In 1915 the Sienese aristocrat Niccolò Bonsignori left his palace to the council for the establishment of a museum. This is now one of the most important pinacotecas or picture galleries in Italy for the richness, variety and quality of its exhibits. The collection of Sienese masterpieces from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is based on the conservation work of Abbot Giuseppe Ciaccheri, who began it in the eighteenth century. In
1932 the Pinacoteca was inaugurated in the rooms of the ancient Palazzo and the
adjacent Palazzo Brigidi.
The entrance is simple and elegant and leads to a Renaissance courtyard with stairs to each floor. Next to these stands a Roman sarcophagus. In the courtyard are another sarcophagus and a shrine with a fifteenth century fresco, crowned with an antique washbasin.
The order of the rooms is a chronological exploration of one of the loftiest schools of Medieval and Renaissance painting: the Sienese school.
This starts on the second floor where the rooms contain early Sienese works from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The visit starts on the second floor where the rooms contain early Sienese works from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
In the first room is a Crocifisso by an unknown Sienese artist and a painting on linen by Guido da Siena of Trasfigurazione, Entrata in Gerusalemme, Resurrezione di Lazzaro – Transfiguration, Entrance into Jerusalem and the Resurrection of Lazarus – unusual for the style and materials used. There is an interesting S. Clemente Papa – Pope Saint Clement – in the Arnolfini style. The Redentore benedicente tra i simboli degli evangelisti e storie della Vera Croce – the Redeemer blessing with Symbols of the Evangelists and Stories of the True Cross – repays a close look: this was an altar cloth attributed to the Maestro di Tressa and is an aesthetic bridge between the Byzantine tradition and new Italian sensibilities. Hanging on the entrance wall the Madonna con Bambino by Duccio di Buoninsegna should not be missed – its power has made it one of the symbols of the museum.
Duccio di Boninsegna, Madonna with the Infant Jesus
Room two contains S. Francesco e otto storie della sua vita – Saint Francis and eight Stories from his Life – by Guido di Graziano. Graziano is one of the greatest pre-Duccio artists. There are also several works by Dietisalvi di Speme and S. Giovanni Battista e Storie della sua vita – Saint John the Baptist and Stories from his Life – by an unknown Umbrian Master, intense in its treatment of landscape.
Guido di Graziano, Saint Peter's Frontal - detail
Room three contains a Crocifisso – the influence of Duccio and Simone Martini is obvious – and a Santa Maria Maddalena from the studio of Duccio himself. From Duccio di Buoninsegna's studio is a triptych Madonna in trono fra i SS. Pietro e Paolo – Enthroned Madonna between Saints Peter and Paul – and the luminous Madonna con Bambino e Santi Agnese, Giovanni Evangelista, Giovanni Battista, Maria Maddalena.
Simone Martini, Madonna of Mercy
In the corner on the left as you enter is the Madonna della Misericordia – Madonna of Mercies – by Simone Martini. Her mantle is open, welcoming supplicants. Her solemn expression echoes that of the Madonna con Bambino of uncertain attribution but probably also by Martini, at the other end of the same wall, with its splendid Byzantine gold background contrasting with the thin, angular faces of the two figures and the subtle but powerful play of their expressions.
Simone Martini, Madonna with Infant Jesus
Room four should not be missed, containing the Madonna dei Francescani<, a brilliantly small work of Duccio. It is one of the artist's masterpieces.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Madonna of the Franciscans
Duccio manages in this limited space an amazing stylistic condensation. The line of angels on the cornices displays the Byzantine influence, while the Madonna's angular face and watchful expression make clear reference to Cimabue. The unusual background is not gilded but chequered – a sign of Duccio's familiarity with French gothic painting. The throne's tiny details and red cushions, the carvings on the wood and the figures of the Franciscan monks in devotion all show Duccio's remarkable skill. This room also houses some Figure di santi – Portraits of Saints – by Segna diBuonaventura and a Maria Maddalena
Before moving on, a side room is completely dedicated to Bartolo di Fredi.< This small space contains a lovely dais with Storie del Battista – a popular iconographic theme in Siena – other saints and in particular an Adorazione dei Magi considered the most accomplished of di Fredi's works. This is extraordinary in its rendering of the chromatic tonality of the event, the treatment of the horses and horsemen next to the stall which has here become a kind of portico.
