Painting of the 14th and 15th centuries in Siena III. Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Sassetta.

After Simone Martini, his brother Donato and his brother-in-law Lippo Memmi, a third generation kept with highest dignity the characteristic style of Siena’s painting. It was mainly represented by the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, who mixed the softness of the Sienese style with some of the characters of the school of Giotto. They worked in Siena, their homeland, and in Assisi. Both had to die in 1348 during the terrible “black death” plague that decimated a big portion of Europe’s population and left the city of Siena devastated, but Ambrogio -active since 1317- became an artist who enjoyed true fame.

Panoramic view of the frescoes in the south transept of the Lower Church of Saint Francis of Assisi painted by Pietro Lorenzetti between ca. 1315-1340. Pietro decorated this area of the church with scenes from the Passion. The lower part of the walls are painted with pseudo-marble. On the barrel vault there are six stories from the life of Christ: the Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Washing of Feet, the Capture of Christ, the Flagellation and the Road to Calvary. On the curved wall below the vaults Pietro painted the Crucifixion; under the Crucifixion, at eye level, he painted a ‘sacred conversation’, Mary and Child between Sts. Francis and John the Evangelist. On the concluding wall of the transept (the south wall) Pietro painted events after the death of Christ: the Descent into Limbo and the Resurrection, below, on a flat surface, the Deposition and the Entombment. In total, this Passion fresco cycle includes 17 frescoes that show influences from Giotto, Pisano, and Duccio.

Pietro Lorenzetti (ca. 1280-1348) and his brother Ambrogio (ca. 1290-9 June 1348) introduced naturalism into Sienese art. Their experimentation with three-dimensional and spatial arrangements presaged the Renaissance. Pietro’s work was influenced by Duccio, Giotto, and Giovanni Pisano. His masterwork are the frescoes of the lower church of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, where he painted scenes related to the Crucifixion, Deposition from the Cross, and Entombment of Jesus. The individual figures of his frescoes show different arrays of emotional interactions, unlike earlier depictions of the same scenes with agglomerations of characters following a defined iconographic scheme.

Crucifixion, ca. 1320, fresco in the Lower Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, by Pietro Lorenzetti. On the curved wall below the vaults Pietro painted the huge Crucifixion, considered as the most ambitious of all pre-Renaissance crowd scenes, as it comprises about 50 figures, each strongly differentiated. This fresco is located on the vault of the south arm of the western transept of the Lower Church. Here, the crosses are set against an enormous void of deep blue, with Christ, more than life-size, arching over the viewers’ heads. The Calvary hill is portrayed as a vast, crowded space: disciples and Jesus’ followers are grouped around the swooning Madonna, but they are all in turn encircled by mounted soldiery. The soldiers, though, dominate the crowd, embodying a whole spectrum of emotional responses.
Above, Deposition of Christ from the Cross, ca. 1320, fresco on the Lower Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, by Pietro Lorenzetti. This panel shows one of the scenes representing events after the death of Christ painted in the south transept of the Lower Church and located on the left side of the arch. Christ’s white corpse was once even more dramatically contrasted to his companions, who were originally mostly dressed in blue, this blue pigment has now flaked off. Below, detail of the Deposition of Christ scene with Mary tenderly mourning on the body of his deceased son.

Pietro Lorenzetti’s fresco cycle begins with scenes portraying the Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet, the Capture of Christ, the Flagellation and the Way to Calvary. These first scenes were painted at the top of the vaulted roof. The Last Supper scene (pictured above) shows Christ and his disciples seated around an angled table within a refulgent rotunda under a night sky with shooting stars and a crescent moon (upper left corner). To the left of the holy group Pietro included a domestic scene with a narrow kitchen and a man doing dishes, a woman at his shoulder, a dog licking the last scraps from a plate, and a cat asleep. With this secular scene, Lorenzetti surprises with an innovation: the pets and plates cast definite shadows at angles determined by their relation to the fire.

