Pietro Lorenzetti
Biography of Sienese School Fresco Painter.

Pin it

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

For more information, see:
Gothic Art (c.1150-1375)
International Gothic (c.1375-1450)

For a guide, see: Religious Art.

Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45)

Pietro Lorenzetti, one of the early members of the Sienese School of painting, was probably ten years older than his brother Ambrogio Lorenzetti, but it is not absolutely certain that a document of 1305 relates to this painter. Like Simone Martini, he grew up at a time when the artistic climate was dominated by the mature painting of Duccio di Buoninsegna, but unlike these two Old Masters, Pietro manifested an extremely dramatic, passionate temperament. After difficult beginnings and considerable efforts to free himself from the tradition of Duccio, he soon began to look towards Giotto, from whom he took the profound divisions of space, while adapting them to the traditional trecento language of Siena. His most significant work in this respect is the triptych with the Virgin and Child between St Francis and St John the Baptist, painted in fresco (Assisi, Basilica of S. Francesco, Lower Church), but the coherence of these beginnings is equally apparent in the succeeding works, all dating from between 1310 and 1320, and all notable contributions to 14th century Pre-Renaissance Painting. Among the most characteristic are The Virgin and Child with Angels and the Crucifix (Cortona Museum); the polyptych representing the Virgin and Child and Saints (now split up: Church of Monticchiello; Florence, Home Museum; Le Mans Museum); the Virgin in Majesty (Philadelphia Museum, Johnson Coll); and a small Crucifixion and Saints (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum).

For an idea of the pigments
used by Pietro Lorenzetti
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For a list of the best examples of
fine art painting, by the
world's top artists, see below:
Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed
media from 1300-1800.
Oil Painting
History, styles and development.

For an explanation of the
aesthetic issues surrounding
the creative visual arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Powerful Style of Painting

These works allow us to follow the evolution of Pietro Lorenzetti's powerful style, and reveal his preoccupation with problems that are wholly modern in their concern to express pathos or tragic eloquence. Even when he draws inspiration from the violent elements in the sculptures of Giovanni Pisano, his natural talent is accompanied by a deep expression of feeling, rendered by colours whose tones are alternately brilliant and deep. He is thus able to transform the aristocratic tradition of Siena into a realistic and human style of representation, whose freedom is highlighted by an even wider choice of theme and by a vigour that is both plastic and formal.

This exploration culminated in the fine fresco painting of the Lower Church of S. Francesco, Assisi (which some critics, however, attribute to Pietro's workshop), and also the Scenes of the Passion (from The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem to The Ascent of Calvary) and the great polyptych of The Virgin and Child with Saints (still on its original site on the high altar of the Pieve in Arezzo), commissioned in 1320 and his first dated work. These paintings mark the beginnings of Lorenzetti's mature period, when he produced works of the large-scale inventiveness demanded by the art of the fresco, on themes of pathos or tragedy, powerful in their intensity. Therein lies the dominating theme which unites the frescoes of the left transept in the Lower Church of Assisi.


By its sheer size and spiritual grandeur, the great Crucifixion dominates the other scenes in this transept. The artist surrounded the scene of suffering on the Cross with a confused and variegated crowd of worshippers, soldiers and horsemen, as though the howling mob from the Cimabue Crucifixion had been transported into a theatrical setting. This masterpiece influenced not only Sienese painting but much of the art of the period by its tremendous innovations in setting, expressiveness and iconography. The other frescoes in the cycle are no less admirable and include the Scenes from the Passion after the death of Christ (from the Deposition to the Resurrection), and The Stigmatization of St Francis.

Florentine Influence

From 1329 comes the altarpiece formerly in the Carmelite church (Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale), which, particularly in its astonishing predella (Scenes from the Lives of the Carmelite Monks), reveals Pietro Lorenzetti's encounter with the new Florentine Proto-Renaissance art, and more precisely with the work of Maso di Banco. Here, the prophetic fervour of the Assisi frescoes is toned down, and the work reveals an admirable composition, more ornate and worldly, and displaying severe, almost classical, colours and proportions.

The three panel paintings of the polyptych (dated 1331-2) representing St Bartholomew, St Cecilia and St John the Baptist (formerly in the Pieve di S. Cecilia at Cremola; Siena, P.N.) reveal a marked affinity with works which were formerly attributed to a hypothetical painter, close to Lorenzetti in style, who was conventionally known as the 'Master of the Dijon Triptych' (this work is now in Dijon Museum). From this group the Virgin and Child of the Loeser Collection (Florence, Palazzo Vecchio) should be singled out, along with its accompanying panels (now in the Metropolitan Museum) and the small paintings depicting the Virgin and Child Surrounded by Saints (Baltimore, Waiters Collection; Milan, Poldi-Pezzoli Museum; Berlin Dahlem), Christ before Pilate (Vatican), or the small panel with St Sabinus before the Governor (London, N.G.), which should be linked to the great altarpiece, begun in 1335, for Siena Cathedral, the central panel of which consisted of the Birth of the Virgin, dated 1342 (Siena, Museo dell' Opera della Metropolitana).


The wonderful Virgin in Majesty (1340, UffIzi), previously at Pistoia, and the polyptych describing Scenes from the Life of the Blessed Humilitas, certainly executed after 1332 (Uffizi; two panels in Berlin-Dahlem), conclude Pietro Lorenzetti's stylistic evolution, which was concentrated on a neo-Giottoesque study of the synthesis of forms and of colours. The art of Pietro Lorenzetti had a profound influence, which was prolonged by his numerous followers and imitators (Nicolo di Segna, the Master of San Pietro d'Ovile). One of the most interesting of Proto-Renaissance artists, it may safely be said that for a long time after Lorenzetti's death, no Sienese artist remained unaffected by the imprint of his incomparable poetic personality.

Note: Other members of the Siena School of painting during the 14th century, in addition to the Lorenzetti brothers, were: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni), and Matteo di Giovanni. During the 15th century, a major figure of the school was Giovanni di Paolo (c.1400-82).

Paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world.

• For profiles of the major art styles/movements/periods, see: History of Art.
• For more biographical details about famous painters, see: Homepage.

Visual Artists, Greatest
© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.