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Siena




 

Duomo & Baptistry
Santa Maria Assunta

v
History
As the highest point in the city this has always been an important spot, likely since the Roman temple to Minerva stood here. There's been a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary here at least since the 9th century, and a bishop's palace. In December 1058 a synod was held here resulting in the election of pope Nicholas II and the deposition of the antipope Benedict X. The first documented evidence of plans to build a cathedral here date to 1136, The Siena-born Pope Alexander III is said to have consecrated the work in 1179, it began around 1220, but it wasn't until 1258 that the overseeing of the work was entrusted to a Cistercian monk from San Galgano, an abbey south-west of Siena, a famously capable bunch, who remained in charge until 1314. The enlarged Duomo was dedicated in 1267.

By 1265 the basic work had been complete and one of the monks, Fra Melano, went to Pisa to commission a pulpit from Nicola Pisano and then in 1280 Nicola's son Giovanni was employed to work on the façade. By 1297 Giovanni had stormed off in a huff at the comune's accusations of mismanagement of funds and materials. Then in 1317 it was decided that the Duomo was going to be too small and on 23rd August 1339 a new and massive structure was planned

The plan was that the existing church should become merely the transept of a much bigger building. This work was begun but cracks and errors halted the work, which resumed but was finally halted by the plague of 1348, as the population halved and funding dried up. The remains of this extension still speak of Sienese ambition and hubris and are now used as a car park and the Museo dell' Opera. The space was filled with the Bishop's Place, removed in the 19th century, with the four large windows added in 1898.


The exterior

The gothic façade was sort-of finished in 1377, but it was not until 1877 that the poor-quality mosaics were added in the topmost triangular pediments, under architect Giuseppe Partini, with the bronze door following in 1958. The façade is a mixture of sculpture, stained glass, mosaic and pinnacles, mostly depicting scenes and figures from the life of the Virgin, including the life of her parents, Joachim and Anna. The 14 statues of the the pagan sibyls, philosophers and prophets who foretold Christ's coming, on the second tier were carved by Giovanni Pisano. Those on the façade are copies, the originals being now in the Museo dell'Opera, except for one, the bust of the figure of the prophet Haggai, discovered in 1963, which is in the V&A in London. The bas reliefs over the door, of 1297-1300, are by Tino di Camaino, the Sienese sculptor who would carve the Petroni monument inside the Duomo 15 years later. The 36 busts of the prophets and patriarchs around the rose window are copies by Tito Sarocchi of the 14th century originals.

 

The interior

Gothic, essentially in its vaulting and looming quality, and somewhat overwhelming when you first enter, due to the stripes and there being decorated surfaces all over. Also the crowds and the roped-off areas guiding your route. Further disappointment on my visit at the scaffolding all around the Pisano pulpit. Somewhat generic stucco busts of Popes stare down from a frieze bellow the clerestory all round the church.  A set of Twelve Apostles by Giovanni Pisano adorned columns inside. In the 18th-century works by Giuseppe Mazzuoli replaced the originals (now in the Opera Museum). The black and white postcard (see below) shows these 18th-century Apostles in situ. These replacements were themselves replaced by reproductions of the originals and acquired in 1895 by the Brompton Oratory in London, where they remain. The reproduction of the Pisano studio's originals are now to be found outside on the roof of the nave and right-hand aisle.