Pietro’s brother, Ambrogio, painted between 1338 and 1339 two large frescoes in the Communal Palace of Siena (Palazzo Pubblico), specifically in the Salon of Nine (Sala dei Nove), a room next to the Council Hall where Simone Martini’s Maestà was painted. Two of its large side walls have no interruption and therefore lend themselves to decoration. One of the frescoes is a great allegory of the Good Government, with its virtues and the advantages of peace, showing Siena and its region enjoying order and prosperity. The other is a composition to show the disastrous effects of the Bad Government. Both compositions are full of symbolic representations. The one of the Good Government consists of a colossal figure of the city dressed in imperial clothes, as if it truly was the personification of the Empire, but the initials C.S.C.V., Comune Senarum Civitas Virginis, indicate that it is a male representation of the Siena Municipality. Next to this gigantic figure are the virtues of Good Government: Magnanimity, Moderation and Justice, Prudence, Strength, Peace and Security. The Peace is the most admirable figure of this composition and gave her name to the room which is also known as Sala della Pace (Peace Hall). She is a young woman reclining on a couch, dressed simply in a white almost transparent tunic, and her blond hair crowned with spikes, above her is the legend: PAX. At the foot of these figures, citizens are seen in a friendly consortium and beyond it’s a view of Siena, with a group of young patrician girls dancing at the city gate, merchants on horseback, peasants returning from the field, etc. It follows a landscape in which the gentle hills of the country, sown with olive trees and vineyards, are represented with the figure of Security flying through the air and holding in her left hand a gallows from which an evildoer is hung.

A partial view of the Sala dei Nove (“Salon of Nine”) in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico with the three fresco panels painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between February 1338 and May 1339 depicting The Allegory of Good and Bad Government. The “Salon of Nine” was the council hall were Siena’s nine executive magistrates used to meet. The paintings purportedly were intended to remind the Nine magistrates of how much was at stake as they made their decisions and so unlike most art at the time, the subject matter was civic rather than religious. Considered as Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s masterpiece, the frescoes include six different scenes (see below). The murals cover three of the four walls of the Council Room, since the southern wall contains the only window of the room.
The “Allegory of Good Government” scene. This fresco was placed on the northern wall overlooking the murals of Effects of Good and Bad Government. Here Ambrogio depicted the personifications of the allegorical figures of the virtues of good government. In this particular scene, the composition was laid out in three horizontal bands. In the foreground were portrayed the figures of contemporary Siena. Behind them, on a stage, there are allegoric figures in two groups, representing the Good Government. The upper area indicates the heavenly sphere with the floating ghosts representing the virtues. The personification of the Commune of Siena sits upon a throne towards the right center of the fresco. Sitting alongside him are the virtues of Good Government represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude, and Prudence on the left, Magnanimity, Temperance, and Justice on the right. On the far left of the fresco the figure of Justice is repeated as she is balancing the scales held by Wisdom. At the feet of the ruler are two playing children. They could be the sons of Remus, Ascius and Senius, who, according to Roman legend, are the founders of Siena. It is also believed that the two children are Romulus and Remus themselves, who founded Rome.
The personification of the Commune of Siena from the Allegory of Good Government fresco. Here we see the figure of Wisdom sitting above the head of the personification of the Commune of Siena, who in turn sits upon a throne and holds an orb and scepter, symbolizing temporal power. He is dressed in the colors of the Balzana, the black-and-white Sienese coat of arms. Around his head are the four letters “C S C V”, which stand for “Commune Saenorum Civitatis Virginis“, which explains his identity as the embodiment of the Siena Council.
The figure of Peace from the Allegory of Good Government fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The main female figures in  Lorenzetti’s fresco are naturalistic, and tried to represent the ideal of female beauty in Siena at the time.
On the longer, eastern wall of the Salon of Nine, Lorenzetti depicted the scenes of the Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country. Portrayed above is the part representing the Peaceful City. This panoramic fresco represents several scenes indicating the life of Siena and its environment in the 14th century. This painting provides the first accurate panoramic view of city and country (landscape) since antiquity where viewers can identify the city of Siena. The city is filled with clustered palaces, markets, towers, churches, streets and walls. All of these aspects are reminiscent of town scenes found on ancient Roman murals. There are many shops, indicating good commerce and economic conditions. The traffic moves peacefully, guild members work at their trades, a wedding procession takes place, and maidens can be seen dancing gracefully. This fresco shows that if government is virtuous and rules justly, then the city thrives and prospers.
The Peaceful City fresco then transitions into the Effects of Good Government in the Country by showing an entourage passing through the city’s gate and out to the countryside beyond the city walls. The new scene shows a bird’s-eye view of the Tuscan countryside, with villas, castles, plowed farmlands, and peasants and farmers leisurely going about their bucolic responsibilities. The winged allegorical figure of Security hovers above the landscape holding an unfurled scroll promising safety to all who live under the rule of law.

