A unique artwork that conceals an allegorical message, an invitation to the continuous thirst for knowledge. We are talking about the floor of Siena Cathedral, a marble covering crafted from the 1300s to the 1800s by the greatest Sienese artists as well as il Sassetta, Domenico Beccafumi, Matteo di Giovanni and Pinturicchio. In 1505, Pinturicchio also made the stunning inlay, Monte della Sapienza, which symbolically shows the way to virtue and a wonderful depiction of Fortune as an angelic woman resembling Botticelli’s Venus who rules the destiny of men.
Vasari called it the “biggest and most magnificent” floor ever and it’s not hard to understand why: each of the 56 squares called “tarsie” was designed by Renaissance masters, copied by marble sculptors and worked by masons in wonderful local marble, from the grey Sienese Montagnola to the prized yellow broccatello. The three aisles concentrate on episodes and characters in Greek and Roman humanist culture who prophesized the coming of the Saviour, such as Hermes Trismegistus, the precursor of the prophets, while the Madonna and Christ only reveal their presence at the foot of the altar and under the cupola you find the stories of the Old Testament. The inlay designed by Domenico Beccafumi dedicated to Isaac’s sacrifice is almost futuristic, with a particular focus on the landscape, where contorted animals and trees stand out.
Equally striking are the inlays of the Massacre of the Innocents by Matteo di Giovanni, with coloured marble that creates a chiaroscuro effect, and the Story of Judith, with battle scenes reminiscent of Paolo Uccello’s art, as well as Beccafumi’s Moses, who made the water flow from the rocks of Mount Horeb.
The floor, which is usually covered with special cloths for two-thirds of the year to protect it from wear and tear, is revealed every year on August 18 after the Palio dell’Assunta until late October.