The Beetlejuice Cathedral

In order to reach the cathedral in Siena, one must climb the slightly sloping streets of the city. Siena in itself is a delight, which made this walk a pleasurable one, with the light doing some wondrous things as it filtered down between the buildings on this crisp winter morning. And as if that in itself wasn’t magical enough, catching glimpses of the black-and-white campanile from between the brown-brick buildings the closer and closer we got was truly something else.

The more you walk, the more marble you see, beginning with the baptistery, until you finally reach the Piazza del Duomo and have this marvel in front of you.

Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta

The location of the present cathedral was at one point occupied by a ninth-century church, site of the election of Pope Nicholas II and the deposition of the antipope Benedict X. In 1196, the Opera di Santa Maria, the cathedral mason’s guild, was put in charge of building a new cathedral. Originally dedicated as a Marian church, the building is today dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, and serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino.

By 1215, daily Mass was already being held in the new structure, with the vaults and the transept being constructed between 1259-1260. The dome was completed in 1264, and was eventually crowned with a lantern by Bernini.

In 1339, there were plans to expand the building, and more than double its original size, under the guidance of Giovanni di Agostino. The project was unfortunately halted by the Black Death in 1348, and the work was never resumed afterwards.

Work began on the façade in 1284, using polychrome marble, and was overseen by Giovanni Pisano (who also completed work on the Pisa Cathedral). Pisano eventually left Siena (1296) over artistic differences, however, so the construction of the cathedral was taken over by Camaino di Crescentino.

The trend of using white and black marble is meant to reference the white and black horses on which Senius and Aschius, legendary founders of the city of Siena, fled Rome. This is also reflected in the color scheme of the coat of arms of the city. And… it does recall Beetlejuice somewhat, doesn’t it?

Piccolomini Library

Decorated with frescoes by Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto) in 1502-1503, this library holds a collection of illuminated choir books. The room was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, at the time Archbishop of Siena and eventually Pope Pius III, to commemorate his uncle, Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II.

Three Graces
Piccolomini Altarpiece by Andrea Bregno & Michelangelo

Francesco also commissioned this altarpiece to become his tomb, but as he became Pope, he was eventually buried in the Vatican and thus never used it. It was built by Andrea Bregno in 1481-1485, with later additions by Michelangelo in 1501-1504. A sculpture of the Madonna and Child crowning the altarpiece is believed to be by Jacopo della Quercia.

Battistero di San Giovanni

Also completed by Camaino di Crescentino, the Baptistery of Saint John was built between 1316-1325. I did not have a chance to go inside, but apparently the interior holds works by Donatello, Ghiberti, and Jacopo Della Quercia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s