Palazzo pubblico, Siena

(beg. 1298)
   The Palazzo Pubblico was built to function as Siena's city hall. A fortified structure with a belvedere in the center, a massive tower, and crenellations, the structure bends slightly to accommodate the Piazza del Campo in front. Like the Palazzo Vecchio (1299-1310) in Florence, the Palazzo Pubblico housed the priori, members of the city's highest governing body. These individuals lived and worked in the Palazzo and were subject to physical attacks from a sometimes discontented Sienese population. Therefore, it was important to build a structure that gave these men protection, hence the fortified design. To further express visually this idea that the building safeguarded the governing body, the lower story is built in stone while the upper levels are in brick. Lined with the tower is the palazzo's chapel that juts into the piazza as if to denote the interconnections that then existed between religion and politics. The Palazzo Pubblico's interior boasts a number of notable frescoes. In the Council Chamber is the Maestà by Simone Martini (1311-1317; partially repainted in 1321). Here, the Virgin is flanked by the city's patron saints who implore her to show goodwill toward Siena. The canopy above the figures includes the Sienese coat of arms and an inscription that reads, "The Virgin protects Siena which she has long marked for favor." At the base of the fresco a second inscription asks the men who convened in this room to please the Virgin by engaging in wise rulership. In the Sala della Pace (Room of Peace), where the members of the Great Council met, Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted one of the most ambitious fresco decorations of the 14th century, the Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-1339), which expounds the principles of good government through wisdom and justice and the consequences of poor judgments. The Sala del Mappamondo (Room of the Maps) features a monochromatic fresco by Lippo Vanni that documents the victory of the Sienese troops against British mercenaries at the Val de Chiana (c. 1363), while Taddeo di Bartolo's scenes from the life of the Virgin, patroness of Siena, grace the walls of the building's chapel (1406-1407). To Taddeo di Bartolo also belong the scenes in the antechapel (1412-1414) of ancient Roman personages, such as Cato and Scipio Africanus, that communicate civic concepts of justice and magnanimity. Finally, the Sala dei Priori was frescoed by Spinello Aretino (1407) with scenes from the life of Sienese Pope Alexander III to indicate that Siena honors its citizens who achieve distinction.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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