Bartolo di Fredi, Adoration of the Magi
Bartolo di Fredi, The Crowning of the Virgin Mary - detail
There is also a 1362 altarpiece by Niccolò di Ser Sozzo and Lucca di Tommé's portraits of the saints.
In the fifth room is the Madonna col Bambino by Simone Martini. Dating to around 1321 in the period of his return to Tuscany, after painting the Assisi cycle and working in Naples, it is a fully mature work by Martini who is able – in the iconic tradition – to play with the gold background and the complex shadows on the holy figures.
Simone Martini, Madonna with Infant Jesus
A mantle, now in a poor condition, covers the child and propels us into the Renaissance, as does the intensity of the faces. Martini's great skill is also apparent in the altarpiece dedicated to Beato Agostino Novello –Blessed Augustine Novello – painted in 1339 just before his journey to Avignon where he would die in 1344.
Simone Martini, Blessed Augustine the Second , The Saving of a child who fell from a balcony
This altarpiece is famous for the four stories which stand out on its sides, small depictions of the miracles performed by the Blessed Agostino. These are among the best examples of Martini's work, uniting his abilities with a populism immersed in the spirit of the sacred Italian Middle Ages. A further example of this is La guarigione di un bambino malato assalito da un lupo, salvataggio di un bambino caduto da un balcone, salvataggio di un cavaliere caduto in un burrone, guarigione di un bambino caduto dalla culla – The curing of a child attacked by a wolf, the saving of child who fell from a balcony, the saving of a rider who fell down a ravine, the curing of a child who fell from the cradle. Martini portrays a drama in which the sacred is celebrated through the dangers of childhood; he portrays the horror of the mothers, the simplicity of interiors, the double significance of the countryside and of nature – both a source of life and a constant threat as symbolized by wolf, horse and ravine. This glimpse into medieval life has its equal only in the Sala della Pace by Lorenzetti. Compared with these, other smaller gems such as Lippo Memmi's Madonne and Madonna del Popolo, mentioned earlier, and the beautiful San Ludovico da Tolosa, may be eclipsed.
Lippo Memmi, Madonna with Infant Jesus
Lippo Memmi, Saint Ludovic of Tolosa
Room seven contains work by the Lorenzettibrothers, Ambrogio and Pietro. Ambrogio's works should, perhaps, be considered first. The Madonna col Bambino displays a posture and expression in the infant Jesus striking for its intensity and even modernity. There are his polyptych portraits of San Paolo e San Giovanni Battista and a fine Giovanni evangelista and Allegoria della redenzione – Allegory of the Redemption – now, sadly, almost illegible.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, John the Evangelist
The precious miniature Madonna con Bambino e Santi – known as the ''little majesty'' – is a miniature with a magnificent gold background. Majestic and solemn, the Crocifisso ligneo – wooden cross – has been badly damaged. Ambrogio's masterpiece, however, is the Annunciazione, the artist's last work (1344). This painting has a profound spirituality and a unique lightness in its treatment. The chequered floor anticipates some of the greatest Renaissance art and the composition develops iconographic rules which later in the history of art are repeated with great success.
Ambrogio's elder brother Pietro is responsible for one of Siena's most gorgeous altar-pieces. This shows the enthroned Madonna with Child and Saints. On her dais, il sogno di Sobach, eremiti carmelitani alla fonte di Elia, Papa Onorio III approva la regola carmelitana, concessione del nuovo abito ai monaci carmelitani – Sobach's Dream, Carmelite Hermits at the Elia Fountain, Pope Onorio III approves the Carmelite Rule, Granting the new Habit to monks of the Carmelite Order.
