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San Francesco
Piazza San Francesco

Saint Francis visited Siena in 1212, two years after the founding of the Franciscans. As soon as news of his death reached Siena the commune decreed that a church be built in his honour. The current church was built from 1326 on the site of this earlier church built from 1228 to 1255. It was completed around 1475, being built to designs by Agostino di Giovanni and Agnolo di Ventura, and finished  under the direction of Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who also worked around this time on Santa Maria delle Nevi nearby.
The church was much restored, in baroque style, after it was seriously damaged by a fire in 1655 which also destroyed a Perugino altarpiece, and in the choir in 1715.

After the conversion of the complex to use as a barracks the work on the church between 1894 and 1913, by Giuseppe Partini, attempted to return it to its original gothic state, with mixed success. The interior would originally have been covered in frescoes and the floor paved with tombs. Some wall tombs remain, and patches of fresco. The neo-gothic façade is by Vittorio Mariani and Gaetano Ceccarelli and was also built 1894-1913. The previous, unfinished-looking, façade can be seen in the postcard (far below right).
The convent buildings now house the University.

A huge stripy hall inside, aisle-less for easier preaching. As in Santa Croce, the Franciscan church in Florence, the wealthy were here keen to buy burial space in Franciscan churches to show their humility and penitence.
The back wall has high, and hard to see, damaged detached frescos. The one of a choir of angels from the Coronation of the Virgin was begun in 1447 on the city's Porta Romana by Sassetta, having been possibly already outlined in sinopia by Simone Martini. Sassetta contracted pneumonia from working outdoors and died on 1st April 1450, It was finished in several attempts from 1458 to 1466 by his colleague Sano di Pietro, using Sassetta's full-size cartoons. The other is from the Porta Pispini and is by Sano di Pietro. Lower down are tombs of the Salimbeni family.
Six recesses on the left wall have large unstriking 16th & 17th century panel paintings on rusty iron frameworks, installed in 1997 to replace the baroque side altars destroyed in the 19th century.

The transept
There's a deep transept with four deep chapels either side of a rectangular apse and two in the rear of the left arm.
One of these is called the Cappella della Sacre Particole (Chapel of the Sacred Particles), and there's another of the same name in the right transept. These are used to celebrate a miraculous event that took place after the theft of a ciborium containing 348 whole consecrated hosts and six halves, on the 14th of August 1730. They were all found three days later, on the 17th, in the offering box at the church of Santa Maria di Provenzano, suspended by cobwebs, dusty, but miraculously intact and fresh-bread smelling, which they have remained ever since. Subsequent test on unconsecrated hosts have shown that they go stale and dark yellow. This event is therefore celebrated on the 17th of every month, in the chapel in the left transept (also known as the Piccolomini Chapel) in the summer and the right one (Martinozzi) in the colder months. On the Feast of Corpus Christi the sacred particles are processed through Siena in a special processional monstrance.
The north transept has a Martyrdom of Saint Martina by Pietro da Cortona and the huge doorway by Francesco di Giorgio Martini taken from the facade of the church in the early 20th century.
There are light switches to the right in all of the east-end chapels.

The first chapel at the left end of the east end has a fresco panel of the Madonna and Child Enthroned. The next two before the apse have the highlight Lorenzetti frescoes restored for the big Ambrogio Lorenzetti exhibition in Siena in 2017/18. The left hand chapel, the Bandini-Piccolomini has The Ordination of Saint Louis of Toulouse and a somewhat graphic Martyrdom of the Franciscan Friars, by Ambrogio (see right). The next chapel, next to the apse, the Piccolomini Todeschini, has the famed red-skied Crucifixion by Pietro (1326) (see above). The three are substantially all that remains of seven frescos, once in the chapter house here, began on the brothers' return from Assisi in the late 1320s. This cycle was whitewashed over in 1730 and rediscovered when flakes of plaster fell from the wall in 1832 and uncovered and moved into the chapels in 1857. Much of the original painting had been done dry (a secco) after the fresco had been completed, hence the substantial losses of colour, especially the azurite of the skies.
The first chapel to the right of the apse has a fire-damaged (in 1655) Madonna and Child panel attributed to Andrea Vanni from 1398. The second and third have modern gold-ground altarpieces.
More banking-family tombs are to be found in the right transept, and to the rear is the other Cappella della Sacre Particole, a Lippo Vanni, trompe l’oeil polyptych fresco of the 1360s in the Martinozzi Chapel, quicker to paint and cheaper on carpentry than an actual altarpiece, and a hall leading to the sacristy, with its frescos by Sodoma. Back down the right side are three more 17th-century panels on iron frameworks and a frescoed recess by Andrea Vanni.

Completed in October 1763, by Paolo Posi, to replace the old, low and castellated one in the map below.

Lost art
We begin with a sad example of total loss - not a single 13th-century altarpiece has survived from this church, and there's not even a documentary record of a major altarpiece.
A 1408 panel depicting Louis of Toulouse by Taddeo di Bartolo is likely from an altarpiece once here. It's now in the Diocesan Museum. Three gable panels by Taddeo, now in the Pinacoteca, showing The Trinity, the Archangel Gabriel and Saint James may be from the same altarpiece. The artist may also have frescoed a chapel here
The Fondi altarpiece of 1436 by Giovanni di Paolo. The parts of it are still being argued about, but may be in Houston, Siena and New York.
Far-flung fragments from the Lorenzettis' fresco cycle in the Chapter House include a small one by Ambrogio showing a Group of Four Poor Clares. After being found under whitewash it was cut from the wall c.1855 and sold to the National Gallery in 1878 for £45. Two more small fragments, attributed to Pietro, are also in the National Gallery- a Grieving Virgin and a Crowned Female Figure (Saint Elizabeth of Hungary?). A Resurrected Christ by Pietro from the same series painted for the chapter house, was originally resited after removal in the refectory, but since the late 1960s has been in the Diocesan Museum next door to San Francesco, as is a fragment of decorative fresco framing by Ambrogio showing a Saint with a Book, a Sceptre and a Crown.  A cycle painted by Ambrogio in the lunettes of first cloister in 1336, which included The Martyrdom of the Franciscans in Tana, was destroyed, but with some fragments found and recently restored  for the 2017/18 Ambrogio Lorenzetti exhibition in Siena. This panel was mentioned by both Ghiberti (in his Commentaries, in the longest passage devoted to a single work of art) and Vasari.

A detached fresco niche of the Lamentation (see above) is all that's left of Vecchietta's c.1448 decoration of the Martinozzi family chapel here. It's now in the Diocesan Museum. An altarpiece by him, and his studio, painted for the Saint Bernardino chapel here was largely destroyed in the 1655 fire, but probable predella panels from it are now in the Walker in Liverpool (Saint Bernardino Preaching), the Alte Pinakothek in Munich (Saint Anthony of Padua's Miracle of the Mule) and the Vatican (Saint Louis of Toulouse).
An altarpiece painted by Perugino for the Vieri chapel here was also destroyed in the fire of 1655.
A large Deposition altarpiece by Sodoma, finished by 1513, from the Cinuzzi chapel here is now in the Pinacoteca, as is a large fresco fragment of the calm and buff Christ at the Column by him from the cloister here. The rest of the painting is described by Vasari, who also tells us that the artist loved animals and kept badgers, squirrels, chickens, Barbary apes, big cats and a raven.
Also in the Pinacoteca is a 1536 Descent into Limbo by Domenico Beccafumi from the Marsili chapel.

The church in art
San Bernardino Preaching in Piazza San Francesco (1444-50) by Sano di Pietro (now in the Duomo's Museo dell'Opera) shows the Sienese saint preaching in front of the striped marble lower facing of the façade of San Francesco which was removed in the end of the 19th century and is still to be seen in the old photo right.

Opening times
Daily 7.30 - 12.00 & 3.30 - 7.00

Guide book
The church sells a book by Padre Paolo Promavera which says on the cover that it is in five languages. However the Italian section runs to forty pages, with photos - the other languages get photo-free four-page summaries.

Selva (wood) contrada church

From Francesco Vanni's map
of the late 16th century.




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