The early period 1180-1320: under Byzantine influence
The earliest Sienese painting dates back to the end of the 11th century, and only a handful of works survive from this period. They include a painted crucifix in the Pinacoteca in Siena and a painted crucifix and a Madonna in the museum at Montalcino. None of the artists is known, and all their works are in the icon-like style inherited from Byzantium.
This style continued into the 13th century, when some names and dates can be attributed to the artists. They include:
- Guido da Siena and Dietisalvi di Speme, both active in the first half of the 1200s. Several works attributed to Guido have recently been reattributed to Dietisalvi, and there is still disagreement among the experts.
- Duccio di Boninsegna (1260-1319), Siena’s first great painter. He was influenced by Cimabue in Florence and was the first to break away from the Byzantine tradition and to impart feeling and movement into his work. His masterpiece is the Maiestà in the Cathedral Museum in Siena.
International Gothic 1320-1400
The departure from the Eastern tradition towards the European-wide movement that became known as ‘international Gothic’ intensified under Duccio’s pupils and successors:
- Simone Martini (c.1284-1344), who perfected the sinuous grace of international Gothic with his long curved figures. His masterpiece is the Maiestà frescoed on the wall of the Council Chamber in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. The fresco on the wall opposite of the horseman Guido da Fogliano was also believed to be his, but doubt has recently been cast on this.
- Barna da Siena worked in Simone Martini’s studio. He is chiefly known for the cycle of frescoes that he did in the Duomo in San Gimignano c.1335-40 which combine Gothic elegance with a good illustration of character.
- Ugolino di Nerio (active 1317-1327) painted a number of delicate but intensely dramatic alterpieces and crucufixes.
- Segna di Bonaventura (active 1298-1331), a nephew of Duccio and very similar to him in style. His son Niccolò di Segna (active 1331-1345) was also an artist in the same style.
- Memmo di Filippuccio (active 1294-1324), a near contemporary of Duccio, influenced by Giotto. He became a sort of official painter of the authorities in San Gimignano.
- Lippo Memmi (active 1317-1347), son of the above and also brother-in-law and follower of Simone Martini. His best known work is the fresco of the Maiestà in the Palazzo di Popolo in San Gimignano, closely modelled on Simone Martini’s masterpiece in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.
- Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti (c.1280-1348) were brothers who are assumed to have perished in the Black Death as they are not mentioned after 1348. Among the most outstanding artists of the period, they moved yet further away from the Byzantine school towards naturalism, especially in their non-religious paintings such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s great frescoes of good and bad government in the Palazzo Pubblico.
- Lippo Vanni (active 1341-1375), a follower of Pietro Lorenzetti, good on space and perspective, who did some excellent frescoes in the church of San Leonardo al Lago.
- Paolo di Giovanni Fei (c.1344-1411), another follower of the Lorenzettis, but less innovatory.
- Bartolo di Fredi (c.1330-1410), an attractive painter with a particularly rich and gay sense of colour, although without quite the grasp of perspective of some of his peers. His paintings are often crammed with incident and unlikely looking animals. His son Andrea di Bartolo followed his style.
- Luca di Tommé (1356-1390), a painter close to Bartolo di Fredi. There is one of his works in the Pinacoteca in Siena and another in the church at Torri.
- Andrea Vanni (c.1332-1413), somewhat wooden in style, responsible for the famous portrait of St Catherine of Siena in San Domenico.
15th century painters: the conservative tendency
The trend towards naturalism of the Lorenzettis was almost too radical for the conservative Sienese, and the style of the next generation of painters hardly changed. While the art of Flornece moved on, Sienese art continued to be traditional, ornate and carefully structured. There is no one outstanding figure, but a number of talented artists turned out a large number of attractive and decorative works, full of Gothic grace. Their names are confusingly similar, due to the habit of using the father’s first name as a surname.
- Taddeo di Bartolo (1363-1422), solidly conservative and still in the Lorenzetti tradition, but with exceptional technique.
- Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (c1392-1450). One of the most interesting artists of the period and one of the few to make further progress towards naturalism, for instance substituting landscape and sky for the gold background against which the figures had traditionally been placed in Sienese religious art.
- Sano di Pietro (1406-1481). An extremely prolific artist, he turned out a production line of highly competent polyptiches in a traditional style (no doubt what his clients wanted), but allowed himself a more naturalistic approach in the little scenes on the predellas of his works.
- Giovanni di Paolo (c.1403-1482), another conservative who kept strictly to Gothic structures and gold backgrounds, and also rather specialised in figures with intensely sad and tortured mien. But his paintings are always objects of beauty.
