Art from 1300-1400: The Proto-Renaissance in Siena

When we think of the Renaissance, we tend to think of Florence (and Rome). But the city of Siena also deserves our attention. Today, the lovely walled city of Siena is one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe and it was chosen by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. In the 14th Century, Siena was an independent nation and often at war with its neighbor, Florence. Some of the most important art of the 14th Century was commissioned for Siena’s Cathedral and town hall. Duccio and his students, the Lorenzetti Brothers and Simone Martini produced large-scale painting with an intricacy and subtle coloration that is unique in the Renaissance. This is a transitional period. In the art of Florence and Siena there is a move away from medieval abstract depictions of space and the human body as artists began to focus on the illusion of mass and space and the expression of human emotion. With hindsight, it is possible to trace elements of Renaissance art back to this period. This century saw the creation of the beautiful poetry of Dante and Petrarch, but it is also the century that saw the worst outbreak of the Bubonic plague (known then as the Black Death) which wiped out close to half the population of Europe—a terrifying statistic, difficult to imagine today. This topic focuses on two Italian city-states—Florence and Siena, both proud republics in the 14th century, and the great painters of those city-states, Giotto and Cimabue in Florence, and Duccio, Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers in Siena.