The Bad Government is represented on the opposite wall, accompanied by the vices that characterize it: the Tyranny, the Pride, the Vanaglory, the Betrayal, the Cruelty, etc. This composition seems to be more conducive and is better suited to the conception of a thinker and sociologist than to that of a painter. This coincides with the opinion a scholar of the time, Andrea della Valle, had of Ambrogio Lorenzetti: “In his ways he looked more like a philosopher and a gentleman than an artist.”

On the western wall, opposite the fresco with The Effects of Good Government Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted the depiction of The Effects of Bad Government. Pictured above is the scene with the Allegory of Bad Government (center and right). This allegorical group depicts a devious looking figure adorned with horns and fangs, and appearing to be cross-eyed, this figure has been identified as Tyrammides (Tyranny), who sits enthroned, resting his feet upon a goat (symbolic of luxury) while holding a dagger. Below the tyrant the captive figure of Justice lies bound, while the figures of Cruelty, Deceit, Fraud, Fury, Division, and War flank him, and above him float the figures of Avarice, Pride, and Vainglory.
The Effects of Bad Government in the City was portrayed on the left of the fresco. Here the city appears to be very jarring; nothing fits as it should be. The city is in ruins, windows are wide open, houses are being demolished, businesses are nonexistent, except that of the armourer, and the streets are deserted.
The scene of the Effects of the Bad Government in the Country shows two armies advancing towards each other. The whole scene shows the mirror opposite of that of The Effects of Good Government: instead of peaceful and pleasant fields there’s now war and barren fields. This created a powerful visual reminder to the council meeting in the Salon.

Other of the Lorenzetti brothers’ masterpieces are the frescoes of the Basilica of San Francesco of Siena. In this Franciscan church the painters tried to represent, not St. Francis’ life, but that of other saints of the Order. They were completely new scenes. In one of them, Saint Louis of Tolouse appears before the Pope Boniface VIII to take the Franciscan robe. In other is the torture of the martyrs of Ceuta by order of the Sultan, a dramatic composition that shows influences from the school of Giotto.

The fresco representing Pope Boniface VIII receiving St. Louis of Toulouse as a Novice, ca. 1324-1327, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Church of San Francesco, Siena). This fresco is one of the four main scenes in the Chapter House of the Church of San Francesco in Siena. The two scenes painted by Ambrogio were the one portrayed above and the Martyrdom of the Franciscans (below).
The second fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Church of San Francesco in Siena shows the Martyrdom of the group of Franciscans on their way to China. This fresco was dedicated to the memory of seven Franciscan monks, who were executed in 1277 in the Moroccan city of Ceuta by order of the Sultan. In the center of the composition the sultan is depicted on the throne, closely watching the execution. Standing on both sides of the throne are the Sultan’s confidants. The executioner on the right has just accomplished his work, he turns away while sheathing his sword. To the left another executioner is depicted with his back to the viewer, waving his sword, he is about to decapitate three bounded monks. Curious onlookers are depicted by small figures behind the executed. Ambrogio Lorenzetti was able to represent the depth of space by the placement of human figures.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti also painted several Maestà (Virgin with the Child sitting on the throne), a Presentation to the Temple in 1342 (today in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence), an Annunciation in 1344 (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena) and extraordinary landscapes that, for the first time in Western painting, show a geometric rigor and an almost metaphysical air, like his famous “City by the Sea” (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena).

