‘Siena Cathedral’ or better known as ‘Duomo di Siena’ is one of the most famous medieval cathedral in the Italian city of Siena. The church, which demonstrates the grandest of manifestation of Gothic architecture, was a ‘Roman Catholic Marian Church’ in its early days & is now dedicated to ‘Santa Maria Assunta’.
The ‘Siena Cathedral’ is world renowned for its highly ornate interior as well as for its mesmerizing treasury of artwork of many legendary Italian architects & sculptors of medieval era. This strikingly beautiful monument proudly boasts the prowess & the wealth Siena had once upon a time & is considered as Siena’s symbol of prestige!
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The cathedral was designed & constructed between 1215 & 1263 on the site of 9th century church & bishop’s palace. The vaults & the transept of the cathedral were built in 1259-1260. In 1339, Siena took on the ambitious project of the cathedral’s massive restoration, which would have doubled the size of the present day structure. The planned structure would have dwarfed even the ‘St Peter’s Basilica’ in Rome & the present cathedral would have merely formed the transept of the then proposed architecture.
The grand restoration begun under architect ‘Giovanni di Agostino’ but was halted in 1348 due to the insurgence of ‘Black Death’ that killed almost 4/5th of Sienna’s population. The setback was huge & the work never resumed again, leaving behind the remains of the huge nave which was partially completed by then. Although the work was never resumed, the leftover parts of the massive walls give glimpses of how huge the planned monument would have looked like upon completion & at the same time, also depicts the wealth & might Sienna have had once upon a time in history!
The majestic ‘Sienna Cathedral’ is adorned with opulent use of richly carved arches & pillars, intricately designed stuccos, mind blowing frescos, amazing mosaic floorings & grandeur facade. The campanile as well as the massive pillars of the cathedral are adorned with white & greenish-black marble arranged in alternating stripes, which have given the cathedral a strikingly beautiful appearance that not only pleases the eyes but also make this cathedral look unique when compared with the other churches in Italy.
The regal façade of the cathedral is one of the most striking façade in Italy. ‘West façade’ is the most notable out of the four distinct facades present on four sides of the cathedral. The work is divided into two parts & is attributed to the master architect ‘Giovanni Pisano’ who made an excellent combination of architectural elements of ‘French Gothic’, ‘Tuscan Romanesque’ & ‘Classical Architecture’ for building this grand polychrome marble-made façade.
The lower portion of the façade consisting of three portals & lunettes follows the original design of ‘Pisano’ whereas, the upper portion is the additions made by ‘Camino di Crescentino’ who took the charge after Pisano. The façade features richly decorated acanthus scrolls, biblical scenes & the statues of prophets, philosophers & apostles. Three large gilded mosaics are also located in the upper gables, which raise the beauty of this magnificent façade beyond explanation!
The interior is even more picturesque than its exterior. The effect of alternate strips of black & white marbles on columns as well as on walls is a feast to the eyes. The cathedral house number of astonishingly beautiful masterpieces of art & enlisting all of them would be a subject of a complete new article.
The nave capitals are decorated using the allegorical busts & animals. The horizontal molding around the nave features 172 busts of former Popes. The cornice running down the length of the nave also features 36 busts of ‘Roman’ & ‘Byzantine’ emperors.
The south transept of the cathedral houses the ‘Chigi Chapel’ which, on the outside, boasts the paintings of ‘St. Jerome’ & ‘St. Mary Magdalene’ by Bernini, whereas, the north transept flaunts a bronze statue of ‘St. John the Baptist’ by Donatello. The high altar built by ‘Baldssarre Peruzzi’ & the giant bronze ‘ciborium’ by ‘Vecchietta’ are worth watching. The angels flanking the high altar are the masterpieces by ‘Francesco di Giorgio Martini’.
The hexagonal dome of the cathedral is crowned by a gilded lantern made by the ace artist Bernini. The portico in the drum is decorated using the paintings & statues of 42 prophets & patriarchs created in 1482 by ‘Guidoccio Cozzarelli’ & ‘Benvenuto di Giovanni’.
The ‘Pulpit’ designed by ‘Nicola Pisano’ demonstrates the northern Gothic style & depicts the scenes from the ‘doctrine of salvation’ & the ‘Last Judgment’. It is made of Carrara marble & demonstrates the mastery of Pisano’s artwork.
The stupendous marble mosaic floor is the prime attraction of this cathedral. This extensively designed floor consists of 56 etched panels of varying sizes. They represent the scenes from the Old Testament, sibyls, allegories & virtues. The glorious flooring of the cathedral was laid during 14th to 16th century & features excellent artwork from the eminent artists of Siena.
The ‘Piccolomini Library’ adjoining the cathedral houses several priceless frescos painted by the ‘Umbrian Bernardino di Betto’ who was famously known as ‘Pinturicchio’. The library was constructed in 1492 & its walls are decorated with ten magnificent frescos drawn by ‘Pinturicchio’. The vibrant, colorful frescos depict the legend of the life of Siena’s great citizen ‘Enea Silvio Pinturicchio’, who, later on, became ‘Pope Pius II’. The Latin texts below every scene describe the event shown in the fresco. The ceiling is also adorned with the scenes from the classical mythology, whereas, the display cases flaunt the collection of 30 richly decorated Renaissance choir books. The legendary artist ‘Raphael’ had supposedly played a vital role in designing the stunning frescoes of ‘Piccolomini Library’.
The Siena Cathedral holds various other precious artworks as well. One of them to mention is- ‘The Feast of Herod’ by ‘Donatello’. Famous Italian artists, ‘Bernini’ & ‘Michelangelo’ also had the major contribution in adorning the Cathedral’s treasury with amazing masterpieces. The four sculptures in the lower niches of ‘Piccolomini altar’ are the testimonials of the Michelangelo’s flair. Although, most of the artworks in the ‘Siena cathedral’ are now moved to the ‘Uffizi’ of Florence, whatever left in the cathedral still reflects the class of the Renaissance period Italian architecture.
The frescos, stuccos, sculptures, cornices, moldings, carvings, mosaics… whatever artwork you find inside this spectacular cathedral, it will give you an otherworldly experience. It is literally impossible to decide the best among them. The true beauty of these incredible artworks can never be described even after using a handful of words. Watching them with the naked eyes by visiting this cathedral in-person is probably the only option to get soaked into the mesmerizing beauty of these medieval marvels!