The Mosaics, a Museum, a Crypt, and Siena’s “Old City”
May 15-17, 2019
The famous mosaics set into the floor of the Duomo di Siena are covered for much of the year in order to protect them, but we were fortunate to find many of them uncovered when we were there. Together, the 56 inlaid-marble panels, in various shapes from rhomboid to rectangular to hexagonal, form what was described by the Italian painter Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) as “the most beautiful, largest and most magnificent floor that ever was made.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
It is impossible to convey the scope and magnificence of the mosaics with a photograph, although others have been more successful than we were. You can get a better sense of the magnitude of the endeavour by taking a photo from above, where you also find yourself far enough away from the mosaics to get a sense of how cleverly the third dimension has been incorporated into some of the designs. (I hope that readers are aware that they can click the “galleries” in this blog to see a larger version of each photo.)
According to the website Travelling in Tuscany, the panels were made “mainly by two different techniques: one known as graffito (tiny holes and cutting lines created in the marble and then filled with black stucco and mineral pitch) and one called marble intarsia (black, white, green, red and blue marble employed in much the same manner as wood inlaying)”. One of the most impressive works is The Slaughter of the Innocents, created (it is thought) by Matteo di Giovanni in 1482. The photo below is from Wikipedia Creative Commons.
I also loved the Sybils, of which there are ten.
Most of the contents of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (which translates as “Museum of the Cathedral’s Work”) are artifacts that used to be in the cathedral but in order to protect them, they aren’t there any more. One of these is the stained glass “rose window.”
We spent a couple of hours in the Museum but it was not long enough. This is a scant sampling of the hundreds of artifacts and artworks we saw, many of which I would have loved to simply sit down in front of, admire and attempt to absorb. (And not just because my feet were so sore by that point.)
One of the most interesting parts of the Cathedral of Siena is its crypt, which was not even discovered until 1999, when renovations undertaken beneath the chancel revealed a whole gallery of frescoes dating from the second half of the 13th century. It took three years to uncover what was there – providing not only another historical installation for visitors to the Duomo, but information of interest to art historians everywhere.
It was magnificent. (How many times can I use that word? Stay tuned to find out….)
The Old City
At last, really foot weary by this point, we made our way back to the car through the old city. This proved a challenging task, since we’d neglected to drop breadcrumbs or other markers to remind ourselves where we had parked our vehicle. The long, long stroll was painful but photographically rewarding. And we did stop for gelato.