Maestà, 1335, tempera on wood, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Museum of Sacred Art, Massa Marittima). In his Maestà, Ambrogio Lorenzetti followed the styles of both Duccio and Simone Martini. The Madonna is seated on an original throne composed of the outspread wings of two angels. The throne is set on the last of three steps, upon which are sitting personifications of the three theological virtues. The figures represent: Faith in white, Hope in green and Charity in red. In this painting, Lorenzetti added an intense maternal bonding scene showing the Virgin about to tenderly kiss Child Christ, a gesture that was unusual in contemporary Sienese art; also, the Virgin gazes at her child with intense emotion as he grasps her dress, returning her gaze. By personalizing the Virgin Mary, Lorenzetti made her seem more human, thus creating a profound psychological effect on the viewer. The crowd of saints depicted with the Virgin is of Byzantine artistic tradition, used to indicate a gathering of witnesses.
Presentation at the Temple, 1342, tempera on wood with gold background, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). This panel was originally painted for the chapel of San Crescenzio in the transept of the Cathedral of Siena. The scene depicts the presentation at the temple and the purification of Mary, 40 days after giving birth. Mary, dressed in blue cloak and red dress, gives her son to Simeon and to the prophetess Anna. Anna is holding a scroll citing a passage from the Gospels, narrating this event (Luke 22: 38). On the altar, the priest is sacrificing the gifts brought by Mary and Joseph. Joseph is shown alone, on the far left. The temple, for which it can be seen both its interior and exterior, was imagined by Ambrogio Lorenzetti as a church, with columns, starry vaults, paintings and windows. The idea of depth is conveyed by the converging widths of the polychrome marble floor, this shows Ambrogio’s interest in depicting spatiality. Baby Jesus is shown sucking his thumb, which gave a spontaneous sense to the holy subject.
Annunciation, 1344, tempera and gold on panel, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena). Lorenzetti’s final artwork contains the use of clear linear perspective: the diagonals traced by the floor tiles do create the illusion of depth. It was originally painted for the Ufficio della Gabella (“Office of the Tax”) of the commune of Siena and located in the Consistory Hall of the Palazzo Pubblico. The painting portrays both the moment when the angel explains Mary how the conception could happen and the conception occurring. The angel, in fact, is saying the Latin words: Non est (erit) impossibile apud Deum omne verbum (“Nothing is impossible for God’s word”), which are visible between his mouth and the Virgin’s chest embossed on the gold background. The Virgin, looking upwards, replies: Ecce Ancilla Domini (“Here Is God’s Maid”), also in embossed letters. The realistic use of geometrical perspective in the floor is similar to that seen in the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple from 1342 (pictured before). The influence of Giotto is noted in the use of chiaroscuro to paint the faces and in the drapes.
City By The Sea, ca.1340, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena). The city painted here has been identified as Talamone, the nearest port to Siena. On the sea in the upper part there are two little ships. At the bottom left corner a naked man sits on a bank and dangles his feet in an inland water, with his clothes beside him. The rest of the pictured is unpopulated. The city’s buildings are shown in overview, displaying an early exercise on perspective, and emphasizing clever construction as they stand out against a rough and rocky landscape. The painting feels like a scale model, an attempt in making a two-dimensional model.

The artistic trends initiated by the Lorenzetti brothers had no followers. Siena’s workshops preferred to repeat the usual themes of virgins and aristocratic saints that certainly had unlimited clientele. At the end of the 14th century, the Sienese art only had two paths left to follow: one, to return to the study of Nature, or two, to die in the environment created by Duccio and Simone Martini.