Left side
The first three paintings over the altars on the left can safely be skipped, as can much of the late 16th/early 17th century painting in here.
 The fourth is the standout pale sculpted Altare Piccolomini (see right) commissioned in 1491 by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini from Lombard sculptor Andrea Bregno. The statues of Saints Gregory and Paul in the two main niches to the right and Saints Pius and Peter in the niches to left are by Michelangelo, who also started the Saint Francis in the upper left niche, finished by Pietro Torrigiani. (Torrigiani it was, according to Vasari, who busted Michelangelo's nose during a fight in the Brancacci chapel, was banished from Florence, and ended up in England, working for Henrys VII and VIII, among others.) Michelangelo's work dates to 1501/3 and was halted prematurely by his returning to Florence to carve the David. The sculpted Madonna in the central upper niche is by Jacopo della Quercia. The sweet gold-framed Madonna and Child (1390) painting in the centre is by Paolo di Giovanni Fei and is presumably a copy of the one in the Opera museum.
Further on Pintoricchio's fresco of the Coronation of Pius III as Pope is over the carving-embellished entrance to the Libreria Piccolomini, with cases contains open graduals and breviaries. The  vivid and and restored-looking ceiling and wall frescos, of c.1503, above the cases are considered Pintoricchio masterpiece, executed with the help of Giacomo Pacchiarotti. The library was made out of the old cathedral canonry by Francesco Piccolomini, who was Pope Pius III for 10 days, to house the Greek Latin and Hebrew codices of his uncle Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who was pope Pius II and was a true, and quite rare, Renaissance man amongst the Renaissance popes. Pintoricchio had been a pupil of Perugino and brought a number of fellow pupils with him, including Raphael. The latter's involvement in this cycle has been contested since Vasari. There are lots of cartoons of the scenes by the young Raphael, though. The cycle begins at the rear to the right of the window. On display are the Duomo's choir books, illustrated by Sano di Pietro, Girolamo di Cremona and Liberale di Verona amongst others. Liberale's work is the most famous, including the striking miniature from Gradual 12 showing the Allegory of the Wind with his big blue hair. He came to Siena in 1466 from the fruitful scriptorium of Santa Maria in Organo in Verona.
Around the corner past the Libreria is the domed Capella di San Giovanni Battista, the work of Giovanni di Stefano, the son of the painter Sassetta, finished in 1482 and created to house an arm relic of the saint donated by Pope Pius II Piccolomini. The font (1484) and the bases of the decorated columns, are the work of Antonio Federighi, also responsible for part of the pavement and the water stoups by the entrance. The bronze stature of Saint John the Baptist in the gilt-decorated central niche is by Donatello, made in Florence in 1457 and damaged in transit here. Dingy damaged and restored frescoes by Pinturicchio and paintings by Giovanni di Stefano.

The transept
Next is the crossing, two altars wide, and the famous pulpit by Nicola Pisano, finished in 1268, after his Pisa Baptistery pulpit, with the help of his son Giovanni and Arnolfo di Cambio. The panels, showing scenes from the Life of Christ, duplicate those on the Pisa pulpit, but are deeper and more detailed.
Carrying on, to the left of the presbytery is the corner Capella di Sant'Ansano which has both the dark pavement tomb of Bishop Pecci of Grossetto (1426-7) by Donatello (shifted to the left and tilted so as to not be walked on) and the unrestrained wall tomb of Cardinal Riccardo Petroni by Tino da Camaino of 1314/18. The latter is said to have been influential on Italian tomb architecture for the next century and to have had its scenes very influenced by those on Duccio's Maesta of just a year previous.
To the right above it is a tall thin stained glass window depicting full-length Saints Francis, Blaise and Anthony by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop. The altarpiece in here is Saint Ansanus Baptises the People of Siena by the Sienese mannerist Francesco Vanni.
The (usually closed) sacristy entrance is in the left wall of the presbytery. It contains a very damaged fresco cycle of the Life of the Virgin of 1411/12 by Benedetto di Bindo, one of the more major of the minor painters that followed the Lorenzetti and Simone Martini. In the vaults of the chapels here he also painted The Four Evangelists and The Four Doctors of the Church. Also in here some fragments remain of frescoed scenes from the lives of the four patron saints of Siena by Domenico di Bartolo, painted c.1438.
 
The high altar of 1352 is by Baldassare Peruzzi, the Sienese architect best known for collaborating with Raphael on the Palazzo Farnesina in Rome for the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. The stained glass in the large round window is from a design by Duccio from 1288, making it very early for such work in Italy. It's a copy, the original now being in the Museo dell'Opera, and features a very early depiction of the Assumption. The back of the presbytery has carved stalls with intarsia panels by Fra Giovanni da Verona, famed also for his work in the church of Santa Maria in Organo in his home city. The panels were originally in the choir of the Abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore but were brought here in 1813 and inserted into the backrests of the 14th-century stalls. The frescoes above are mostly by Domenico Beccafumi and Ventura Salimbeni.

The right side

All of the following was fenced off on my visit...
The right side has thinner pickings, but there's the Capella del Sacramento nine chapels down opposite the Capella di Sant'Ansano. It has five bas reliefs probably removed from a dismantled pulpit carved by Domenico dei Cori in 1425.
Nearer the main door, mirroring the position of the Capella di San Giovanni Battista opposite, is the Roman Baroque style Capella Chigi, built in 1659/62 to a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Alexander VII, Fabio Chigi, a Sienese pope, it was the last major addition the Duomo's fabric. It was intended to house the venerated Madonna del Voto, an anonymous 13th century painting which has been attributed to Guido da Siena and, most recently, to Dietisalvi di Speme. This image, cut down from a larger one, previously called the Madonna delle Grazie, is the one which tradition says is the Madonna before which the pre-Montaperti dedication of Siena to the Virgin was made. Two of the four niche statues - the ones nearest the door - are by Bernini - the Mary Magdalene and Penitent Saint Jerome, as is the gilded bronze frame for the Madonna, with its angels and putti, and the design of the railings.

