Housed in the walled-up right aisle of the Duomo's abortive new nave, Siena's Duomo museum contains all the works removed from the facade for conservation as well as disused altarpieces, including Duccio's masterpiece. It also offers one of the city's best views. The ground floor has the fascinating but weather-beaten facade statues by Giovanni Pisano and his school (1284-96), remarkable for their Gothic plasticity and craned, elongated necks. (When they were 15m/50 ft. up in niches, these protruding necks made sure their faces were visible from the ground.) In the center of the room is Jacopo della Quercia's last work, a 1438 marble panel of Cardinal Casini Presented to the Virgin by St. Anthony Abbot. Also here is a luminous marble tondo of the Madonna and Child carved in refined schiacciato relief. Most scholars now agree it's the work of Donatello. There are more statues out a side door, but that leads to the exit, so first head up the stairs.
Upstairs is the museum's (if not the city's) masterpiece, Duccio's Maestà. It's impossible to overstate the importance of this double-sided altarpiece, now separated and displayed on opposite sides of the intimate room. Not only did it virtually found the Sienese school of painting, but it has also been considered one of the most important late medieval paintings in all of Europe since the day it was unveiled. When Duccio finished the work on June 9, 1311, it was reportedly carried in procession from the painter's workshop to the Duomo's altar by the clergy, government officials, and every last citizen in Siena. The centuries have, all told, been unusually kind to it. Although eight of the predella panels are in foreign museums and one is lost (12 pinnacle angels suffered similar fates), it's otherwise remarkably intact and in great shape. The central scene of the Maestà, or Virgin Mary in Majesty enthroned and surrounded by saints, became the archetypal grand subject for a Sienese painter. Her dark bulk and the gorgeous inlaid throne contribute to the Madonna's majesty, while the soft folds of her robes and her gentle features bring out her humanity.
On the wall is an early Duccio Madonna and Child. Almost overlooked here is Pietro Lorenzetti's incredible Birth of the Virgin. The perspective in the piece may be a bit off, but Lorenzetti broke traditions and artistic boundaries with his fabrics, his colors, and (most important) the architectural space he created. Instead of painting a triptych with a central main scene and two unrelated side panels of saints, as was the norm, Lorenzetti created a single continuous space by painting vaulted ceilings that seem to grow back from the pointed arches of the triptych's frame. Pietro never got a chance to develop these ideas; this is the last work he painted before succumbing to the plague.
The upper floor's Treasury Room has a remarkable early Crucifix by Giovanni Pisano (ca. 1280), a 13th-century gilded silver reliquary containing the head of St. Galgano, and paintings by Domenico Beccafumi, Sassetta, and Vecchietta kept in a usually locked side room. In the Sala della Madonna degli Occhi Grossi, the namesake Madonna of the Big Eyes, which got nudged off the cathedral's high altar by Duccio's Maestà, was painted in the 1220s by the "Maestro di Tressa." Also here are some Ambrogio Lorenzetti Saints (and a few by Il Sodoma) and Madonna and Child works by Matteo di Giovanni, Sano di Pietro, and the "Master of Città di Castello."
If you take the stairs (past rooms of baroque canvases and church vestments) that lead up to the walkway atop the would-be facade of the "New Duomo," you get the best visualization of how the enlarged Duomo would have looked as well as sweeping views across the city's rooftops with the Torre del Mangia towering over the Palazzo Pubblico.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010
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