Good and bad government, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

(1338-1339)
   The Allegory of Good and Bad Government is a fresco in the Sala della Pace in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. A fresco of huge proportions—so huge in fact that it cannot be photographed all at once—it was meant as admonition for the members of the Great Council, the Nine, who governed Siena from 1287 until 1355 and who met in this room. The fresco is composed of three scenes: the Allegory of Good Government, the Peaceful City and Peaceful Country, and the Effects of Bad Government. The Allegory of Good Government is on the wall that receives the most light. Here, an allegorical figure with orb and scepter, the Commune of Siena, is dressed in the city's black and white heraldic colors and enthroned. The Virtues, identified by inscriptions, surround him. Ambrogio utilized the same compositional arrangement as in Last Judgment scenes, with the allegorical Commune of Siena taking the place of the judging Christ and bound criminals to his left and good citizens to his right taking on the role of the blessed and the damned. The figure of Justice, also enthroned and accompanied by Wisdom and Concord, stands out from the rest of the Virtues to stress the importance of governing justly and wisely. The scene leads to the Peaceful City and Peaceful Country where the effects of good government are clearly elucidated. The city, a portrait of Siena, is shown as a prosperous place where commerce, new construction, and education thrive. Men and their loaded mules pass through the city gates to bring produce for sale, houses are built, a school is in session, and citizens dance in the streets. On the city gates is the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, denoting Sienese claim of descent from Remus. A hunting party passes through the gates that lead to the countryside, the first landscape to be rendered since the ancient era. It offers a panoramic view of cultivated, fertile lands filled with grain, olive trees, and grapevines. Above hovers Security with a man who hangs from the gallows for having disturbed the peace in one hand and a scroll that promises safety to those who live under the rule of the law in the other. On the darkest wall in the Sala della Pace is the Effects of Bad Government, now in poor condition. Utilizing the same formula as for the Allegory of Good Government, the demonic figure of Tyranny is enthroned and surrounded by War, Cruelty, Treason, Frenzy, and Discord. The city is shown pillaged, with criminals roaming, and the countryside as barren—the effects of poor rulership. The cycle's message to the Council of Nine could not have been conveyed more clearly. The Sienese expected their governing body to rule wisely to ensure prosperity in their city.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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