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Siena





 

San Domenico
Basilica Cateriniana
Piazza San Domenico

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History
The Dominican church was begun around 1226, and probably not completed until around 1262/55. The transepts and and east end were added during enlargement around the mid-14th-century, resulting in most of what we see today. In 1467 the screen that had separated the the old nave from the newer transepts was removed. The building suffered fires in 1443, 1456 and 1531, with further damage from military occupation from 1548-1552, and an earthquake in 1798. The most recent major restoration work began in 1940 and finished in 1962.
Whilst it is uncertain whether Simone Martini died in Avignon or Siena, his funeral was held here on the 4th of August 1344.

Interior
Another big aisleless barn for unobstructed preaching to large numbers.
The church's current dedication to Saint Catherine, whose family house was nearby, is obvious as you enter as to the right, in the back wall, is the raised Capella delle Volte, which has (framed in marble over the altar in the wall opposite the altar) the famous contemporary fresco portrait Saint Catherine and a Devotee (right) by Andrea di Vanni from around 1380. The artist had been a diplomat working for the comune but on meeting Catherine gave up his job to devote himself to being her friend and disciple. She wrote him three letters. This raised area was a separate chapel in the original church, but was knocked through in the 1941-62 restorations. It was here that she is said, before the fresco was painted, to have received the (invisible) stigmata, visible in the fresco, and performed some of her miracles, including exchanging hearts with Jesus.

The left side
There are five altar bays of various sizes down this side.
First on the left is the shallow stone-framed bay with the bemusing Francesco Vanni Saint Hyacinth Rescuing a Statue of the Virgin and a Monstrance from Fire.
The second has the very populated Mystic Nuptuals of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Sebastiano Folli. She isn't wearing her crown but it's on the step she kneels on, along with a wheel fragment. In front of her Saint Margaret of Antioch stomps on a dragon while sitting down.
The forth has an impressively plush Saint Anthony Abbot Frees a Demoniac Girl (1628) by Rutilio Manetti with some nasty dark demons escaping into the sky.
The fifth altar on the left is the Accarigi Chapel and has damaged frescos worth a look, with much fresco wall decoration above. They depict Saint Thomas Aquinas and other saints, are by Paolo di Giovanni Fei and date from 1387. The panel of small panels in here are Sodoma's predella of the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, formerly attributed to an anonymous 16th-century Sienese artist..

The left transept
The deep transept has matching monumental marble altars at each end. There are three chapels either side of the apse.
 The middle one on the left, the Venturini chapel, is a highlight space with the impressive large panel of the Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Christ and Angels (1275-80) by Guido da Siena (see right) still visually indebted to the Byzantine Virgin hodegetria. It returned here only at the end of the 20th century, having spent more than a century in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, hence its often being known as the Palazzo Pubblico Madonna. It has long been thought to have been painted for the high altar here, but its commissioning by a confraternity, probably, has led to the theory it was originally over or on the tramezzo (rood screen). An inscription gives the painting a daftly early date of 1221, but this is thought to have been added later to make the painting seem more venerable, or to celebrate an important event in that year - Saint Dominic himself died in 1221. It was possibly added when the painting was renewed and the Madonna's face and hands 'modernised' to look more like Duccio's Madonna in the Maesta, possibly by Ugolino di Nerio, or even Duccio himself, the same fate as befell the Madonna del Bordone by Coppo di Marcovaldo in Santa Maria dei Servi. This overpainting was removed in later restorations.

The side walls  in this chapel have frescoed panels by Giuseppe Nasini from the 17th century. They surround Matteo di Giovanni's altarpiece, commissioned in 1478, depicting Saint Barbara Enthroned between Saints Catherine of Alexandra and Mary Magdalene, an Adoration of the Magi in the lunette. Opposite is the Borghesi Altarpiece, a similar panel of similar date (1476-8) of The Virgin and Child with Saints Fabian, James, John the Evangelist and Jerome with a lunette of the Pieta by Benvenuto di Giovanni. A predella panel of The Expulsion (in Boston) and a standing Saint Jerome, from a right pilaster (in The Wallace Collection in London) may well have been parts of this altarpiece.
The chapel nearest the apse has a detached fresco of the Madonna and Child with a Knight and John the Baptist by Pietro Lorenzetti. On the wall opposite this chapel across the transept is a Crucifixion (1600) by Ventura Salimbeni, the son of Arcangelo and step-brother of Francesco Vanni.

