There is still much debate about the development of early Italian painting. That it was influenced by Byzantine art is not disputed but what happened after the innovations of artists such as Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio is much less clear. In fact, the precise roles of these artists in these innovations is argued about; for example, many art historians now have doubts about the involvement of Giotto at Assisi. These debates will, of course, continue and many of the questions will likely remain unanswered, but this is part of what makes it such an interesting subject. What is unquestionable is that the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena is one of the most important art museums in Italy and that it contains a wonderful collection of early Sienese paintings. My visit there was one of the most rewarding of this trip.
The oldest documented work of the Sienese school on display is ‘The Saviour Blessing and Stories of the True Cross’ dated 1215, a tempera and gold painting on wood by the Master of Tressa, who was active in Siena between 1215 and 1240. It was an antependium (in Italian ‘paliottoan’), an ornament that would have been placed on the front of the altar table.
Master of Tressa ‘The Saviour Blessing and Stories of the True Cross’ (1215)
Other thirteenth-century works include Guido da Siena’s dossal, (an ornamental panel hung behind the altar) consisting of three scenes, the Transfiguration, the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and the Resurrection of Lazarus, from the 1270s.
Guido di Siena ‘Altarpiece’ (1270s)
From the beginning of the fourteenth century there are works by Duccio and his assistants, including what is known as ‘Polyptych no. 28’ and ‘Madonna of the Franciscans’.
Duccio ‘Polyptych no. 28’ (1300 – 05)
Duccio ‘Madonna of the Franciscans’ (c.1300)
From one of my favourite artists, Simone Martini, there is the excellent ‘Blessed Agostino Novello Altarpiece’, with illustrations of his miracles including saving a child falling from a window and bringing life back to a child who has been savaged by a dog, and the Duccio-influenced ‘Madonna of Mercy from Vertine’.
Simone Martini ‘Blessed Agostino Novello Altarpiece’ (1324)
Simone Martini ‘Madonna of Mercy’ (1308 – 10)
There are several works by the Lorenzetti brothers, Pietro and Ambrogio. From the former there is the beautiful ‘Madonna with Angels between St Nicholas and Prophet Elisha’, whilst from Ambrogio there is the equally delightful ‘Annunciation’, his last known work.
Pietro Lorenzetti ‘Madonna with Angels between St Nicholas and Prophet Elisha’ (1328 – 29)
Ambrogio Lorenzetti ‘Annunciation’ (1344)