However, there was much conceptual delicacy, compositional elegance and color quality in the works made by the series of painters of the school of Siena from the second half of the 14th century to the final years of the following century. It almost seems impossible that this delicacy and love for refined beauty could have been kept in a city continually shaken by wars, internal struggles, complots and uprisings, hunger and plague. However, during this period the richly decorated palaces of Siena’s merchants and bankers were built: the Salimbeni, the Tolomei, the Bonsignori, the Malavolti, the Piccolomini; and the artisan guilds saved money to commission the best artists with altarpieces for their employers: the leather dyers guild commissioned a splendid polyptych to Sassetta, the bakers guild to Matteo di Giovanni and the butchers guild to Giovanni di Paolo.

Altarpiece with “Madonna and Child with Saints”, 1454, tempera and gold on wood, by Giovanni di Paolo (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). This polyptych was painted to decorate a chapel in a church belonging to the Augustinian order, possibly located in Cortona. To the far right stands Saint Nicholas of Tolentino wearing the Augustinian habit.
The Resurrection of Lazarus, 1426, tempera and gold leaf on panel, by Giovanni di Paolo (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). This painting was originally part of a predella from an altarpiece located in the chapel of the Malavolti family in the church of San Domenico in Siena: the Malavolti altarpiece. The main altar panel, dated 1426 and depicting the Virgin and Child flanked by saints, is in Italy. The predella panels show, chronologically, the Resurrection of Lazarus, the Way to Calvary, the Descent from the Cross, and the Entombment. Originally, an image of the Crucifixion (now in Germany) was placed in the center. These predella scenes demonstrate Giovanni di Paolo’s mastery of multi-figured, dramatic narrative scenes.

The Way to Calvary, 1426, tempera and gold leaf on panel, by Giovanni di Paolo, (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). The second scene from the predella of the Malavolti altarpiece.
Crucifixion, 1426, tempera and gold leaf on panel, by Giovanni di Paolo (Altenburg, Lindenau Museum, Germany), the central panel of the predella of the Malavolti altarpiece.
The Descent from the Cross, 1426, tempera and gold leaf on panel, by Giovanni di Paolo (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore), fourth panel of the predella of the Malavolti altarpiece.
The Entombment, 1426, tempera and gold leaf on panel, by Giovanni di Paolo (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). In this last scene of the predella of the Malavolti altarpiece, the interesting shadow highlights Nicodemus as the key figure who gave up his tomb for the burial of Jesus.

During this time, the Sienese school remained completely faithful to its medieval influences; only very few of some of the portentous novelties that appeared during the 15th century in Florence were applied to Sienese painting. But, despite this circumstance, those Sienese artists were able to exert an obvious influence in certain schools outside of Italy.

Taddeo di Bartolo and Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo, called Sassetta (ca.1392-1450 or 1451), are the most outstanding, together with the anonymous master who has come to be called Maestro dell ‘Osservanza a name taken from one of his works (dated 1436), and finally a painter who stood out for his intense poetry, Giovanni di Paolo. The so-called Sassetta died in 1450 or 1451 from pneumonia contracted while painting an Assumption of the Virgin at the top of the Porta Romana of Siena. This work was destroyed during World War II; but instead it have been conserved, though dismembered among three different museums, the paintings on wood of his masterpiece: the altarpiece of St. Francis for the church of Borgo San Sepolcro. This work shows that Sassetta, without abandoning the Gothic linearism of Simone Martini, assimilated the rational sense of space and the new forms brought by the Florentines. This allowed him to express with great imaginative freshness and with a special charm the colored spectacle of the world that in art characterizes the painters known as “primitives”.

The Birth of the Virgin with other Scenes from her Life, ca. 1428-1439, tempera and gold leaf on panel, by the Master of the Osservanza (Museo d’Arte Sacra, Asciano). This unknown Italian painter of the Sienese School was active between about 1430 to 1450.
Virgin and Child with Saints, 1437-1444, by Sassetta (Louvre, Paris). These panels were part of the frontal side of a polyptych painted for the church of the convent of San Francesco at Borgo San Sepolcro (The Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece). These three panels represent the Virgin and Child Adored by Six Angels (center, originally the centerpiece of the polyptych), and Sts. Anthony of Padua and John the Evangelist (left and right respectively). The Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece was one of the largest and most splendid altarpieces of the Italian proto-Renaissance. In its original form, this altarpiece measured six meters wide by five meters high, and was painted on both sides (like Duccio’s Maestà); it included 60 images. It is believed that the whole altarpiece was executed by Sassetta. The dismantling of Sassetta’s masterpiece began during the Counter Reformation; the altarpiece was removed from the high altar and the individual panels were mounted on other altars placed elsewhere in the church. The polyptych was finally dismembered in 1752 after the Napoleonic suppression of convents and religious orders, and in the first decade of the 19th century the panels were sold, sawn down the middle to separate fronts from backs, the surviving fragments sold to various collections and dispersed elsewhere. The San Sepolcro Altarpiece is considered as Sassetta’s masterpiece and a work of capital importance for Sienese painting of the 15th century. Half of the original panels of this altarpiece have survived and are found in private collections and museums in Paris, Settignano (Italy), London, New York, Berlin, Chantilly, Cleveland, Moscow, Detroit, and elsewhere.
Saint Francis in Ecstasy, 1437-1444, by Sassetta (Vila I Tatti, Florence). On the back side of the Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece by Sassetta, the center panel was a figure of Saint Francis triumphant over three Vices laying below his feet, the Saint has his arms outstretched in the shape of the cross, and his gaze is lifted to the mendicant Virtues of Chastity, Obedience, and Poverty hovering above him.
St. Thomas Aquinas at prayer, 1423-1425, tempera and gold on panel, by Sassetta (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest). This panel was part of the predella of the Arte della Lana altarpiece. The scene depicts Saint Thomas Aquinas at prayer. The Saint is shown kneeling in front of an altar surmounted by a rich polyptych. Here, Sassetta juxtaposes interior and exterior spaces, showing us a view of the cloister garden with its fountain (top center) as well as deep into the monastic library with its rows of desks lit by stained glass windows (right).
Flanking the image of St. Francis in Ecstasy of the Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece by Sassetta were eight smaller scenes depicting the saint’s life. These episodes are remarkable for their composition, narrative and fine coloring. These scenes of the life of Saint Francis are: “Saint Francis meets a knight poorer than himself and Saint Francis’s vision of the founding of the Franciscan Order”; “Saint Francis renounces his Earthly Father” (pictured above, National Gallery London); “Saint Francis before the Pope: The Granting of the Indulgence of the Portiuncola”; “Saint Francis before the Sultan” (pictured below); “The Wolf of Gubbio”; “The Stigmatization of Saint Francis” (pictured below); and “The Funeral of Saint Francis and Verification of the Stigmata” (pictured below).
“The Stigmatization of Saint Francis” panel from the Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece by Sassetta (National Gallery, London).
“Saint Francis before the Sultan” panel from the Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece by Sassetta (National Gallery, London).
“The Funeral of Saint Francis and Verification of the Stigmata” panel from the Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece by Sassetta (National Gallery, London).

Less artistic personality, but an undeniable appeal, is shown in the works of the last two Sienese artists that we must mention here: Matteo di Giovanni and Sano di Pietro. Di Pietro was a fervent follower of St. Bernardino of Siena, whose figure often reproduced alongside that of the Madonna as well as scenes of him preaching. He had a quiet existence in Siena and died in 1481.

