Lauding the Locality: Urban Architecture in Medieval Sienese Painting
By Robert Galantucci
History Matters: An Undergraduate Journal of Historical Research (Spring 2006)
Introduction: In the twelfth century, Siena was no longer part of the Etruscan or Roman empires; it had gained its independence as an autonomous city-state. With fierce competition from its powerful neighbor Florence and its anti-imperial rivals, the Guelfs, Siena was faced with political and economic warfare from its very creation as a selfgoverning territory. As a result of this external pressure, the city developed an intense patriotism. This civic sentiment can be seen in the city’s architectural presentation, as well as in the depictions thereof, which remained key subject matter in Sienese art for the rest of the city’s history. Beginning with Guido da Siena’s Cruxifiction, which featured Siena-inspired architecture, urban cityscapes became a consistent subject of medieval Sienese painting. This new concern among the arts is described by author Judith Hook as an exploration of “the way in which man inhabits the buildings he constructs… [and] in the actual building process by which the urban environment was created.”
As seen in the work of Duccio, followed by Simone Martini, and culminating with Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegories of the Good and Bad Government, architectural forms and depictions of the commune itself were shown in Siena’s art as a vehicle to exalt the city. Looking into the backdrops of medieval art compositions, it becomes obvious that portraying the commune was an opportunity artists seized to portray their communities and their participation in public life.
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