The apse
The square choir has jarring modern (1982) stained glass windows by Bruno Cassinari. There's a marble tabernacle with two sculpted candelabra angels and a water stoop by Benedetto da Maiano, the Florentine architect/sculptor also responsible for the Palazzo Strozzi and the pulpit in Santa Croce, both in Florence. The work here, and the intarsia choir stalls, was paid for by Ambrogio Spannocchi, banker to Pius II, after he had bought the  rights to the space for the princely sum of 700 florins in 1471. Giuliano da Maiano, Benedetto'a brother, was the architect of the Spannocchi palace, built for Ambrogio, also in the 1470s.

The right transept
The first chapel to the right has damaged fresco fragments removed from San Domenico's convent's cloister by Andrea Vanni and Lippo Memmi. It also contains a triptych from 1476 of the Madonna and Child with Angels and Saints Jerome and John the Baptist, in their respective wildernesses, by Matteo di Giovanni. The panels were originally part of a larger polyptych - The Placidi Altarpiece - the lunette is now in the Pinacoteca (see Lost art below). (The artist is the same one responsible for the three disturbing versions of the Massacre of the Innocents elsewhere in Siena.)
The next chapel is full of memorial tablets and the last has another detached fresco fragment and sinopia of the Madonna and Child and Two Saints.
In the rear of the right transept is the entrance to the sacristy which has
lots of big dark cupboards and very fragmented ceiling frescos.

The right side
Back down the right side are the stairs to the (usually closed) 14th century gothic crypt which has a crucifix by Sano di Pietro (1465) over the high altar. It was to this crypt, newly renovated, that on the evening of Saturday 26 and the morning of Sunday 27 November 1938, the remains of ten local 'fascist martyrs' were brought, with great ceremony, and placed in a specially designed sacrario. A huge statue of the Risen Christ by Vico Cosorti (see right) (the Sienese sculptor put in charge of the project) over the high altar dominated the restored space, with individual tombs in front of the altar, all in travertine marble. Stone tablets of a fascist oath and a quote from Mussolini where placed on the walls. This was an example of the fraught phenomenon of the ambiguous, but mutually supportive, co-operation between the Catholic Church and the fascist regime in the 1930s.  After the conflicts following Italian Unification fascism seemed to the Sienese archbishops of this period to offer the opportunity to improve the relationship between church and state. The crypt had sorely needed restoration as, from 1862 to 1924, it had been used by the local military as a stable for cavalry horses. No trace of the sacrario remains, but the Risen Christ was transferred to the entrance of the Cemetery of the Misericordia but no label is attached to tell of its history (see far right).
Over the crypt stairs is a large panel depicting God the Father and Saints Vincent, Louis, Catherine of Siena and Sebastian by Sodoma, with a  Virgin and Child panel by Francesco di Vanuccio (previously attributed to Paolo di Giovanni Fei) set into it, in a niche with fresco fragments of angels. Also a large Francesco di Giorgio panel of The Nativity of c.1490, one of his few paintings, with a Pieta in the lunette above and a predella by contemporaries Matteo di Giovanni and Bernardino Fungai.

