The Allegory of Good and Bad Government: frescoes as political propaganda in Siena

Throughout Italy you’ll find almost all central town squares dominated by a church.  Not Siena: its enchanting Piazza del Campo is presided over by Palazzo Publico, aka City Hall.  Inside Palazzo Publico is another delightful surprise: secular frescoes.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted The Allegory of Good and Bad Government frescoes inside the council chamber of Palazzo Publico from 1338-39.  The Sienese government commissioned the frescoes, and not only are they effective propaganda, but also a rather refreshing break from years of unrelenting religious-themed art.

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Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country.

A lovely panorama of people living a good life in a well governed city: dancing, riding horses, playing games, and working to keep this handsome town looking spic-and-span.

(As no photography was allowed in Palazzo Publico, I’ve taken these pictures of the frescoes from Wikimedia Commons and  Web Gallery of Art.)

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Allegory of Good Government (detail).

The reclining lady in the white nighty is Allegory of Peace.

You’ll find the name of the artist, Ambrogio Lorenzetti below the line of righteous citizens.

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Allegory of Security presiding over a landscape of well-cultivated agriculture.

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Effects of Bad Government in the City.

Oh no!  Tyranny is dominating the city, which is now is ruins.  When viewing this fresco bear in mind that 65% of the population of Siena died from the plague ten years after its completion.   Ambrogio Lorenzetti and his brother, also an artist, died in that plague outbreak.

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Tyranny is chilling with her feet on a goat (symbolizing lust) surrounded by his BFF’s, the Vices.

Justice is looking mighty defeated in her white gown, with the broken scales of justice spread about her.

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Effects of Bad Government on the City Life (detail).  This town needs a good contractor, stat!

thetyrant

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This fresco as relevant today as the day it was painted as, unfortunately, bad government did not disappear with the 14th century.  I live in the state of Illinois, where two of our three past governors were imprisoned for corruption.

One of the two fellows above is Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Tyranny, and the other is former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.  Can you guess which one is currently residing in federal prison?

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View of the council chamber, where the frescoes are painted inside Palazzo Publico.

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HOB’s nose is pointing the way to Palazzo Publico.

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After a morning of frescoes we ate lunch at Osteria il Grattacielo.  For a low price, we sampled a delicious variety of antipasti and Tuscan treats–highly recommended!  (“Il Grattacielo” means “skyscrapper”–an ironic name since the room is tiny with a low ceiling.  )

 

How we got to Siena: bus from Pisa.

Where we slept: Hotel Tre Donzelle.  Price: €60 for a double.  Recommended: well….this way by far the single most disgusting room we’ve ever stayed in.  However, it appears to have changed management since our visit, so it could have improved and the location is ideal.

 

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13 comments

  1. I know which part of the fresco French politicians would be inhabiting…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m fairly certain the Le Pen’s are sitting at the right hand of Sir Fang Face himself.

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  2. Well skyscraper in French (and Italian?) is scrape (gratte/gratta) the sky (ciel/cielo). But since the English ceiling probably comes from the French ciel, it only makes sense that a low ceilinged restaurant could be called, tongue in cheek or otherwise, Grattacielo. May all your future governments be good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. May yours be good (and plague free) as well!

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  4. Ah Siena, how I love you! I’m very disappointed that my art history teacher neglected to point out the goat footstool while we were there, as it’s now my favorite part of the entire fresco. Goats symbolizing lust – who knew?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We should teach our own rogue art history class–no bored students!

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      1. Hidden symbolism and lesser known characters in frescoes and paintings! I think we’d sell out.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on jainijaya.com.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. the italian language specialist · · Reply

    We visit Siena with our classes about twice per month, I will suggest this page to the many students who ask for more “insider tips”…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am so jealous that you get to go to Siena twice a month–what a gorgeous city!

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      1. the italian language specialist · ·

        Yes, it is….

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so well written, with one hell of a punchline at the end. 🙂

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    1. Thank you Thessauron—I needed a friendly compliment today! 🙂

      Like

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