Assumption of the Virgin, ca. 1474, tempera and gold on wood, by Matteo di Giovanni (National Gallery, London). In this panel di Giovanni portrays the Virgin as she rises to heaven while surrounded by angels playing musical instruments, her dress’s girdle falls from her waist and we see Saint Thomas (the disciple who doubted that Christ had risen from the dead) in the act of catching it in mid-air as an extra proof of the Virgin’s Assumption. At the top, Christ welcomes his mother while accompanied by prophets and ancestors, among them David and John the Baptist. This painting used to be the central panel of an altarpiece in the church of Sant’Agostino, Asciano, near Siena. This polyptych was dismantle in the 19th century and the individual paintings which survived entered collections across Europe and America.  Matteo di Giovanni painting style displayed elegance, linearity and decorative emphasis, he was one of the most popular and prolific Sienese painters of the second half of the 15th century.
Madonna with Saint Catherine, Saint Mathew, Saint Bartholomew and Saint Lucia, painting by Matteo di Giovanni (Duomo di Pienza).
Matteo di Giovanni is best known for four monumental compositions representing the “Massacre of the Innocents”, three of them produced for Sienese churches and one in inlaid stone for the floor of the Duomo (Cathedral) of Siena. Pictured above, the Massacre of the Innocents, 1482, tempera on panel, by Matteo di Giovanni (Chapel of our Lady, Ospedale Santa Maria della Scala, Siena). This painting is considered Matteo’s masterpiece and was commissioned by Alfonso II of Naples as part of the campaign against the Medici. It commemorates the massacre of the inhabitants of Otranto by the Ottomans in 1480. The version portrayed here presents some iconographic innovations, replacing Herod and his soldiers with characters with “Moorish” facial features and clothing. The entire scene is marked by ferocity and cruelty, emphasized also by the contrasting range of colors used. Every inch of foreground space is occupied by screaming mothers, dead or dying babies, and bloodthirsty soldiers. The marble floor is covered by infant corpses. The king is portrayed as a monster: one hand is outstretched to order the butchery; the other clutches like a claw on the marble sphinx on the arm of his throne.
Madonna delle Grazie (“Madonna of Graces”), 1470, by Matteo di Giovanni (Grosseto Cathedral, Grosseto, Tuscany).
Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome, John the Baptist, Bernardino and Bartholomew, between 1451-1480, gold leaf and tempera on panel, by Sano di Pietro (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia).
Polyptych of San Quirico d’Orcia’s Collegiata, 15th century, tempera and gold on panel, by Sano di Pietro (Collegiata dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta,  San Quirico d’Orcia. Tuscany).
The Flight into Egypt, ca. 1445, panel part of a predella of an altarpiece, by Sano di Pietro (Pinacoteca Vaticana).
Assumption of the Virgin, 1448-1452, tempera on wood, by Sano di Pietro (Lindenau-Museum, Altenburg, Germany). This panel was part of a predella consisting of five scenes from the life of the Virgin. The predella was part of an existing altarpiece originally located in the Capella dei Signore in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. In the lower center part of this panel, St. Thomas is depicted in a extremely reduced size compared with the other figures in the panel. He is kneeling before an open tomb and ready to receive the miraculous girdle of the Mother of God descending from above.
St. Bernardino Preaching in the Campo, 1445, tempera on panel, by Sano di Pietro (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena). This is part of a three-panel altarpiece celebrating the memory of the Sienese Franciscan friar Bernardino Albizzeschi who died in 1444. In this panel the Saint is shown preaching outside in the Campo (Siena’s main square). One of the major achievements of this particular panel is that it represents with graphic detail a highly descriptive scene in a recognizable location, in this case in Siena itself (which also show how men and women were strictly segregated at these events, women to the left, men to the right of the panel). Saint Bernardino holds up the IHS monogram (an abbreviation of the Greek word for Jesus), a symbol that Bernardino made famous across Italy during his preaching.


Linear perspective: A system of creating an illusion of depth on a flat surface. All parallel lines (orthogonals) in a painting or drawing using this system converge in a single vanishing point on the composition’s horizon line. Linear perspective is thought to have been devised about 1415 by Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi and later documented by architect and writer Leon Battista Alberti in 1435 (Della Pittura). Linear perspective was likely evident to artists and architects in the ancient Greek and Roman periods, but no records exist from that time, and the practice was thus lost until the 15th century. The three components essential to the linear perspective system are orthogonals (parallel lines), the horizon line, and a vanishing point. So as to appear farther from the viewer, objects in the compositions are rendered increasingly smaller as they near the vanishing point.