Pietro Lorenzetti, Carmelite altarpiece, Sobach's Dream - detail
This altar-piece was commissioned by the Carmelites and completed in 1329 and included a cuspide – spire and side panels – now in American museums. Apart from the presence of the enthroned Madonna, enhanced by the haloed heads which follow one another through the background – as in Martini's Beato Agostino – it is the dais which strikes any viewer. The relationship between interiors and landscapes, executed with consistent mastery, is among the most perfect in fourteenth century Italian art. Giotto's influence is clear in the distinctive working of figures and objects. Also by Pietro are the SS.Bartolomeo, Cecilia, Giovanni Battista and another Madonna con Bambino e Santi in room eight.
Pietro Lorenzetti, Polyptych of San Giusto - detail
After a graceful seventeenth century chapel, in room ten is a remarkable Trinità by Taddeo di Bartolo.
Taddeo di Bartolo, Annunciation
Room eleven houses other works by this important Sienese artist. Other than his Annunciazione<, there is an intense monumental Crocifisso<; the delicate Il martirio dei SS. Cosma e Damiano – Martyrdom of Saints Cosma and Damian – the hinged diptych Adorazione dei pastori< – Adoration of the Shepherds – and the triptych Madonna col Bambino, angeli e santi.
Room twelve and thirteen contain works by Giovanni di Paolo. Importantly, his Crocifissione con Santi and Storie della Maddalena, della Madonna e di San Galgano on the dais, poetically evocative works where the cold tones of the landscapes create an backdrop for the characters. Di Paolo's famous Madonna dell'Umiltà< – Madonna of Humility – displays a rural landscape abundant with fruit trees and complex Christian significance.
Giovanni di Paolo, Madonna dell'Umiltà - Madonna of Humility - detail
Next to a landing which connects with the cloister are two landscapes: Una città sul mare and Un castello sulla riva – A city by the Sea and A castle on the River – imaginative fourteenth century works of uncertain attribution.
Anonymous, A city by the sea
Room thirteen contains di Paolo's gorgeous Giudizio Universale – Last Judgement – a fifteenth century painting harmonising medieval traditions and Renaissance influences. A Presentazione al Tempio offers a spectacular architectural background. This room also contains a masterpiece by Domenico di Bartolo – his Madonna dell'Umiltà (1433) – a vibrant expression of the high Sienese Renaissance, influenced by both Massaccio and Donatello. A S. Michele in trono by Angelo Puccinelli suggests the influence of Simone Martini though with a unique personal expression. Lastly in this room, in a glass case, are fragments of an altarpiece. This was dyed between 1423 and 1424 for the Wool Guild by Stefano di Giovanni,
Stefano di Giovanni know as Sassetta, Il profeta Elia, fragments of an altarpiece
Stefano di Giovanni known as Sassetta, Saint Anthony beaten by devils - fragments from an altarpiece
The parts of the altarpiece show I Santi Girolamo, Gregorio, Ambrogio, Agostino, Vittore, Ansano, Savino e Crescenzio; i profeti Elia, Eliseo; S. Antonio battuto dai diavoli e Ultima cena. Saint Anthony struggling with the devil and the Last Supper are the two scenes which demonstrate the greatness of Sassetta. This is clear in the linear arrangement of the figures, the pathos of the action and the precision of the landscape.
Room fourteen is pivotal to the Pinacoteca collection, containing several masterpieces. La Madonna con Bambino e Santi by Neroccio di Bartolommeo, from fifteenth century Siena, Matteo di Giovanni's La Madonna col Bambino, and, importantly, two works by Francesco di Giorgio Martini.
Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Madonna with Infant Jesus and angel
The Madonna col Bambino e angelo offers a taste of Martini's purity of treatment in the way he reworks Renaissance ideas. His Annunciazione is perhaps Martini's most famous work. Its inlaid floor and the posture of the Madonna offer a vision of divine harmony in their balance and perspective. Also by Martini is the Botticelli inspired Natività di Gesù con SS Bernardo e Tommaso – the refinement and sensuality in the faces of the Holy Family are remarkable.
Room fifteen contains works by Pietro di Domenico and Bernardino Fungai, as well as a lovely Adorazione by Matteo di Giovanni.
Room sixteen displays another masterpiece by Stefano di Giovanni – known as ''Sassetta'' – his Madonna col Bambino. This room also contains works by the Master of the Osservanza.
Sano di Pietro, The Virgin entrusts Siena to Pope Callisto III
Sano di Pietro, Enthroned Virgin with Infant Jesus
In room sixteen and seventeen are splendid works by Sano di Pietro including the Madonna in trono con Bambino< (1444) – the first-known painting by the artist – and an extended series of Santi. Room seventeen has his series of large polyptychs. These are luminous and triumphal works, almost all showing episodes from the Virgin's life. These altarpieces, apart from their aesthetic value, are evidence of the industriousness of di Pietro. He is able to depict brilliantly the development of Siena as an urban centre of commerce. Along the length of the room are placed statues by Jacopo della Quercia, in particular l'Angelo e la Vergine dell'Annunciazione, la Santa Caterina e la Pietà.
Jacopo della Quercia, Annunciation
Jacopo della Quercia, Saint Catherine of Alessandria
Room nineteen displays lovely works by Girolamo di Benvenuto and Francesco di Giorgio's a remarkable Incoronazione della Madonna, with its sinuous lines and rich figurative detailing, and his Madonna con Bambino e Angeli, a fresco taken from the Piccolomini villa. Rich figurative details are also evidenced in La Madonna in trono, a late work by Vecchietta he intended for his tomb. There is also a beautiful Arliquiera –painted on both sides – by Vecchietta.
Before going up to the first floor on the landing are fragments of a Madonna della Misericordia by Domenico di Bartolo.
Room twenty on the first floor contains works by minor artists from central and northern Italy. Room twenty-two displays works by Riccio, Arcangelo Salimbeni and an excellent Resurrezione by Giorgio Vasari.
Room twenty-three has paintings by Pietro degli Orioli – La visitazione is superb – and Girolamo Genga's Riscatto dei prigionieri and Enea fugge da Troia – Ransom of the Prisoners and Aeneas flees Troy. However, the highlight of the room is a famous Sacra Famiglia con S. Giovannino by Pinturicchio.
Pietro degli Orioli, The visitation
Pinturicchio, The Sacred Family with Saint Giovannino
This tondo< is of extraordinary compositional purity with an almost ''Leonardoesque'' fantasy landscape.
Room twenty-six is a covered terrace decorated with fourteenth century Sienese sculptures offering a splendid view over Siena from behind the Palazzo Pubblico.
Fourteenth century Sienese sculpture
Fourteenth century Sienese sculpture
Room twenty-seven marks enters the late Renaissance. Here are works by the greatest Sienese painter of the period, Domenico Beccafumi His Stimmate di
S. Caterina da Siena – Stigmata of Saint Catherine of Siena – is an early masterpiece, while the Trittico della Trinità – Triptych of the Trinity – was painted between 1512 and 1513 for the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital.
Domenico Beccafumi, The Stigmata of Saint Catherine of Siena
In this room is also an intense Madonna con Bambino e Santi diFrancesco – Madonna with Infant Jesus and Franciscan Saints – by Martini and a canvas by Beccafumi with an identical iconography. There are also canvases by Brescianino.
Domenico Beccafumi, Madonna with Infant Jesus
Room twenty-nine contains more works by Beccafumi, this time from his later period. His Natività della Vergine splendidly handles the relationships of light and shadow, as does the l'Incoronazione della Vergine.
