Hidden places in Siena: Tavolette di Biccherna Museum

There are some hidden gems in Siena which escape the mass tourism because they are less publicized. One of these is represented by the Tavolette di Biccherna preserved in the Archivio di Stato of the city.

They are wooden boards painted with tempera or oil which served as covers of records belonging to the office of Biccherna which from the beginning of the Comune until the SEC. XVIII was the judiciary responsible for the administration of public revenues. These records were kept by the Camarlingo -the treasurer head office- who was a friar and the most important officials, the Provveditori (supervisors)


Fraiar Ugo, Camarlingo, frair of san galgano, made by Giulio di Pietro in 1258. This is the oldest Biccherna.

Friar Ugo Biccherna Siena
Friar Ugo Biccherna Siena

The arms of the four Provveditori; made by Diotisalve di Speme in 1263

The first wooden boards are simple and have no intention of being masterpieces. Subsequently, however, the paintings become more elaborate and rich and are commissioned to famous authors as Giovanni di Paolo, Sano di Pietro, Lorenzo di Pietro called il Vecchietta.
Biccherna Sano di Pietro Siena
Biccherna Sano di Pietro Siena

The layout of the boards remains, however, unchanged: at the top there is the painting and at the bottom the inscription bearing the date, the names of the main components of Biccherna, the arms of their families.

By the mid-fifteenth century, then, the covers of records were no longer painted but real paintings were commissioned to hang on the walls of the office when the Camarlingo and the Provveditori left definitively their assignment.
The subjects of the scenes represent leading events of the town, religious themes, episodes of contemporary politics.
Many of them have Our Lady as common subject. This is not so strange for us. The history of Siena is full of events which show the particular devotion of the Sienese to Our Lady.
See for example how nice is the follow board which represents Our Lady in the act of protecting Siena by earthquakes; made by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in 1467:
Biccherna Siena Francesco di Giorgio Martini
Biccherna Siena Francesco di Giorgio Martini


Or this other which represents The union of the classes and the offering of the keys of the city to the Madonna delle Grazie; made perhaps by Andrea di Niccolò in 1483. This board is important also because testifies the original location of the Maestà made by Duccio di Buoninsegna in 1311 in the Cathedral, that is to say, in the altar. Nowadays you can see this masterpiece at the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana.

Tavolette di Biccherna Museum; Andrea di Niccolò
Tavolette di Biccherna Museum; Andrea di Niccolò


As the Biccherna also another important financial judiciary of Siena called Gabella adopted the custom of painting the covers of some records. The Gabella was responsible for the outcome of the charges and was directed by a Camarlingo –a treasurer- and officers named Esecutori –executors.

One of the most popular boards is that made by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1344 which represents the Buon Governo – Good Government:
Tavolette di Biccherna Museum; Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Tavolette di Biccherna Museum; Ambrogio Lorenzetti


The most value works are those performed during the fifteenth century by painters such as

Sano di Pietro: Siena protected by Our Lady while the Camarlingo washes his hands, made in 1541 Benvenuto di

Giovanni: The finances of the town in peace and in war made in 1468

Guidoccio Cozzarelli: Our Lady leads the Republic of Siena in calm waters; made in 1487
During the war of Siena (1555-1559), both the Biccherna and Gabella wanted to recall the most salient episodes of the conflict:
The Sienese demolish the fortress of the Spanish; made by Giovanni di Giorgio in 1552

The siege of Montalcino; made by Giovanni di Giorgio in 1553

The surrender of Montalcino; made by Giovanni di Giorgio in 1559
After the final annexation of Siena to the duchy of Florence (1559) many subjects were dedicated to the story of the Medici, to which the Sienese territory was granted in fief.

The Sienese pay tribute to Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici elected Grand Duke of Tuscany; made by Anonymous in 1588

Here you find also some wooden boards which belong to other institutions and judiciaries of Siena among which the Ospedale Santa Maria della Scala and the Opera Metropolitana.
The Museum is located in Via Banchi di Sopra # 52 and it is open from Monday to Saturday at 9.30 – 10.30 and 11.30
Free entrance.

There is no tour guide but there are some panels also in English which explain what you see.

Before to leave the Museum do not forget to stop at their balcony from where you will enjoy an amazing view onto the main square Il Campo.

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