Inside the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

The famous and beautiful Palazzo Pubblico is the town hall in Siena. Construction began on the building in 1297, which was to serve as the seat of the Republic’s government. Chambers were needed for both the Podesta and the Council of Nine. These were the Republic’s elected officials.

Within the palazzo is the Sala di Balia. This room was created at the beginning of the fourteenth century and was so named because it was used by the magistratura di Balia, a council gathered to execute government policy. The council met in the Sala from 1455 until the end of the Republic and Gilberto da Correggio, the commander of the Sienese army against Piccinino (1455) was executed here, for treason it is said.

The room is richly frescoed. On the vaults, the Sienese Martino Bartolomeo painted the Evangelisti – The Evangelists – between 1407 and 1408, when he completed the six busts of emperors and warriors. Spinello Aretino, helped by his son Parri, at the same time took on the task of painting the remaining walls with Storie di Alessandro III – Episodes from the Life of Alexander III – Pope Rolando Bandinelli. One of Siena’s great sons, during the course of his twelfth century papacy Alexander III helped unite northern Italian cities with varying success, in an extended struggle Emperor Frederick I, known as Barbarossa. This pictorial cycle, divided into sixteen, starts with two lunettes on the arch over the exit.

The frescoes show a simple but effective vitality – clearly influenced by the Giotto’s late period – showing episodes from the life of this Pope: his coronation, his expulsion from Rome by Barbarossa’s troops, his alliance with the Venetians, the foundation of the Piedmont city of Alessandria, named after him. Amongst the events depicted, the Battaglia di Punta San Salvatore – Battle at Punta di San Salvatore – is remarkable for richness of detail, such as the naval battle between the Venetian and German fleets. This painting, showing the Venetian victory, covers the entire lower wall leading to the exit. Equally marvellous is the depiction of Ritorno a Roma di Alessandro III – Pope Alessandro III returns to Rome – above the entrance. In this last fresco, the Emperor Barbarossa is shown, defeated yet forgiven, accompanying the Pope into the Eternal city.

Both before and after Spinello, only Sienese artists painted in this room and its decoration – in terms of artist, concept and iconography – is unique in the Palazzo.

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