Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




A Useful Thing, Peace!

Siena and the Allegory of Good Government



It is a great joy to see peace represented by Lorenzetti. I see merchants travelling from city to city, selling their wares without a care in the world. I see how houses are being built by men full of hope and how girls rejoice in dancing round dances. A useful thing, pace (peace)! The word falls so sweetly from one's lips, as compared to its antonym, guerra (war), which sounds rough, redolent-with so much crudeness that it twists the mouth.

Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444) "Sermon on Good Government", 1427


Ambrogio Lorenzetti
The Effects of Good and Bad Government in the Town
Palazzo Pubblico, Siena


In the evening when the sun is setting, Siena's brick patrician town houses glow in warm tones of brown and ochre: at the heart of the city is the Campo, a shell-shaped, cobble-stoned square that slopes downward, where the shadow of the Torre del Mangia grows longer. After the sun has disappeared, young people, who gather in the square "to see and to be seen", continue to radiate the heat of the day. Time seems to have stood still in Siena. The Gothic cityscape has essentially survived intact with its striking silhouette of the cathedral, steep alleys and imposing city wall.

Today, major roads do not lead to Siena. However, during the late Middle Ages this was not the case: merchants, pilgrims, knights and emperors had to pass through the city on their way to and from Rome. This Frankish road, built by the Lombards, brought additional prosperity to the city, whose affluence was assured by the nearby silver mines. The Sienese banking houses were among the most powerful in Europe and the Sienese sought to express their prosperity through grand building projects. As evidence of their mercantile confidence and assertiveness, between 1288 and 1309, they built their town hall, the Palazzo Pubblico, in travertine and brick. To adorn the interior of the Palazzo, elaborate fresco cycles were commissioned, among them Allegory of Good Government and Allegory of Bad Government, painted by a native of Siena, the artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Masterpieces of medieval painting, these enormous works fill the room used by the governing Council of the city-state from 1292 until 1355. Panoramic in style and unusually profuse in detail for that time period, they are probably the first realistic townscapes in Western painting.

Promoting the consequences of good politics, Allegory of Good Government proclaims peacekeeping as the loftiest aim of a just governance. Peace is the only guarantor that trade and commerce will flourish and that life will bring serenity and joy. Although these are allegorical scenes, Lorenzetti chose to paint the people of his day, engaged in everyday activities. Dwellings, shops and palaces with towers and crenellations give us a realistic picture of how Siena must have looked in the first half of the fourteenth century. Allegory of Bad Government, located on the opposite wall, depicts the same townscape scene, only devastated by war. Bernardino of Siena described it thus in a sermon: "Here I see no commerce, no dances. I see only death. No houses are being built, fields are no longer being cultivated and grapes are no longer being harvested." Only a few years after Lorenzetti had finished the frescoes, this bleak picture of Siena essentially became reality, although not by human contrivance. Siena lost more than two-thirds of her townspeople to the plague and among the victims was the painter himself, Ambrogio Lorenzetti.


Ambrogio Lorenzetti
The Effects of Good and Bad Government in the Town
Palazzo Pubblico, Siena


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