The fifth altar, after four more skippable altars mirroring those opposite, from the door on the right is the Tomb of Tommaso Piccolomini, above the door to the campanile, by Neroccio di Bartolomeo Lando. Below are bas reliefs depicting episodes from the life of the Virgin by Urbano da Cortono, a collaborator with Donatello known for his Tomb of Cristoforo Felice in San Francesco in Siena.

 

The pavement

Begins with geometric patterns and some scenes outside and progresses to 56 figurative panels inside. Made between 1349 and 1547 and involving almost every artist who worked in the city between these dates, preparing the cartoons that the stonemasons would then make into coloured marble. The panels initially echoed the black and white stripes of the walls, but by the time the biblical scenes in the transept were being made the colouring had got richer.
 

Campanile
Built in 1313, it has six bells, the oldest one being cast in 1149. It has a relief of the Madonna and Child of 1458 by Donatello over the door. He had returned to Siena in 1457 hoping to be asked to make the bronze doors, but was disappointed.

Lost art in the Museo dell'Opera
The Museo here has rooms of stuff, mostly from the Duomo, and was created in the 19th century by walling up the first three arches of the right-hand aisle of what was planned as the new huge cathedral in the 14th century.
Concentrating on altarpieces...
The early 13th century Madonna degli occhi grossi (Madonna with the bulging eyes) is one of the earliest altarpieces to have survived. It is, in fact, most likely that it was created as an antependia (altar frontal) as it has been cut down, losing flanking narrative scenes. It was probably moved up onto the high altar in the Duomo during the 13th century. The central Christ child and the Virgin's pose places it firmly in the Byzantine Hodegetria tradition. It is believed that this was the Madonna that was addressed during the dedication of Siena to the Virgin in 1260 on the day before the famous victory of the Sienese over Florence at the battle of Montaperti.
Pietro Lorenzetti's late and lovely Birth of the Virgin of 1342 (now in the same room as Duccio's Maesta in the Museo dell'Opera) was the central panel of the Saint Savinus Altarpiece over the altar dedicated to the saint (one of Siena's four patron saints) in the corner chapel of the left transept. (See
The Altars of the Patron Saints right.) The side panels, Saints Savinus and Bartholomew, are lost but a predella panel showing Saint Savinus before the Governor Venustianus in the National Gallery in London.
The four panels depicting Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Benedict, Francis of Assisi and Mary Magdalene by Ambrogio Lorenzetti of 1320/30, which used to flank a, now lost, central panel, were originally on the altar of the Magi in the Duomo. These panels underwent restoration in 1997. Also by Ambrogio is the special Presentation in the Temple which used to be in the San Crescenzio chapel here, now in the Uffizi. It was painted in 1342, the same year as his brother's Birth of the Virgin mentioned above.
A favourite polyptych of mine, The Madonna of Humility and Saints Augustine, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul by Gregorio di Cecco, a pupil and adopted son of Taddeo di Bartolo, signed and dated 1432 (see above and sweet detail right) taken from the Altar of the Visitation here. A pinnacle panel of The Annunciate Angel is in a private collection in Turin.
The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints John the Evangelist, Nicholas Gregory and Jerome, a late altarpiece (1480) by Matteo di Giovanni for the chapel of Niccolò Cristoforo Celsi in the Duomo. And by the same artist, a altarpiece of the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Anthony of Padua and Bernardino and Angels, from the altar of Saint Anthony of Padua chapel in the Baptistery.

A series of panels which made up a reliquary cupboard by Benedetto di Bindo, who also decorated the sacristy here, and trained Sassetta.
 

