Sienese School of Painting
Byzantine/Gothic Art by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini.

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Madonna and Child (c.1325)
Honolulu Museum of Art
By Segna di Buonaventura.

For the greatest European painters,
see: Old Masters.

Sienese School of Painting (c.1250-1550)

The Siena school of Italian art, founded by Guido da Siena (active after 1250) and Coppo di Marcovaldo (1225-1274), flourished in Siena, between the 13th and 15th centuries. Devoted exclusively to Christian art, it had a significant influence on the development of Pre-Renaissance Painting (c.1300-1400). For many years - being Ghibelline and anti-papacy - it rivalled Florence, whose armies it crushed as late as 1260, but artistically it was more conservative - gaining inspiration from the style of fresco murals in Romanesque painting, and being inclined towards the decorative beauty and grace of Byzantine art and the International Gothic.

If Florentine art is above all naturalistic, Sienese painting has a lyrical, dreamlike quality created by a mixture of Byzantine heritage, miraculous subject matter, inattention to proportions, and atmospheric colouration.

Deposition of Christ from the Cross
(c.1320) Fresco by Pietro Lorenzetti.
Lower Church of St Francis of Assisi.

For a guide to the development
of painting and sculpture here,
see: Renaissance in Florence.

For a list of the top painters
involved in Renaissance Art,
during the 14th/15th/16th
centuries, see:
Proto-Renaissance Artists (14th C)
Early Renaissance Artists (1400-90)

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a chronological guide to
key events in the development
of visual arts around the globe
see: History of Art Timeline.

Duccio di Buoninsegna

Its greatest representative is undoubtedly Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319) whose religious paintings combined Byzantine composition with enormous grace and humanity. His finest masterpiece is the great Maesta Altarpiece (1311), painted for Siena Cathedral, whose surving panels are held in the Opera del Duomo, Siena, the National Gallery London, the Frick Collection New York, and the National Gallery in Washington DC. See also his exquisite panel painting known as the Stroganoff Madonna (1300). Other major Sienese painters include Duccio's pupil Simone Martini (1285-1344), Segna di Buonaventura (active 1298-1331), Pietro (active 1320-45) and Ambrogio (Active 1319-48) Lorenzetti, Domenico (1400-1447) and Taddeo (1362-1422) di Bartolo, Sassetta (1394-1450), and Matteo di Giovanni (1430-1495). From the middle of the trecento (14th century), the Sienese school fell into a slow but terminal decline. Within two centuries, the city of Siena fell under the control of its arch-rival Florence. (For earlier influences on the Siena school, see: Romanesque painting in Italy.)

Sienese School of Painting: 14th Century

The highpoint of the Sienese school was the period 1300-50. It witnessed the flowering of Duccio di Buoninsegna - who is to Sienese painting what Giotto is to Florence - whose religious art infuses the austerity of Byzantine styles with the humanism being championed by the new Franciscan and Dominican orders.


His exquisite colours, gold decoration, and controlled draughtsmanship paved the way for the emergence of International Gothic. This refined, cosmopolitan and courtly trend was also presaged by Simone Martini (1284-1344), noted for the Maesta in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (1315), his frescoes in the lower church of S. Francesco at Assisi (1320-30) and especially his masterpiece the Annunciation Triptych (1333) now in the Uffizi. Yet Martini was at heart a large-scale decorative illustrator, notably of illuminated manuscripts. Almost all his Medieval manuscript illumination has been lost - save for a frontispiece to a copy of Virgil (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana) that belonged to Petrarch - but evidence of his impact on Gothic illuminated manuscripts is clear. His sumptuous decoration can be seen as the end of an era, where Giotto's realism ushers in the Proto-Renaissance and marks a new beginning. Martini's main follower was Lippo Memmi (c.1295-1356).

By comparison, the brothers Pietro Lorenzetti and Ambrogio Lorenzetti were greatly influenced by Giotto and preferred narrative realism to Simone Martini's decorative style. Even so, as former pupils of Duccio, several of their works (eg. Carmelite Altarpiece, 1329, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena) owe a debt to Duccio and Martini. Ambrogio's best work is his fresco painting in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, entitled the Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1339), which art historians often cite as the apogee of naturalism in 14th-century Italian painting.

