Concentrating on altarpieces...
The early 13th century Madonna degli Occhi Brossi (Madonna with the Big Eyes) is one of the earliest altarpieces to have survived. It is, in fact, most likely that it was created as an antependium (altar frontal) as it has been cut down, losing flanking narrative scenes. It was probably moved up onto the high altar in the Duomo during the 13th century. The central Christ child and the Virgin's pose places it firmly in the Byzantine Hodegetria tradition. It is believed that this was the Virgin that was addressed during the dedication of Siena to the Virgin in 1260 on the day before the famous victory of the Sienese over Florence at the battle of Montaperti at which she ensured the Sienese victory with a divine fog..
Pietro Lorenzetti's late and lovely Birth of the Virgin of 1342 (now in the same room as Duccio's Maesta in the Museo dell'Opera) was the central panel of the Saint Savinus Altarpiece over the altar dedicated to the saint (one of Siena's four patron saints) in the corner chapel of the left transept. (See
The Altars of the Patron Saints right.) The side panels, Saints Savinus and Bartholomew, are lost but a predella panel showing Saint Savinus before the Governor Venustianus in the National Gallery in London.
The four panels depicting Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Benedict, Francis of Assisi and Mary Magdalene by Ambrogio Lorenzetti of 1320/30, which used to flank a, now lost, central panel, were originally on the altar of the Magi in the Duomo. These panels underwent restoration in 1997. Also by Ambrogio is the special Presentation in the Temple which used to be in the San Crescenzio chapel here, now in the Uffizi. It was painted in 1342, the same year as his brother's Birth of the Virgin mentioned above.
A favourite polyptych of mine, The Virgin of Humility with Saints Augustine, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul by Gregorio di Cecco, a pupil and adopted son of Taddeo di Bartolo, signed and dated 1432 (see above and a sweet detail right) taken from the Altar of the Visitation here. A pinnacle panel of The Annunciate Angel is in a private collection in Turin.
The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints John the Evangelist, Nicholas, Gregory and Jerome, a late altarpiece (1480) by Matteo di Giovanni for the chapel of Niccolò Cristoforo Celsi in the Duomo. And by the same artist, a altarpiece of the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Anthony of Padua and Bernardino and Angels, from the altar of Saint Anthony of Padua chapel in the Baptistery.

A series of panels which made up a reliquary cupboard by Benedetto di Bindo, who also decorated the sacristy here, and trained Sassetta.

Lost art not in the Museo dell'Opera
The anonymous Blessing Redeemer altar frontal in the Pinacoteca has been dated to 1215 and linked with the Madonna degli Occhi Grossi mentioned above, being in the original format of that work before it was cut down.
A section of marble choir screen by the workshop of Nicola Pisano c.1272 is in the V&A in London.  It has a female head is one rectangle and a lion and cub in another.  The coloured marble design on its reverse suggests that it was later used as a table top.
A 1342 altarpiece of the Presentation of the Virgin, a fine late work by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, is in the Uffizi. A panel of the Allegory of Redemption, also by Ambrogio, is in the Pinacoteca. It's thought that they were originally once part of an altarpiece for an altar dedicated to Saint Crescentius here. (See The Altars of the Patron Saints right.) They both ended up in the Spedale di Monna Agnese (see San Niccolò in Sasso ) from which they were later dispersed, The Presentation going to the Florence Accademia in 1822. It is now in the Uffizi. A pinnacle by Ambrogio depicting Saint John the Baptist is in Copenhagen.
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bartolommeo Bulgarini in the Fogg Museum, dated c.1350, is now thought to be the central panel of the altarpiece in the chapel of Saint Victor (See
The Altars of the Patron Saints right.)  A pair of panels (sometimes previously attributed to the Palazzo Venezia Master) of Saints Victor and Corona, now in Copenhagen, are thought to have been parts of the same altarpiece, along with two predella panels, now in the Städel in Frankfurt (The Blinding of St Victor) and the Louvre ( The Crucifixion), all now thought to be by Bulgarini.
The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple altarpiece by Paolo di Giovanni Fei of 1398-1399, was commissioned for the chapel of San Pietro here, is now in the National Gallery in Washington.
The exceptional Annunciation with Saints Ansanus and Massima (see right) was painted in 1333 by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi, his brother-in-law, for the altar of Saint Ansanus here, located to the left of the chancel, where Saint Ansanus Baptising the Sienese
from 1593-96 by Francesco Vanni is to be seen now. The Annunciation, one of a set of four altarpieces dedicated to Siena's patron saints (See
The Altars of the Patron Saints right.) was moved to the church of Sant’Ansano towards the end of the 16th century having been replaced by the Vanni presumably because it was looking old fashioned. It is now in the Uffizi, where it went in 1799 in a poor exchange for two paintings by Luca Giordano, Christ Before Pilate and The Deposition, both from 1682. The rarely-depicted figure of Saint Massima, Ansanus's god-mother, was previously thought to be Saint Margaret.
The first documented commission awarded to Vecchietta is dated 1439 and is for two statues, The Virgin and the Annunciate Angel which he sculpted and painted, along with Sano di Pietro, for the high altar here. They are now lost.
The Madonna della Neve (Virgin of the Snow) altarpiece of 1432, painted for the Saint Boniface chapel here by Sassetta is now in the Uffizi. It was commissioned by Lodovicha Bertini, the wife of the sculptor Turino di Matteo. She chose the saints depicted and the subject of the predella panels - the miraculous fall of snow on the 5th of August 852 that prompted the building of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It is an early forerunner of the unified-space altarpiece - the gothic gables above the figures still divide the space into three.
Nineteen illusionistic intarsia panels for the choir stalls in the Saint John Chapel here were made by by Antonio Barli in the late 15th century. Those that were moved to the Collegiata of San Quirico d'Orcia in 1749 have survived, the rest have been lost.