Then it's the very prominent and decorated Capella di Santa Caterina,  containing Saint Catherine's head  which has been authenticated and is to be seen behind a grill in the altar of 1469 which is the work of Sassetta's son Giovanni di Stefano.  The rest of her remains are in Rome, where she died, the head having been sent here in 1384 by Raymond of Capua, the saint's biographer and and confessor. The relic was initially kept in the sacristy, until this was partially demolished to create a family chapel for Niccolò di Buonsignore Benzi, built between 1466 and 1475. The chapel, where Niccolò and his family were buried, thereby became a private and a public chapel.
The highlight frescoes to the left and right of the tabernacle (The Swooning and Saint Catherine's Vision of Holy Communion), and on the chapel's entrance arch, are by Sodoma, from 1526 - the date is painted on the wall of the chapel. The named scenes are said to be better seen less as narratives than as examples of the saint's frequent ecstasies, which often lasted for hours and were usually prompted by being given the Sacrament.
Sodoma's Execution of Niccolò di Tuldo is on the left wall. On the right wall the painting of Saint Catherine Liberating a Possessed Woman is by Francesco Vanni from 1593. Sodoma was to paint the scene but an uncertain dispute, probably over payment with the commissioner of the paintings, Ventura di Giovanni Turamini, made him stop work. But his drawings for it survive in the Uffizi.
Beyond a small door to the right of the above chapel is a display case with a reliquary containing the Saint's right thumb and her scourges.
In the next chapel there's a rather luminous and mannerist Birth of the Virgin by Sienese artist Alessandro Casolani over the second altar from the back, said to be his masterpiece. It's a bit Barocci was commissioned by Sister Onesta Longhi, a Dominican tertiary in 1584.

Campanile
Dates from after 1340. Was reduced in height, with battlements added, after an earthquake in 1798

Lost art
A mid-13th-century panel painting of Saint Dominic now in the Fogg Art Museum is thought to have painted for this church, based on stylistic similarities. It was also overpainted twice later in the century.
Duccio's Polyptych no. 28 (The Madonna and Child with Saints Augustine, Paul, Peter and Dominic) in the Pinacoteca by 1842 is thought, mostly because of the presence of Saint Dominic, to have come from this church.
The left shutter by Guido da Siena of a shrine associated with the cult of beato Andrea Gallerani on c.1274 is now in the Pinacoteca.
Some lovely fragments of a late (1350 - his last documented work) fresco of The Virgin and Child with Two Angels and Saints Paul, Peter and Dominic by Lippo Memmi are in the Pinacoteca (see right).
The first documented activity of Giovanni di Paolo is his painting of two panels for the Castiglioni family for this church. One of them depicted Catherine of Siena before canonisation, but both are lost. In 1426 and 1427 he painted a two polyptychs for this church, one probably for the Malavolti family and the other for the the Branchini family chapel. The Malavolti altarpiece is now dispersed, the Branchini's main panel is in Pasadena. Another work, from 1445, a Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, formerly known as the Guelfi altarpiece, painted by him for this church is in the Uffizi. Two of its predella panels, The Story of Creation/The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise and Paradise are in the MET in New York.
A lunette of The Adoration of the Shepherds by Matteo di Giovanni is in the Pinacoteca. Its odd composition gives most prominence to the snoozing Joseph. It comes from the  altarpiece of 1476 made for the funerary chapel of the Placidi family here, which was cut up around 1800.  The main panel is still in the church (the first chapel to the right of the apse) and of the five predella panels the two standing saints, Augustine and Vincent Ferrer are in the Lindenau Museum inAltenberg, with two narrative scenes (The Dream of Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine's Vision of Saints Jerome and John the Baptist)  in the Art Institute of Chicago and The Crucifixion in a private collection.
The Pecci Polyptych by Giovanni di Paolo, signed and dated 1426, now has its courtly and decorated main panel, of the Virgin and Child with Music-making Angels, in the church of Santi Giusto e Clemente in Castelnuovo Berardenga. The sterner main-register figures of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Dominic are in the Pinacoteca. Three of the predella panels are in the Walter Art Gallery in Baltimore, with a fourth in the Lindenau Museum in Altenburg.

Opening times
March-October 7.00 - 6.30
November-February 8.30 - 6.00
































 



 



A photo from 1856 (Alinari)


 


 

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