Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunny Siena

January 14
In order to be early, Katie and I woke up just after six and took the 7:16 bus into the station, where we joined the rest of our classmates and boarded a charter bus to Siena. The morning was foggy, but the sun broke through as we traveled through the gorgeous Tuscan hills. Even though Siena is to the south of Florence, it must be at a higher altitude because everyone froze as soon as we got off the bus. After Jodie took us to get cappuccino—that succeeded in waking us up as well as warming us up—we were ready to appreciate the beauty of Siena (and crowd into the sunlight whenever possible. Seriously, it was chilly—I know, these forty-degree days have spoiled me. No snow!).

We started out with a tour of the Basilica di San Domenico, which houses the relics of Saint Catherine of Siena. Her head and thumb are kept in Siena, while her body resides in Rome. She played an important part in the return of the papacy to Rome and was involved in trying to keep peace between different cities. Florence and Siena have a huge rivalry, which is fine by me because it resulted in some beautiful art and architecture. Jodie took some time to elaborate on Guido of Siena’s Virgin and Child Enthroned, the first of many depictions of the Madonna and Christ that I will see in the next few weeks.

Basilica di San Domenico

After passing by St. Catherine’s birthplace (she was the youngest of twenty-five children), we hiked up the ravine (that’s how the Italians are all so skinny) to the Duomo di Siena. Upon seeing the extravagant façade, we thought we were at the entrance—oh, nope, that’s just the back. Remember the rivalry? Well, Siena wanted to out-do Florence and have the biggest church in Italy. Unfinished walls and arches still remain, but unfortunately, the city ran out of money and the Black Plague hit, which halted construction. However, the basilica was expanded later on (about seven hundred years ago), but it destroyed and covered up several thirteenth century frescoes that have only recently been rediscovered. Jodie gave us a tour of the crypt, which has still not been fully excavated (and can’t be without compromising the structure of the church). The scenes from the Old Testament have mostly been destroyed, and support beams for the basilica cut into what remains of the scenes from the New Testament.

The best view of the frescoes from the crypt that I could find online
The Duomo di Siena has the most elaborate façade I have seen to date. Famous philosophers, saints, angels, and animals are strategically placed all over the building. I say strategically because the originals were supposed to be conversing with each other, but the some replicas that are on display now were put back in the wrong place. Siena has pink marble instead of green on the exterior and the interior is composed black and white (colors associated with Siena) horizontal striped marble. And it is GORGEOUS. Every square inch of the interior is decorated: the floors have scenes of delicately inlaid marble, the busts of former popes and emperors line the tops of columns, and the ceilings (I. LOVE. CEILINGS.) were decorated with stars.

The façade of il Duomo di Siena

And its amazing interior
Also, I saw a sculpture of Saint John the Baptist by Donatello. Wait, it gets better! The Piccolomini Library, which houses ancient choir books of Gregorian chants, not only has a beautiful ceiling—said ceiling was painted by Bernardino di Betto and supposedly influenced by Raphael. No big deal or anything (!). But then we went across the way to the Museum. All of the original statues from the façade have been restored (if you restore marble incorrectly, it ends up looking like sugar) and are preserved in one of the unfinished areas. Jodie insisted on showing us one more painting, despite our growling stomachs. And it was Duccio’s Maestrá. Anyone who’s studied art history knows that teachers love to use this particular painting to demonstrate how perspective developed over time, so I’ve seen this painting in several books and written several comparisons of it, but nothing prepared me for seeing it in real life.

Duccio's Maestrá (image found)
So, still reeling from seeing the Maestrá in person, we took a quick detour before lunch and climbed up the claustrophobically small spiral staircases of the unfinished walls of the basilica, which provided the most awesome view of all of Siena. The buildings were constructed along the hillside, so from above they look clustered, but still quaint. Plus, there’s the added bonus of being able to see all of the hills fading into the distance, so it was worth the slightly terrifying climb.

Piazzo del Campo
We split up into groups for lunch and re-congregated in the Piazzo del Campo, where il Palio, the famous horse race, is held here twice a year (apparently it’s quite dangerous—Jodie said that only the horse is required to finish the race in order to win). Jodie explained how several of Siena’s towers were basically decapitated so that the Torre del Mangia would be the tallest structure in the area. Attached to the tower is the Palazzo Pubblico, or the town hall, which is still in use today. After discussing another version of the Maestrá by Simone Martini, Jodie ushered us into a side room. At first, I just saw the slightly ruined fresco on the opposite wall (water destroys frescoes very easily), but then I turned around. Again, straight from my art history books, was the most famous of Lorenzetti’s panels depicting the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government. I suppose I should start studying my itinerary more closely so I can mentally prepare myself for these artworks. Then again, I would probably still react in the same way, because the opportunity to see these masterpieces in person is absolutely astonishing.

Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government (image found)

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