The church in art

Domenico Beccafumi's The Offering of the Keys of the City to the Virgin before the Battle of Porta Camollia, a panel of 1526/7, is painted taking place in front of the chapel dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazi, which housed the famous votive image, before the chapel was demolished in 1659. It is now in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. An earlier Offering of the Keys, from 1483, when exiles from the Novesco threatened to capture Siena, was commemorated in a Gabella panel by Pietro Orioli which also shows the chapel, more clearly. It is still in the Siena State Archives.





    The Maestà    

The Maestà by Duccio was painted between 1308 (the contract survives) and 1311, when it was processed at noon on the 9th of June with great crowds and ceremony through Siena. It was unique, huge and double-sided, and part of the ambitious plans for the expansion of the Duomo. Its display is now spread around three walls of one room in the Museo dell'Opera - the main panel on one wall and the spandrel and pinnacles panels on the other two - which I found functional but dull. It is said to have originally had a complicated carpentry mechanism involving curtains, a canopy and three painted wooden angels who descended to hand the priest the Host, chalice and corporal (linen cloth); with four more angels holding candles (two in front, two behind) five more candlesticks and two ostrich eggs.

The front main panel (see above) shows the Virgin as the Queen of Heaven enthroned and surrounded by angels and saints, with the four patron saints of Siena kneeling. These are, on the left Ansanus and Savinus, two martyred bishops, and on the right Crescentius, a child martyr under Diocletian whose relics came to Siena Cathedral in 1058, and Victor, a Syrian soldier who was declared a patron of the city after 1288, replacing Saint Bartholomew as one of the four. The ten apostles not in the main panel group are half-length in a freeze in the top corners. Episodes from the life of the Virgin (also readable as the early life of Christ) are depicted in the predella, with events from her last days on the lower pinnacle panels. The bottom row begins with the The Annunciation, the top row with the The Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin. The narrative scenes in the predella alternate with prophets with scrolls.
The front faced the nave, with the back visible to the canons in the choir
The back (see below) depicts scenes from the life of Christ - his ministry in the predella, his passion on the main register and his post-resurrection appearances above. Angels top the pinnacles on both sides.

It has been much moved and chopped about over the centuries. It was on the high altar for nearly two hundred years, but  in 1506 a new altar was built and it was replaced by Vecchietta's bronze tabernacle (taken from the high altar of the church of Santissima Annunziata in Santa Maria della Scala). It was documented as being above the Saint Sebastian altar in the left transept in 1536. In 1776 it was cut into seven pieces and was sawn in half front-from-back, incompetently - the Virgin's face was damaged. The front was placed in the Saint Ansanus chapel in the left transept and the back put in the Saint Victor chapel, with the predella and top panels put in the sacristy. In 1878 it was put back together and put in the Museo dell'Opera. Major restoration work was carried out in 1956. The missing predella panels, which were put on the market in the 19th century, are now (one each from the front) in the National Galleries in London and Washington; with rear predella panels now in the Frick, the National Galleries in London (which has two) and Washington, the Thyssen Bornemisza in Madrid and the Kimbell in Texas. Pinnacle angels are now in Brussels, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and 's-Heerenberg in The Netherlands. The Coronation of the Virgin is in the Szépmüveszéti Muzeum in  Budapest.

The lost large central upper panels would probably have been The Assumption of the Virgin and The Coronation of the Virgin on the front and The Ascension and Christ in Glory on the back. The lost first predella panel on the back would probably have been The Baptism of Christ or maybe the first of his temptations, as it's followed by the second and third.


