A masterpiece of medieval Siena, the church of Santa Maria dei Servi is set on the hill dominating the Valdimontone, sited where the ancient church of San Clemente once stood.
The Serviti started renovations at the end of the thirteenth century when the church had the extended name of San Clemente in Santa Maria dei Servi.
Santa Maria dei Servi, view from the top of the Torre del Mangia
Santa Maria dei Servi, façade
The history of this building is long and complex. Expanded in the fourteenth century, in 1416 the steps were removed in favour of the 'piaggia' – the slope – which still leads to the entrance. The church was then radically transformed between 1471 and 1528 on a Renaissance model, giving it a nave with two aisles. It was consecrated in 1533 even though – as is often the case with Tuscan churches – the façade was never completed.
Next to the simple façade, where signs of the renovations can still be seen, there is an elegant and substantial bell tower. Built at the end of the thirteenth century, it was extensively restored and renovated in 1926. Fragments of frescoes in the Lorenzetti style depicting Paradiso e Inferno – Heaven and Hell – are still visible above the first chapel on the south aisle.
Anonymous, Madonna and angels, fragments of a fresco
The majestic interior has the shape of a Latin cross, with simple white marble columns punctuating the space. A few steps from the second chapel on the south aisle is the Madonna del Bordone, painted by the Florentine Coppo di Marcovaldo in 1261 while a prisoner of the Sienese after the battle of Montaperti. According to tradition this gorgeous painting was Coppo's ransom. The Virgin's clothing and her iconic posture came to be important reference points in the production of other great Sienese Madonnas.
Coppo di Marcovaldo, Madonna del Bordone
In the third chapel of the south aisle hangs the exquisite Natività della Madonna – Birth of the Virgin Mary – by the Sienese baroque painter Rutilio Manetti. While in the fifth chapel hangs a tragic Strage degli Innocenti – Slaughter of the Innocents – a fifteenth century piece by Matteo di Giovanni. This is a favourite theme of his and he painted three more versions – one in the Duomo, one in the Sala del Mappamondo and one now in the Museo di Capodimonte. The primitive rendering of the bodies of the infants and the evil depiction of Herod are worth noting.
Matteo di Giovanni, Slaughter of the Innocents
Di Giovanni's painting should be compared with a work in the second chapel of the south transept. This is another Slaughter of the Innocents but this time a fourteenth century fresco by Pietro Lorenzetti. Here too, despite damage due to age, there remains an extraordinary intensity of expression. This may also be seen in the frescoes of the second chapel of the north transept.
Niccolò di Segna, Slaughter of the Innocents
Lippo Memmi, Madonna with Infant Jesus
This is the cappella Spinelli with its arresting representations by Pietro Lorenzetti of the Banchetto di Erode – Herod's Banquet – and the Ascensione di Giovanni Evangelista – the Ascension of John the Evangelist. Despite later repairs the elegance and sensuality of Salome's dancing contrast with the masculine immobility of Herod and his guests.
Pietro Lorenzetti, Herod's Banquet - detail
Taddeo di Bartolo, Adoration of the Shepherds
The altarpiece is a Natività of 1404 by Taddeo di Bartolo.
In the most northerly chapel of this transept is the Madonna del Manto – Madonna with Mantle – painted by Giovanni di Paolo in 1436.
Giovanni di Paolo, Madonna of Mercy, 1431
On the walls of the transept itself is Astolfo Petrazzi's ornate seventeenth century Madonna della peste di Siena – Madonna of the Siena Plague. Lippo Memmi's jewel of Sienese painting, his famous and beloved Madonna del Popolo – Madonna of the People (1325) – has been moved from this transept to the Pinacoteca Nazionale.
Over the main altar there is Bernadino Fungai's substantial Renaissance work depicting L'Incoronazione della Madonna – the Crowning of the Madonna. At the centre of the Arco Trionfale is Cristo in Pietà< in a tondo or circular painting, inspired by Donatello.
In the second chapel of the north aisle is a Madonna, Bambino e due angeli – Madonna, Infant Jesus and two Angels – known as the Madonna del Belvedere, attributed to Taddeo di Bartolo. In the first, an Annunciazione della Madonna by Francesco Vanni (1588).
Santa Maria dei Servi, rear view
The sacristy contains a collection of interesting paintings by an unknown sixteenth century Sienese artist and a piscina with foliage.
The convent is a tranquil and secluded spot, with three sixteenth century cloisters now part of the university next door. In the first cloister is the Tomba di Matilde Manzoni<, daughter of the famous writer Alessandro Manzoni, she died aged only twenty-four. The convent library is well-stocked, containing several intricately illuminated Sienese manuscripts.