Domenico Beccafumi, The birth of the Virgin Mary - detail
Domenico Beccafumi, The Crowning of the Virgin Mary - detail
Room thirty displays his cartoons for the floor
of the Duomo and, in the centre, Cataletto della Misericordia.
Room thirty-one displays the work of Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as ''Sodoma''.
Although not Sienese by birth –he was from Vercelli – Sodoma was adopted by the city. His distinctive, sinuous figure of Cristo alla Colonna verges on the scandalous and is one of his most famous works.
Giovanni Antonio Bazzi known as Sodoma, Christ on the column
In room thirty-two is his Deposizione della Croce – The Deposition from the Cross.
Giovanni Antonio Bazzi known as Sodoma, The Deposition from the Cross
This was painted in the early sixteenth century and is unusual in the way the figures are placed, in the intensity of the faces and for the unsettling atmosphere.
Giovanni Antonio Bazzi known as Sodoma, The Sacred Family with Saint Giovannini
Also here are his Orazione nell'Orto – Prayer in the Garden – the noble Sacra Famiglia con S.Giovannini, Giuditta< – Judith – and his Cristo al limbo – Christ in Limbo – a fresco removed from its original location.
Giovanni Antonio Bazzi known as Sodoma, Judith
Room thirty-three moves forward into the seventeenth-century and the Baroque. Here are works by Rutilio and Domenico Manetti. S. Anna e S.Gioacchino insegnano a scrivere a Maria – Saints Anna and Gioacchino teach the Virgin Mary to write – an intense Ghismunda< by Bernardino Mei, and a Decapitazione di S.Paolo by Raffaello Vanni.
Room thirty-four also contains works by Rutilio Manetti – Sacra Famiglia, S. Giovannino, S. Matteo, S. Bernardino.
Here are works by Bartalini Francesco, Sebastiano Folli, and once again a Madonna ed il Bambino appaiono a S. Savino, Martirio diS.Ansano, Incoronazione della Madonna con Santi e Susanna e i Vecchioni – Madonna and the Infant Jesus appear to Saint Savino, the Martyrdom of Saint Ansan, the Crowning of the Madonna with Saints and Susannah with the Elders – all done between 1611and 1613 by Rutilio Manetti, perhaps the most influential Sienese artist of the seventeenth century
There are more seventeenth century artists in room thirty-six, with canvases by Francesco Vanni, Ventura Salimbeni, and Francesco.
The last room is actually a vaulted corridor which leads back to room thirty-two and the late sixteenth-century works of Domenico Beccafumi. Here is a Cristo porta croce< – Christ carrying the Cross – and a splendid S. Michele scaccia gli angeli ribelli< – Saint Michael driving out the Rebel Angels (1528).
This cleverly uses light and shade to cover and reveal flesh, however it was refused by the Carmelites for their church since, for them, nudity was indecent.
Domenico Beccafumi, Saint Michael driving out the Rebel Angels
Another of Beccafumi's masterpieces is the Discesa di Cristo al Limbo< – Descent of Christ into Limbo – painted between 1530 and 1535. This shows the influence of Michelangelo and the canvas has a rare interior balance, conveying the waiting souls in Limbo – Adam and Eve are on the right – contrasted with the energetic
movement of Christ.
Domenico Beccafumi, Descent of Christ into Limbo - detail
Here the Pinacoteca ends. On the third floor is an extensive collection called the Spannocchi.
Albrecht Durer, Saint Jerome
The works are varied and significant an include Dürer's recently restored magnificent S. Girolamo and the Torre di Babele by Brueghel. There is a Natività by Lorenzo Lotto<, showing an unusually dense use of light and shade. An Annunciazione,a work of Venetian art by Paris Bordone<, shows extraordinary architectural detail combined with the movement of figures. There is a salacious Susanna e i Vecchioni – Susannah and the Elders – by Giuseppe Cesari, known as ''Il cavalier d'Arpino'' and canvases by unknown Flemish artists. Here also is a S.Caterina da Siena by Sodoma.