The Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, Siena Cathedral, is one of the most important and magnificent Romanesque-Gothic churches in Italy.
Siena was at the height of its powers and wanted an even larger Cathedral, but this dream dissipated as a result of the 1348 plague: traces of this ambitious project are still visible in the remnants of its columns and the large incomplete Facciatone (façade). The façade of the first Dome, in white marble with some decoration in Siena red marble and Prato serpentine, is divided into two halves: a lower, executed by Giovanni Pisano in Romanesque-Gothic style, and a higher, in Florentine Gothic style, that includes a beautiful rose window framed by small gothic grooves with the busts of apostles and profits that pay tribute to the Virgin Mary with Child.
The entire inside structure is dominated by a colour dichotomy of black and white, in reference to the colours of Siena’s coat of arms.
The Cathedral’s inside is a real treasure trove of artistic masterpieces, from Nicola Pisano’s pulpit (1265-68), one of the most important sculpted pieces of the Italian 13th century, to Piccolomini’s altar, where one can admire four sculptures by the young Michelangelo: Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Saint Pious and Saint Augustine.
Just after the altar one finds the Piccolomini Library, commissioned in 1492 to store Pope Pious II’s extensive book collection. Its inside was decorated with frescoes from Pinturicchio, while in the chapel on the left one can admire Donatello’s famous San Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist) (1455).
The eight bronze statues adorning the pillars of the choir are works by Domenico Beccafumi. Above it one can see a copy of the famous stained-glass window of Duccio di Buoninsegna, completed in 1288, the oldest known stained glass of Italian manufacture. Finally, we have what may be the Cathedral’s most incredible piece: the opus sectile marble floor, a very unique piece of Italian art for its inventiveness, sheer scale and the importance of its collaborators.
Divided into 56 cells, it manifests representations that respond to the homogeneous thematic design of the Revelation.
The oldest cells date to the 2nd half of the 14th century, and the most recent to the 19th. Among those who worked on it through the centuries, we may find the names of Francesco di Giorgio, Pinturicchio, Il Sassetta, Neroccio di Bartolomeo de’ Landi, Antonio Federighi, Urbano da Cortona and, most of all, Domenico Beccafumi, who conceived as many 35 scenes and deeply innovated the form.
Cover image credit: Ilaria Giannini