Lost art not in the Museo dell'Opera
The anonymous Blessing Redeemer altar frontal in the Pinacoteca has been dated to 1215 and linked with the Madonna degli occhi grossi mentioned above, being in the original format of that work before it was cut down.
A 1342 altarpiece of the Presentation of the Virgin, a fine late work by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, is in the Uffizi. A panel of the Allegory of Redemption, also by Ambrogio, is in the Pinacoteca. It's thought that they were originally once part of an altarpiece for an altar dedicated to Saint Crescentius here. (See The Altars of the Patron Saints right.) They both ended up in the Spedale di Monna Agnese (see San Niccolò in Sasso ) from which they were later dispersed, The Presentation going to the Florence Accademia in 1822. It is now in the Uffizi.
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bartolommeo Bulgarini in the Fogg Museum, dated c.1350, is now thought to be the central panel of the altarpiece in the chapel of San Vittore (See
The Altars of the Patron Saints right.)  A pair of panels by the Palazzo Venezia Master of Saints Victor and Corona, now in Copenhagen, are thought to have been parts of the same altarpiece, along with two predella panels, now in Frankfurt and Paris.
The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple altarpiece by Paolo di Giovanni Fei of 1398-1399, was commissioned for the chapel of San Pietro here, is now in the National Gallery in Washington.
The exceptional Annunciation with Saints Ansanus and Massima (see right) was painted in 1333 by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi, his brother-in-law, for the altar of Saint Ansanus here, located to the left of the chancel, where Saint Ansanus Baptising the Sienese by Francesco Vanni is to be seen now. The Annunciation, one of a set of four altarpieces dedicated to Siena's patron saints
(See
The Altars of the Patron Saints right.)  was moved to the church of Sant’Ansano towards the end of the 16th century when the altar was remodelled. It is now in the Uffizi, where it went in 1799 in a poor exchange for two paintings by Luca Giordano, Christ Before Pilate and The Deposition, both from 1682. The rarely-depicted figure of Saint Massima, Ansanus's god-mother, was previously thought to be Saint Margaret.
The first documented commission awarded to Vecchietta is dated 1439 and is for two statues, The Virgin and the Annunciate Angel which he sculpted and painted, along with Sano di Pietro, for the high altar here. They are now lost.
The Madonna della Neve (Virgin of the Snow) altarpiece of 1432, painted for the Saint Boniface chapel here by Sassetta is now in the Uffizi. It was commissioned by Lodovicha Bertini, the wife of the sculptor Turino di Matteo
Nineteen illusionistic intarsia panels for the choir stalls in the Saint John Chapel here were made by by Antonio Barli in the late 15th century. Those that were moved to the Collegiata of San Quirico d'Orcia in 1749 have survived, the rest have been lost.

The church in art

Domenico Beccafumi's The Offering of the Keys of the City to the Virgin before the Battle of Porta Camollia, a panel of 1526/7, is painted taking place in front of the chapel dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazi, which housed the famous votive image, before the chapel was demolished in 1659. It is now in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. An earlier Offering of the Keys, from 1483, when exiles from the Novesco threatened to capture Siena, was commemorated in a Gabella panel by Pietro Orioli which also shows the chapel, more clearly. It is still in the Siena State Archives.

 

 



 



 



The Maestà
 

The Maestà by Duccio was painted between 1308 (the contract survives) and 1311, when it was processed at noon on the 9th of June with great crowds and ceremony through Siena. It was unique, huge and double-sided, and part of the ambitious plans for the expansion of the Duomo. Its display is now spread around three walls of one room in the Museo dell'Opera - the main panel on one wall and the spandrel and pinnacles panels on the other two - which I found functional but dull. It is said to have originally had a complicated carpentry mechanism involving curtains, a canopy and three painted wooden angels who descended to hand the priest the Host, chalice and corporal (linen cloth); with four more angels holding candles (two in front, two behind)  five more candlesticks and two ostrich eggs.

The front main panel (see above) shows the Madonna as the Queen of Heaven enthroned and surrounded by angels and saints, with the four patron saints of Siena kneeling. These are, on the left Ansanus and Savinus, two martyred bishops, and on the right Crescentius, a child martyr under Diocletian whose relics came to Siena Cathedral in 1058, and Victor, a Syrian soldier from who was declared a patron of the city after 1288. The ten apostles not in the main panel are half-length in a freeze in the top corners. Episodes from the life of the Virgin (also readable as the early life of Christ) are depicted in the predella, with events from her last days on the lower pinnacle panels. The narrative scenes in the predella alternate with prophets with scrolls.
The front faced the nave, with the back visible to the canons in the choir
.
The back (see below) depicts scenes from the life of Christ - his ministry in the predella, his passion on the main register and his post-resurrection appearances above. Angels top the pinnacles on both sides.