Sienese School of Painting: 15th Century

During the 15th century the two leading painters of the Sienese School were Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (c.1395-1450) and Giovanni di Paolo (1403-1483). Sassetta, an artist who delighted in the slender figurative forms of International Gothic and in the clarity of Early Renaissance pictorial space, is famous for the St Francis Altarpiece painted for Borgo S. Sepolcro (1437-1444, in the Louvre, and National Gallery, London). Giovanni di Paolo's mature work is recognizable for the harshness of its colour, its elongated forms and its overall dreamlike quality. His most important paintings are the panels featuring the life of John the Baptist.

Other 15th century Sienese painters include Taddeo Di Bartolo (1362-1422), tutor of Domenico Di Bartolo (1400-1447), noted for his frescoes on Roman Republican heroes and civic virtues (1406-14) in the Palazzo Pubblico. His conservative style harked back to earlier works by Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers. Domenico Di Bartolo went on to teach Piero della Francesca (1415-92), one of the leading figures of Early Renaissance painting in Florence, and is best known for the Madonna dell' Umilta, one of the finest panel paintings of the Early Renaissance.

The versatile Vecchietta (Lorenzo di Pietro) (1412-1480) produced high quality paintings and sculptures, the latter owing a strong debt to Donatello (1386-1466) who lived in Siena during the period 1457-59. Vecchietta also completed a number of exquisite International Gothic illuminations for an edition of Dante's Divine Comedy (1440, British Library). The Venetian painter Carlo Crivelli (1430/35-1495) was another conservative whose densely ornamented works are reminiscent of the Paduan tradition of Francesco Squarcione (1395-1468) and Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506). Matteo di Giovanni (1435-1495) personifies the progress of Sienese painting in the 15th century. He began by emphasizing line and pattern before developing an interest interest in contemporary Florentine art. Possessed of an elegant, decorative Sienese style, he became one of the most popular painters of the second half of the 15th century.

The multi-talented painter, sculptor, engineer and architect Francesco Di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501) was trained by Vecchietta, worked for the celebrated Federigo da Montefeltro of Urbino, painted the monochromatic frescoes in the Bichi Chapel of Sant'Agostino, designed the Church of the Madonna del Calcinaio outside Cortona, sculpted a set of bronze angels for the high altar of the Sienese Cathedral, before returning there as director of works. Benvenuto Di Giovanni (1436-1518) produced a number of derivative panel paintings, frescoes, manuscripts and designs for Siena Cathedral, while Neroccio de' Landi (1445-1500), a partner of Francesco di Giorgio until 1475, was another pupil of Vecchietta, who is known for his refined elegance and delicate colouring. His greatest work is a Portrait of a Girl in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Sienese School of Painting: 16th Century

In the 16th century Sienese artists included: the architect, painter and stage designer Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536), active mainly in Rome, where he worked under Donato Bramante (1444-1514) on St Peter's, becoming architect after the death of Raphael. A shy man, he was known for his sophisticated architectural style, very different from the monumental, grave idiom of his contemporaries. Also his friend Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as Il Sodoma (1477-1549), a licentious but prolific painter of frescoes and easel pictures, such as his masterpiece The Marriage of Alexander and Roxane (1516, Villa Farnesina, Rome). Although the Lombardian Il Sodoma was recognized as the top artist of the time by most of his contemporaries, modern opinion now assesses Domenico Beccafumi (1485-1551) as the most influential exponent of Mannerism in Siena. Fully conversant with the works of Raphael and Michelangelo as well as those of contemporary Florentine artists, he succeeded in integrating the new elements of the High Renaissance with the decorative qualities of Sienese tradition.

In 1918, the Renaissance art scholar Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) published an influential book Essays in the Study of Sienese Painting.

Note: Works reflecting the style of this art movement can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world. For details of European collections containing works by Sienese painters, see: Art Museums in Europe.

• For information about 14th century Italian painting in Siena, see: Homepage.

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