- Luca di Tomme’ (1356-1390).
The Renaissance (at last) hits Siena
Finally, towards the end of the 15th century, the artists of Siena forsake their gilded gothic thrones and temples and go for a more naturalistic style. Nativity scenes are now in romantically ruined stables, often with a broken classical archway or similar classical structure nearby. The figures show the influence of Filippino Lippi, Botticelli and other Florentine painters. But Sienese patrons remained conservative, and touches of Gothicism lingered on in deference to their taste.
- Domenico di Bartolo (c.1400-1446) was one of the first to forego ornate Gothic buildings and thrones and to place his religious figures against simple backgrounds. He was one of the artists of the great cycle of frescoes in the Hospital in Siena.
- Il Vecchietta (Lorenzo di Pietro) (1410-1480) also doubled as a sculptor, goldsmith and architect. Although still largely in the Gothic tradition, there are some beginnings of the Renaissance in his style. Also one of the main artists of the wonderful series of non-religious frescoes in the Hospital della Scala in Siena.
- Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio (1410-1449) did not live long but managed in his short life to combine Renaissance elements with the traditional Gothic that Siena’s patrons still demanded (see for instance his tryptich of the Nativity in the Museum in Asciano, which has a fantastical humble rushy stable, but traditional Gothic bacgrounds in the two side panels).
- Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502). A true Renaissance man, he was an architect, sculptor, painter, engineer and theorist. An attractive painter with good colours, but despite his architectural skills weak on perspective.
- Matteo di Giovanni (c.1435-1495) was in the mainstream Renaissance style with serene Madonnas and high classical buildings as background to his painting. He did several versions of the Massacre of the Innocents.
- Guidoccio Cozzarelli (1450-c.1516) was a pupil of Matteo di Giovanni and his work is similar, although with more dramatic detail. One of his paintings hangs in the tiny parish church of Rosia.
- Pietro Orioli (c.1458-1496). Another pupil of Matteo di Giovanni (there are pictures by both painters in the church at Buonconvento). He approaches to Botticelli in style but still with a touch of Sienese mysticism.
The 16th century and beyond
The end of the 15th century also marked the end of the independence and originality that gave Siena its own school of painting, and there were few further artists of distinction. Many of the good artists active in Siena at the beginning of the 1500s were from elsewhere. They included:
- Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) (1477-1549) who came from the Piedmont but made Siena his adoptive home. He and Beccafumi became the outstanding artists of Siena of the early 16th century. He was influenced by Leonardo da Vici and his paintings are always well composed with wonderful colour and soft light and shade. They are also characterised by a vivid naturalism. Among his best known works are the frescoes of the life ot St Benedict in the abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore. He was a flamboyant and eccentric personality. How he came about his nickname is disputed, but it does not appear to be a reference to his sexuality.
- Luca Signorelli (1445-1523) was born in Cortona and painted all over Tuscany and Umbria. He was commissioned to do the frescoes of the life of St Benedict in the Abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore, but gave up after only a few scenes (Sodoma took up the relay). He aimed at powerful truth rather than nobility of form (a sort of early expressionist) and tended to neglect colour.
- Bernardino Pinturicchio (1434-1513), an associate of Raphael from Umbria who was responsible for the cycle of frescoes in the Piccolomini Library in Siena Cathedral recording the life of Pope Pius II. His work perhaps lacks depth but has enormous charm.
Although there were still a number of truly Sienese painters active at this time, only the first of those described below showed any real originality:
- Domenico Beccafumi (Domenico di Jacopo di Pace) (1486-1551), with his extraordinary colours and vivid sense of light and shade, was a true original. A mannerist, but one who responded to a new desire fore mysticism and fantasy. The last great artist of Siena.
- Bernardino Fungai (1460-after 1513). Influenced by Perugino, he painted tranquil figures in calm landscapes.
- Giacomo Pacchiarotti (1470-after 1539). A designer and painter influenced by Bernardino Fungai.
- Girolamo di Pacchia (c.1477-after 1533). A pupil of Pacchiarotti. Competent but unoriginal, he was one of the artists commissioned to decorate the Oratorio San Bernardino in Siena.
- Rutilio Manetti (1571-1639) was an enormously prolific artist who dominated the Siena art scene in the 17th century. He had no clear style, although at different times he adopted the style of both the mannerists and Caravaggio. He has left large, dark and boring canvasses in most of Siena’s churches.