It has been much moved and chopped about over the centuries. It was on the high altar for nearly two hundred years, but  in 1506 a new altar was built and it was replaced by Vecchietta's bronze tabernacle (taken from the high altar of the church of Santissima Annunziata in Santa Maria della Scala). It was documented as being above the Saint Sebastian altar in the left transept in 1536. In 1711 it was sawn in half - the front was placed in the Saint Ansanus chapel in the left transept and the back put in the Saint Victor chapel, with the predella and top panels put in the sacristy. In 1878 it was put back together and put in the Museo dell'Opera. Major restoration work was carried out in 1956. The missing predella panels, which were put on the market in the 19th century, are now (one each from the front) in the National Galleries in London and Washington; with rear predella panels now in the Frick, the National Galleries in London and Washington, the Thyssen Bornemisza in Madrid and the Kimbell in Texas. Pinnacle angels are now in Brussels, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and 's-Heerenberg in The Netherlands. The Coronation of the Virgin is in the Szépmüveszéti Muzeum in  Budapest.

The lost large central upper panels would probably have been The Assumption of the Virgin and The Coronation of the Virgin on the front and The Ascension and Christ in Glory on the back. The lost first predella panel on the back would have been The Baptism of Christ.
 

The Altars of the Patron Saints

The patron saints of Siena were Savinus, Ansanus and Crescentius and their cults had long been celebrated in the early 13th-century cathedral. A later, and equally nondescript, addition to the roster had been Saint Victor. As part of the ambitious plans of the early 1300s it was decided to commission altarpieces for the altars of each of them devoted, unsurprisingly, to feasts of the Virgin.
Crescentius had been beheaded in Rome, and Antifredus, the Bishop of Siena, acquiring his relics from Rome is the only known scene from his 'life' in Sienese art. As an early Christian martyr he was a good choice. Savinus was venerated as the first Bishop of Siena, despite his actually having been Bishop of Faenza. Both saints are evidence of Siena's somewhat desperate need for an ancient past, given that the city had only really gained statue in the medieval period. Ansanus was a better bet. He had been an impressive converter and baptiser of heathens, beheaded between Siena and Arezzo in 303. His body is said to have been found by a shepherdess in 1107, and his head was snatched from the also-claiming Bishop of Arezzo and brought back to Siena in procession. The crowd's cries of il Santo viene ('the saint is coming') led to the Porta Pispin formerly being known as the Porta San Viene. It is said that he is Siena's John the Baptist, as his baptising arm was processed through the city on the Tuesday after Penetecost, one of his three observed feast days. This unimpressive bunch explains why the population of Siena later took Catherine and Bernardino so much more to their hearts.

 

But back to the altarpieces commissioned for the Saint's altars, which began in 1333 with the one for Saint Ansanus. Simone Martini's famous Annunciation, with Saints Ansanus and Margaret, painted with Lippo Memmi, his brother-in-law. It's the only one of the three with a gold ground, but its depth and illusionistic detail are impressive and innovative. The female saint has also been identified as Saint Maxima, the mother of Ansanus. Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Presentation in the Temple was next, for the altar of Saint Crescentius, followed by brother Pietro's Birth of the Virgin, both in 1342. They share the importance of being the first narrative scenes made the central panels in an altarpiece. They have also both lost their flanking saint panels, confirmed as present in early inventories and to have included the dedicatory saints.
The Birth of the Virgin
was flanked by Saints Savinus and Bartholomew, the latter being Siena's favoured apostle. Documents detailing the payment of a scholar for translating the story of the life of the saints have led to the belief that the altarpiece had a predella with such scenes. The only likely panel found is in the National Gallery in London. It's unobvious subject has been identified as Saint Savinus before the Governor Venustianus.
The Presentation at the Temple is a scene closely associated with the feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Ambroio's panel is known to have been flanked by panels showing Crescentius on the left, carrying his head (cephalophorous is the term for this), with the Archangel Michael on the right.  It has been suggested that the Allegory of the Redemption in the Pinacoteca could have been part of the predella.

The central panel of the altarpiece painted for the altar of Saint Victor of Siena is lost, but it was documented as a Nativity. Recent decades have seen this identified as the Adoration of the Shepherds by Bartolommeo Bulgarini in the Fogg Museum, which has been much cut down, dated c.1350 (see right). A pair of panels by the Palazzo Venezia Master of Saints Victor and Corona, now in Copenhagen, are thought to have been parts of the same altarpiece, along with two predella panels, in Frankfurt and Paris.





