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The Basilica Of Saint Francis Of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi

Assisi is probably the best known town in Umbria thanks to the town’s (and the world’s) most famous saint, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). St. Francis preached a type of Christianity that spoke of humility and compassion for the poor, not a message that wealthy members of the church necessarily wanted to promote. Upsetting orthodox church teachings was a dangerous pastime that could easily result in being burnt at the stake. Luckily for Francis, the power of the huge religious revival that he started was harnessed by the church and he was granted a religious order. The new modern day pope, Francis I, by choosing the name of the saint, has sent a clear signal that he intends to reconnect with the ordinary members of the church.

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

The Basilica of Saint Francis

In 1228 work started on a huge church in Assisi to commemorate the life of Saint Francis, the Basilica of Saint Francis is in reality two churches, an Upper and Lower Basilica.

The huge size of the church showed how important St. Francis had become, but in all likelihood it was not something he would have approved of. However, one of St Francis’ wishes was complied with; the church built to house his body was built at the end of town where previously criminals had been hanged. The Basilica uses elements of the Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles, for example, the Upper Basilica mixes a Romanesque rose window with Gothic (pointed) arches in the interior.

The Upper Basilica

Badly damaged in September 1997 by an earthquake, the Upper Basilica was restored and re-opened within two years.

The Interior Of The Upper Basilica In Assisi

The Nave Of The Upper Basilica In Assisi

Giotto’s Life Of Saint Francis

One of the world’s most famous fresco cycles (attributed to Giotto but disputed by many) is painted on the walls of the nave, it depicts scenes from the life of Saint Francis. Painted around 1300, these paintings are important to art historians because they show a break from traditional style of medieval painting, the faces have emotion, the figures are solid and show movement and the scenes have some perspective. The Renaissance didn’t suddenly appear in the 1420’s, art was developing long before.

Sermon to the birds, Legend of St Francis

Sermon to the birds, Legend of St Francis

Frescoed on the transept of the Upper Basilica are biblical scenes by Giotto’s teacher, Cimabue. The white pigment, based on lead oxide has turned black giving the frescoes a strange negative image effect.

Cimabue's Crucifixion In The Upper Basilica, Assisi

Cimabue’s Crucifixion In The Upper Basilica, Assisi

The Lower Basilica

The Lower Basilica is darker and lower ceilinged than the Upper Basilica, it has works of art by Cimabue, Giotto, Pietro Lorenzetti and Simone Martini.

The Altar & Transept Of The Lower Basiilca of St Francis of Assisi

The Altar & Left Hand Transept Of The Lower Basiilca, Assisi

Cimabue

On the right hand wall of the transept next to the nave is a painting of St. Francis by Cimabue that is often cited as the portrait most likely to resemble the Saint. This is because it was painted five decades after his death and used the description of someone who knew him. Saint Francis is standing on the right

Portrait Of St Francis By Cimabue

Portrait Of St Francis By Cimabue, Assisi

Giotto

Giotto or his followers are responsible for the chapels of Mary Madelene and Saint Nicholas, these can be found off the nave. In the transept, look for the story of the young Jesus, They show the characters within realistic looking landscapes rather than having them placed in the foreground with the scenery behind

Simone Martini, Chapel of St. Martin

The decoration of the Chapel of Saint Martin was designed and implemented by the Sienese artist Simone Martini, his work includes the floor, the stained glass windows and the frescoes. The paintings are quite hard to view thanks to the bright down lights but are well worth persevering with. If you go in through the entrance to the Lower Basilica the chapel is on the left hand side of the nave.

Medieval musicians frescoed on the walls of the San martino  chapel, Assisi

Musicians by Simone Martini, Assisi, Italy

Pietro Lorenzetti

Pietro Lorenzetti, a Sienese artist and contemporary of Giotto, was a master of composition, look at the Deposition and you can see how the figures and the body of Christ form a triangle.

Medieval musicians frescoed on the walls of the San martino  chapel, Assisi

Medieval musicians frescoed on the walls of the San martino chapel, Assisi

As with Giotto’s painting, Pietro Lorenzetti showed emotion on the faces of his subjects and he was beginning to master perspective seventy years before the start of the Renaissance. Pietro’s brother, Ambrogio, painted the Allegories Of Good And Bad Government in Siena.

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A Rainy Day Out In Siena, Tuscany

Yesterday we went with my niece Jessica for a day trip to the beautiful city of Siena in Tuscany. It was raining heavily when we arrived but we bought umbrellas and didn’t let the weather put us off our sightseeing trip. I parked at the San Francesco car park, from where a series of escalators bring you up right next to the church of San Francesco. From here it is a quick walk right into the centre of town.

The Top Of The Facade Of Siena's Duomo

Our time was limited and I had a few things that I planned to pack in to our day out. For a first time visitor I thought that a visit to the Duomo and the Museo Civico were the most important things to see, along with a stroll around the Campo, Siena’s scallop-shell shaped central piazza. A joint ticket costing €12 gives you access to the Duomo, the attached Piccolomini library with Pinturicchio’s frescoes depicting the life of Pope Pius II, the Baptistry, the crypt below the Duomo and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (which has most of the panels from Duccio’s altarpiece originally in the Duomo and great views from the top of the unfinished Cathedral extension).

Central Panel Of Duccio's Altarpiece In Siena

The Central Panel Of Duccio’s Altarpiece In Siena

We started with the museum and, having admired the panels of Duccio’s medieval masterpiece, made our way up the slightly claustrophobic spiral staircase to the top of the wall that would have been the front of the enormous Duomo extension (had the Black Death not killed the majority of the population of Siena in 1348). This is a great vantage point, and, although not as high as the Torre del Mangia that towers above the Campo, it offers a bird’s eye view of the city without having to queue.

Siena's Duomo viewed from the unfinished medieval extension

Siena’s Duomo viewed from the unfinished medieval extension

From here we headed into into the Duomo with its impressive green and white striped marble columns and spacious interior. You can look down as well as up here, the floors have intricate designs in inlaid marble.

The interior of Siens's Duomo

The interior of Sienas’s Duomo

A doorway on the left of the Duomo leads into the the Piccolomini Library, frescoed by Umbrian painter Pinturicchio who was possibly helped by Raphael. The frescoes show scenes from the life of a great Renaissance pope (and local boy made good), Pius II.

The ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

The ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

Once we had finished in the Duomo, we used our tickets to visit the Baptistry and the Crypt, then we walked back to the Campo and bought tickets for the Museo Civico, situated in the Palazzo Publicco (€8 full price, €5.50 reduction). There were four paintings that I wanted to show my niece here, Simone Martini’s Maestà, his equine portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes of Good and Bad Government.

The effects of good government depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena

The effects of good government depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Although the Maestà is a common theme in medieval art, Simone Martini’s version had a new feature; he painted a canopy over the throne to give the painting more depth. Whether the portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano is actually by Simone Martini is the subject of fierce debate in the art world, however, whoever it is by, it is a beautiful painting.

Simone's Maestà in the Museo Civico, Siena

Simone’s Maestà in the Museo Civico, Siena

In the next room Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted his Allegory of Good and Bad Government to remind Siena’s ruling council of the effects that their decisions could have. A few years later the city was thrown into chaos as the Black Death swept through Siena’s narrow streets, killing Ambrogio Lorenzetti and his brother Pietro along with over half the population. The scenes from the Bad Government fresco must have seemed all too real to the survivors.

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