Who knows what would the great Ambrogio Lorenzetti have thought if he had miraculously come back to visit us nowadays, even if just for one day? Surely he would have seen that we had tried hard not to realize the idea of just and peaceful society represented in his fresco cycle “ Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government”.
To see this wonderful Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s work, dated 1337/1340, you have to come to Siena and visit Palazzo Pubblico in the beautiful Piazza del Campo (Campo Square). The cycle of frescoes, that had to inspire the city rulers, is located in a rectangular hall known as the” Peace” or the” Council of Nine “ Room; in fact, the work was ordered by the Government of Siena that was , at that time, ruled by 9 residents who remained in office just for a short period to leave the place with nine other people.Observing the Allegory Of Good Government and the benefits that this brings to the city life and the surrounding countryside, it’s inferred that the common good should inspire all the governors’ actions and that where order and justice are there are peace, employment, welfare, too. The Allegory of Good Government is on the bottom of the room. On the left of the painting , there is “Justice”, holding in balance the scales supported by “ Divine Wisdom” which is holding a book. On the scales there are two angels: one, on the left, represents “ Distributive Justice” who gives goods and penalties and the second one, on the right, represents “ Commutative Justice” that governs trade. From balance two strings hang down ,they ‘re-collected by ”Harmony” (Concordia) who has in her lap a plane (symbol of equality of all citizens). The same strings are taken up by the 24 governors (the old government before the Nine) that deliver the rope to the “City of Siena” represented by an old man dressed in black and white (colors the represent the town of Siena). The City is protected and inspired by three winged theological ” Virtues”: “ Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity” . On the sides of the Old Man the ”Four Cardinal Virtues”: “Justice” (with the sword, the crown and a severed head), “Temperance” (with the hourglass, a symbol of wise use of time), “Prudence” ( represented with a mirror to interpret the past, read the present and tell the future),and “Force”( with the mace and shield). In addition there are two unconventional Virtues : “Peace” (comfortably lying on a pile of weapons and with an olive branch in her hand) and “Magnanimity” (dispensing crowns and diamonds). The effects of good government can be seen in the city populated by hard-working people, builders, students, artisans, dancers and even a young girl (on horseback ) getting ready for her marriage. In a just society the countryside is essential to the city and here you can see the beneficial effects , in fact the country , over which the personification of “ Security” flies free, is rich and full of life: farmers who sow and hoe, young hunters among vineyards and olive trees ( and……if you are keen observers……you will see a nice Cinta Senese Pig).
On the left side wall of the room is the Allegory of Bad Government where sitting on the throne you see the personification of “Tyranny” , a demonic monster above which three winged “Vices” fly, namely “Greed” (with a long hook to spear riches), “Pride” (with a sword and a yoke) and “Vainglory”(with a mirror to admire her beauty and a dry branch, symbol of volubility). At the sides of “Tyranny “there are “Cruelty” ( intent to show a snake to a baby),” Betrayal ” (with a little lamb having a scorpion’s tale), “Fraud” (with wings and clawed feet) ,“Fury”(with boar’s head, human trunk and horse’s body, symbol of beastly wrath), “Division” (with a sow) and the ”War” ( with sword, shield and black robe). Under “Tyranny” , “Justice” lies chained and despised. Obviously the effect of Bad Government are devastating the city and the country where citizens destroy rather than build, places where murders and injustice reign and all activities are miserable. The countryside is on fire and the armies are marching towards the walls. Grimm “ Terror ” flies in the sky.
This paintings , so far away from us in time but so contemporary in contents, have an incomparable charm…not to be missed!
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