    The Altars of the Patron Saints   

By the 13th-century the patron saints of Siena were Ansano, Savinus, Victor and Crescentius, they being shown kneeling before the Virgin in Duccio's Maesta. Amongst these obscure saints' claims to worthiness were Savinus being believed to be the first bishop of Siena, Crescentius simply because the bishop had acquired his relics in 1058. A later, and equally nondescript, substitution was Saint Victor, who had replaced Bartholomew. Victor was a soldier in 2nd century Syria martyred for his conversion to Christianity. His name is linked in martyrdom with Saint Corona a 16 year old also martyred, for sticking up for him. She has become better known during the recent coronavirus pandemic. As part of the ambitious plans of the early 1300s to expand the choir and add a new sacristy, it was decided to commission altarpieces for the new altars either side of the high altar devoted to each of them and, unsurprisingly, to feasts of the Virgin.
Crescentius had been beheaded in Rome, and Antifredus, the Bishop of Siena, acquiring his relics from Rome is the only known scene from his 'life' in Sienese art. As an early Christian martyr he was a good choice. Savinus was venerated as the first Bishop of Siena, despite his actually having been Bishop of Faenza. Both saints are evidence of Siena's somewhat desperate need for an ancient past, given that the city had only really gained stature in the medieval period. Ansanus was a better bet. A 3rd-century Roman persecuted during the reign of Diocletian, he had been an impressive converter and baptiser of heathens after being brought to Siena as a prisoner, beheaded between Siena and Arezzo in 303. His body is said to have been found by a shepherdess in 1107, and his head was snatched from the also-claiming Bishop of Arezzo and brought back to Siena in procession. The crowd's cries of il Santo viene ('the saint is coming') led to the Porta Pispin formerly being known as the Porta San Viene. It is said that he is Siena's John the Baptist, as his baptising arm was processed through the city on the Tuesday after Penetecost, one of his three observed feast days. This unimpressive bunch explains why the population of Siena later took Catherine and Bernardino so much more to their hearts.


But back to the altarpieces commissioned for the Saint's altars, which began in 1333 with the one for Saint Ansanus, Simone Martini's famous Annunciation, with Saints Ansano and Massima, painted with Lippo Memmi, his brother-in-law, signed by both of them and dated. The division of labour between the pair is uncertain and has been much debated. It's the only one of the three with a gold ground, but its depth and illusionistic detail are impressive and innovative. The female saint previously thought to be Margaret is now thought to be Massima, a martyr and the god-mother of Ansano. There would have been a predella, now lost, showing scenes from the life of the saint, and the central tondo of God the Father is also gone.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Presentation in the Temple was next, for the altar of Saint Crescentius, followed by his brother Pietro's Birth of the Virgin, both in 1342, nine years after Simone's altarpiece, he having left for Avignon. They share the importance of being the first narrative scenes made the central panels in an altarpiece. They have also both lost their flanking saint panels, confirmed as present in early inventories and said to have included the dedicatory saints, and their predellas.

The Birth of the Virgin
was flanked by Saints Savinus and Bartholomew, the latter being Siena's favoured apostle. Documents detailing the payment of a scholar for translating the story of the life of the saints have led to the belief that the altarpiece had a predella with such scenes. The only likely panel found is in the National Gallery in London. It's unobvious subject has been identified as Saint Savinus before the Governor Venustianus.
The Presentation at the Temple is a scene closely associated with the feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Ambrogio's panel is known to have been flanked by panels showing Crescentius on the left, carrying his head (cephalophorous is the term for this), with the Archangel Michael on the right.  It has been suggested that the Allegory of the Redemption in the Pinacoteca could have been part of the predella.

The central panel of the altarpiece painted for the altar of Saint Victor was lost, but it was documented as a Nativity. The 20th century saw this identified as the Adoration of the Shepherds by Bartolommeo Bulgarini in the Fogg Museum, which has been much cut down, dated c.1350 (see right). A pair of panels of Saints Victor and Corona, now in Copenhagen, are thought to have been parts of the same altarpiece, along with two predella panels, in Frankfurt and Paris. (See
Lost art not in the Museo dell'Opera left.)



The Baptistery

Most Italian baptisteries are freestanding structures opposite their church's façade, so Siena's is unusual, to say the least, in being under the apse of the Duomo. Work resumed on the Gothic façade by Domenico di Agostino in 1355, but it was never finished. This original plan had involved extending the Duomo by two bays over the baptistery. Also planned were twenty-three male and female heads. Only eight of these have survived - the originals are on the wall in the last room of the Crypt, replaced by casts on the Baptistery façade. They are thought to have had no significance beyond being purely decorative.

Completed c.1325, probably by Camaino di Crescenzio, it carries on the stripy and decorated look of the Duomo. Two bays long with two aisles and a half-domed apse.
There's an hexagonal font of 1417-30 with eight bronze panels of scenes from the life of the Baptist by Lorenzo Ghiberti (The Baptism of Christ and The Baptist before Herod), Donatello (The Feast of Herod - restored for recent Donatello exhibitions) and Jacopo della Quercia (The Angel Announcing the Baptist's Birth to Zaccaria ). Jacopo was also responsible for the marble tabernacle above, the summit statue of John the Baptist and five niche statues of the Prophets. Donatello also did two of the corner angels (Faith and Hope) and (with Giovanni di Turino) the small putti on the tabernacle above. There's a cast of this font in the Victoria and Albert museum in London which has all five of these putti, one having been lost from the original since the cast was made in 1875-7.
Three unmajor altarpieces to the left. In the right aisle are two gold-ground ones, a Virgin and Child with Saints (including Saint Stephen looking even more like Mickey Mouse than usual) (see below) by Andrea Vanni (taken from the church of Santo Stefano alla Lizza) with a slightly later predella by Giovanni di Paolo with scenes from the life of Saint Stephen and a Crucifixion with Saints Jerome and Bernardino. Also an 1896 one of The Immaculate Conception with Saints, Joseph, Anne, Paul and Elizabeth by Giuseppe Catani Chitti. Imagine a Pre-Raphaelite gold-ground altarpiece. Chitti later settled in Florence, where he met the English Pre-Raph artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, and was also a talented forger, of works in the style of Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi, amongst others, and in collaboration with famed forger Federico Joni.
The fresco decoration of the ceiling and apse is mostly by Vecchietta and was painted between 1450 and 1454,  in the wake of the the 1450 canonisation of local saint Bernardino. He and his concerns feature heavily. Along with scenes from the Life of the Virgin and The Passion there are the twelve Articles of the Apostles' Creed, repeated during the baptism liturgy and an unusual subject outside Siena, also painted by Vecchietta in the sacristy of the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala. The three impressive Passion scenes in the apse vault (Agony, Crucifixion and Lamentation) are earlier work by the Bolognese artist Michele di Matteo, finished in 1447?!).


The Crypt

Calling this 12th-century space a crypt is descriptive, maybe, but deceptive - it is thought to have been an entrance narthex, maybe also part of a reception area for pilgrims. When the baptistery was built this under-church was filled with rubble so that the Duomo's choir could be on the same level as the nave. This surviving small section It was only found and excavated in 1999-2003, but as the rubble was holding up the church above a supporting steel structure had to be built before the debris could be cleared.
Amongst the period graffiti on the decoration of the lower parts of the walls (see photo below right) are representations of hands, known as 'Guidonian hands' which were used by singers as mnemonic reminders of changes and chords, which points to the space being used for choir practice. (This observation from a forthcoming book on the defacing of panel paintings and frescoes by Megan Holmes.)
It's a delightfully ramshackle and random trio of spaces. There's the main middle fresco-fragment filled area itself (see below and right), the smaller space that you enter first, also decorated with frescoes, and the first space beyond, the so-called 'old foundry', which is without decoration but with some appealing stone and brickwork and random arches from the old cathedral structure. This area was used for workshops but chemical analysis of the much-blackened walls has revealed that it wasn't used for the smelting and working of metal as tradition had had it.
The frescoes (which have been dated to the the last quarter of the 13th century) depict 16 scenes from the Old Testament (on the upper wall and largely lost) and 22 from the New Testament below. The Passion scenes begin in the small left section, with a very fragmented Last Supper, followed by The Washing of the Feet and The Betrayal.  In the larger middle section there is The Crucifixion, The Deposition, The Entombment (with a small lower fragment of The Resurrection above) then The Harrowing of Hell. In the right-hand section The Infancy scenes begin, with The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Adoration of the Magi (the last two both very fragmentary), The Presentation (very fragmentary), The Flight into Egypt, and Jesus at School.
They are uniformly vivid, but vary much in size, and state, having been covered in rubble for so long, and chopped about by various bits of building work resulting in parts lost behind brick arches and girders. There looks to be several different hands and more than one layer. The scenes are similar, it is said, to ones depicted on panels by artists in the circle of Guido da Siena, such as Rinaldo da Siena, Guido di Graziano and Dietisalvi di Speme. It has also been suggested, of course, that Duccio may have worked with them, specifically on the Entombment and the Bishop in Benediction.

Opening times
10.30 - 5.30; Sundays & public holidays: 1.30 - 5.30 (6.00 in summer all week)

Baptistery, Museum & Crypt:
10.30 - 6.00 1st March - 31st October and 26th December - 6th January
10.30 - 5.30 2nd November - 28th February


Centre :: East :: West :: Oltrarno :: Fiesole