When traveling in Tuscany I always ponder what ingredients were present that allowed the Renaissance to flourish. Siena was a thriving republic. What can we learn while sightseeing there?
Inside Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico is an important fresco from 1338. The Allegory of Good and Bad Government was painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. This fresco provides insight into the political ideas that dominated 13th century life in Tuscany.
The frescoes are located on the walls of the Room of the Nine (Sala dei Nove) or Room of Peace (Sala della Pace) in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena. The “nine” was the oligarch’s assembly of guild and monetary interests that governed the republic. The room is the equivalent to where today’s city council meets.
Three walls are painted with frescoes consisting of a large assembly of allegorical figures of virtues in the Allegory of Good Government. In the other two facing panels are images of the effects of good government and bad government on city state. The frescoes were there to remind the rulers of their responsibility to be good and just to the citizens. The fresco of bad government depicts the effects of what happens when tyrants take over government.
The Allegory of Good Government
If all the figures do their job with integrity then there is prosperity and peace. Justice, art, and culture is the natural result of good government. All that is good and elegant about life requires good government. In their day the paintings were known to represent peace and war times.
The allegory carries a strong social message of the value of the stable republican government of Siena. It combines elements of secular life with references to the importance of religion in the city at the time. These paintings show a transition in thought and an evolution in theme from earlier religious art.
Flanking the Allegory are two other paintings on perpendicular walls: Effects of Good Government and Effects of Bad Government. Both of these frescoes depict Siena and its countryside.
In the allegorical representation of Good Government, the prosperous townspeople are trading and dancing in the streets. Beyond the city walls is a lush countryside in which crops are harvested.
In the allegory of Bad Government, crime is rampant and diseased citizens roam a crumbling city. The countryside suffers from drought.
This may be one of the earliest examples of humanity prospering through careful governing. The lesson seems to be that all that is beautiful, elegant, and good has its roots in liberty. Liberty at that time allowed the Renaissance to thrive in Siena, Florence, and around what today is the Tuscany region of Italy.
For more information about these frescoes and the story of each panel please enjoy the video below: