PHOTOS: COURTESY OF OPERA DUOMO – PRESS OFFICE; LUCA PECCANTINI
Following last year’s success that witnessed the participation of more than 350,000 visitors, starting next August 18th, right after the Palio dell’Assunta and until October 27th the magnificent Cathedral of Siena “unveils” its extraordinary marble intarsia floor. The precious marble “carpet” is usually protected from being walked upon by visitors and the numerous worshippers who every day enter the sacred temple to pray, and is therefore not totally visible. The floor is “the most beautiful …, largest and most magnificent” that ever was made, according to Vasari’s well-known definition.
The floor of the Cathedral is fruit of a complex iconographical plan that took on concrete form through the centuries, starting in the XIV century and lasting right up to the XIX century. The technique employed is that of graffito and marble intarsia using local marble. The preparatory cartoons for the fifty-six panels were designed by important artists, almost all of them “Sienese”, including Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, and Domenico Beccafumi, in addition to “foreign” painters like Pinturicchio from Umbria who, in 1505, authored the famous panel with The Hill of Wisdom, the symbolic portrayal of the way to Virtue as the attainment of inner peace.
In the nave and two aisles, the itinerary unfolds recounting themes from classical and pagan antiquity: the She-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, the ten Sibyls, the philosophers Socrates, Crates, Aristotle and Seneca. The transept and choir instead narrate the story of the Hebrews, the episodes of salvation fulfilled and realised by the figure of Christ, constantly evoked and never represented in the floor depictions, but present on the altar that the artistic and spiritual itinerary converges towards.
In the period of the unveiling, visitors will also admire the part designed by Domenico Beccafumi who here perfected the technique of marble intarsia to the point of attaining results of light and shadow comparable to the chiaroscuro effects of drawing. The hexagon beneath the dome is the location of the Stories of Elijah and Ahab, while the panels near the altar narrate the episodes of Moses making Water spring from the Rock, Stories of Moses on Mount Sinai, and The Sacrifice of Isaac. Visitors will also be able to admire from close up the frescoes in the apse and the bronze angels set against the pilasters near the altar by Domenico Beccafumi, one of the most representative exponents of Mannerism.
The Cathedral of Siena never ceases to amaze, however: visitors will also be able to “stroll about” the choir and the apse to see the wooden intarsias Fra Giovanni da Verona executed employing a technique similar to that of marble intarsia but using wood of different colours to depict urban views, landscapes and still-lifes in the form of various objects arranged on the shelves of cupboards: liturgical objects, musical instruments, multifaceted polyhedrons, skulls and hourglasses, symbols of the vanity of earthly glories.
The spectacle continues with the extraordinary opening of “The Gate of Heaven”, the lofts of the Cathedral where, for centuries, no one has entered except for the workmen to carry out specific jobs. The itinerary towards the ‘heaven’ of the Cathedral starts out from a winding staircase inside one of the two towers ending in spires that flank the magnificent façade of the Cathedral.
Once above the starry vault of the right aisle begins an itinerary reserved to small groups accompanied by expert guides, where they will walk ‘above’ the holy temple to admire the interior of the Cathedral and views of the city outside. From the balcony of the inner wall of the façade unfolds an overall view of the nave and two aisles with the intarsias depicting figures of the ancient world.
For the duration of the unveiling, guided visits to admire the Floor and the Gate of Heaven will be held following the usual timetable, as well as at night. The two itineraries will indeed be open every Saturday from 24th August to 26th October, 2013, from 8 pm till midnight.
After visiting the Cathedral, the visitor will have a better understanding of the words Cosima, wife of German composer Richard Wagner, wrote in her diary on August 21st 1880: “I arrive in Siena around 10 am … visit to the Cathedral! Richard, moved to tears, says that this is the strongest impression he has ever received from a building. I wish I could hear the prelude to Parsifal beneath this dome! In the midst of so many worries, a moment’s happiness: having shared with Richard this rapture, a sentiment of gratitude for my destiny”. The available services include guided tours in various languages led by professionals who will accompany visitors to discover this extraordinary masterpiece.
The initiative is strongly desired by the Opera della Metropolitana di Siena and organised by Opera – Civita Group.
INFOS AND BOOKINGS
Cathedral of Siena – 18th August – 27th October 2013
Weekdays 10:30 am – 7:30 pm
Holidays: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm
Opa Si Pass all inclusive ticket € 12.00
Cathedral, Floor and Piccolomini Library
Full price: € 7.00
Reduced price for schools: € 3.00
Reduced price groups of more than 15: € 5.00
Gate of Heaven plus Floor and Piccolomini Library: € 25.00
Guided tours: every day at 11 am – 12 pm – 3.30 pm – 4.30 pm
Night openings: every Saturday, by reservation, from 24th August to 26th October, 2013, from 8 pm till midnight, guided tours are organised to see the Floor and the Gate of Heaven at night.
Multimedia guide on tablet: for individual guided tours
Itinerary Catalogue: “Virginis templum”, Livorno, Sillabe 2013, € 18.00