Updated with 2015 extended viewing dates!
Giorgio Vasari called the floor of Siena’s Duomo “the most beautiful, big and magnificent that has ever been done.” Normally this floor is covered by carpets to protect it from the footsteps of many visitors, but it is uncovered for a few months each year, allowing us to get a view of the marble intarsia works of art that tell biblical narratives and represent allegories, and took centuries to complete. In 2013, this visit was made even more exceptional because you will be able to also see the works from above by attending the small group tours called ‘Porta del cielo’.
Even if you have been to Siena before, you will want to visit again on this occasion. For what to do with the rest of your day, see the Siena itinerary on this blog.
A bit more about the floors: there are 56 large scenes represented by major Sienese artists including Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, and Domenico Beccafumi, as well as with the intervention of some ‘foreign’ artists like Pinturicchio.
The techniques used progress from graffito to commesso marmoreo. Graffito is the use of the scalpel to carve out areas of white marble which were then filled with black stucco. This evolved to incorporating more colours using a technique similar to wood intarsia, which is called commesso marmoreo (sometimes also pietre dure, but these are softer stones, thus not ‘dure’).
The nave and side aisles of the cathedral floor are decorated with stories from antiquity, such as the image of Romulus and Remus, symbol of Siena. There are ten sybills represented, and various philosophers.
The transept and choir narrate old testament stories, all except the Slaughter of the Innocents by Matteo di Giovanni which is based on the recount of the Evangelist St. Matthew.
By the time you get under the cuppola, time has gone by and you have works by the Mannerist artist Domenico Beccafumi, with a perfection of the marble intarsia technique to use gradations of material for fine shadows and intricate representation.
Siena Duomo floor uncovering
2015 dates extended for Expo2015: July 1 to 31, 2015, and then again from August 18 to October 27, 2015.
Open daily 10:30 – 19:30, sundays and holidays 9:30 – 18:00
Opera Siena all inclusive ticket 12€ + online reservation fee – book here
Guided tour including porta del cielo €25
PHOTO CREDITS: press photos reproduced by permission from Opera – Civita Group. If you wish to reproduce these images, please write to Salvatore firstname.lastname@example.org – do not write to me, because they’re not mine!