 

The Baptistery


Most Italian baptisteries are freestanding structures opposite their church's façade, so Siena's is unusual, to say the least, in being under the apse of the Duomo. Work resumed on the Gothic façade by Domenico di Agostino in 1355, but it was never finished. This original plan had involved extending the Duomo by two bays over the baptistery. Also planned were twenty-three male and female heads. Only eight of these have survived - the originals are on the wall in the last room of the Crypt, replaced by casts on the Baptistery façade. They are thought to have had no significance beyond being purely decorative.


Interior
Completed c.1325, probably by Camaino di Crescenzio, it carries on the stripy and decorated look of the Duomo. Two bays long with two aisles and a half-domed apse.
There's an hexagonal font of 1417-30 with eight bronze panel of scenes from the life of the Baptist by Lorenzo Ghiberti (The Baptism of Christ and The Baptist before Herod), Donatello (The Head of the Baptist Presented to Herod) and Jacopo della Quercia (The Angel Announcing the Baptist's Birth to Zaccaria ). Jacopo was also responsible for the marble tabernacle above, the summit statue of John the Baptist and five niche statues of the Prophets. Donatello also did two of the corner angels (Faith and Hope) and (with Giovanni di Turino) the small putti on the tabernacle above. There's a cast of this font in the Victoria and Albert museum in London which has all five of these putti, one having been lost from the original since the cast was made in 1875-7.
Three unmajor altarpieces to the left. In the right aisle are two gold-ground ones, a Madonna and Child with Saints (including Saint Stephen looking even more like Mickey Mouse than usual) (see below) by Andrea Vanni (taken from the church of Santo Stefano alla Lizza) with a slightly later predella by Giovanni di Paolo with scenes from the life of Saint Stephen and a Crucifixion with Saints Jerome and Bernardino. Also an 1896 one of The Immaculate Conception with Saints, Joseph, Anne, Paul and Elizabeth by Giuseppe Catani Chitti. Imagine a Pre-Raphaelite gold-ground altarpiece. Chitti later settled in Florence, where he met the English Pre-Raph artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, and was also a talented forger, of works in the style of Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi, amongst others, and in collaboration with famed forger Federico Joni.
The fresco decoration of the ceiling and apse is mostly by Vecchietta and was painted between 1450 and 1454,  in the wake of the the 1450 canonisation of local saint Bernardino. He and his concerns feature heavily, like the Articles of the Creed, an unusual subject also painted by Vecchietta in the sacristy of the Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala. The three impressive Passion scenes in the apse vault (Agony, Crucifixion and Lamentation) are earlier work by the Bolognese artist Michele di Matteo, finished in 1447?!).


 





The Crypt


Calling this 12th-century space The Crypt is descriptive, maybe, but deceptive - it is thought to have been a narthex, maybe part of a reception area for pilgrims. When the baptistery was built this under-church was filled with rubble to support the Duomo's apse above. It was only found and excavated in 1999-2003, but as the rubble was holding up the church above a supporting steel structure had to be built before the debris could be cleared.
It's a delightfully ramshackle and random trio of spaces. There's the main middle fresco-fragment filled area itself (see below and right), the smaller space that you enter first, also decorated with frescoes, and the first space beyond, the so-called 'old foundry', which is without decoration but with some appealing stone and brickwork and random arches from the old cathedral structure. This area was used for workshops but chemical analysis of the much-blackened walls has revealed that it wasn't used for the smelting and working of metal s tradition had had it.
The frescoes (which have been dated to the last quarter of the 13th century) depict scenes from the Old Testament (on the upper wall and largely lost) and the New Testament below. The Passion scenes begin in the small left section, with a very fragmented Last Supper, followed by The Washing of the Feet and The Betrayal.  In the larger middle section there is The Crucifixion, The Deposition, The Entombment (with a small lower fragment of The Resurrection above) then The Harrowing of Hell. In the right-hand section The Infancy scenes begin, with The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Adoration of the Magi (the last two both very fragmentary), The Presentation (very fragmentary), The Flight into Egypt, and Jesus at School.

They are uniformly vivid, but vary much in size, and state, having been covered in rubble for so long, and chopped about by various bits of building work resulting in parts lost behind walls and girders. There looks to be several different hands and more than one layer. The scenes are similar, it is said, to ones depicted on panels by artists in the circle of Guido da Siena, such as Rinaldo da Siena, Guido di Graziano and Dietisalvi di Speme. It has also been suggested, of course, that Duccio may have worked with them, specifically on the Entombment and the Bishop in Benediction.












 

 

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