Marble Floors of Siena Cathedral

July 11, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Siena, Tuscany

When you go into the Cathedral of Siena, the natural inclination is to look up at the majestic vaulted ceilings.

Interior of Cathedral of Siena

However, for a few months of the year (end of August to end of October) there is the uncovering “scoperchiamento” of this work of art of inlaid marble and you are allowed to view the Cathedral’s masterpiece underfoot.

Each illustration was drawn as a sketch by some of the most talented artists of the Renaissance (Pinturicchio, Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo) and then transformed into detailed marble inlay by the master craftsmen of the time.

(Below: top part “Stories of Moses on Sinai” 1531, and underneath “Mosé fa scaturire l’acqua dalla rupe di Horeb” (Moses Forces Water from the Cliff of Horeb) designed by Domenico Beccafumi 1524-1525)

Story of Moses by Domenico Beccafumi in Siena Cathedral

(Below “Morte di Assalonne” (Death of Assalonne) by Piero del Minella, 1447.)

Morte di Assalonne by Piero del Minella in Siena Cathedral

Created between the XIV and XIX centuries, these inlays are one-of-a-kind due to the mastery of the craftsmanship and the vastness of the mosaic. To put things into perspective, the marble inlays cover most of the Cathedral floor, which is 89m (97 yards) long and 50m (55 yards) wide. (Comes to about 48,000 square feet.)

(Below “Sacrificio di Iefte” by Neroccio di Bartolomeo dé Landi, crafted by Bastiano di Francesco 1481-1485)

Sacrificio di Iefte by Neroccio di Barolomeo de Landi in Siena Cathedral

The subject matter for the marble “carpet” (tappeto) begins at the entrance with pagan and classic antiquity tales of reason, fortune and virtue, and then continues on into the Cathedral, closer to the altar, with stories from the bible, mainly from the Old Testament.

Sibilla Eritrea by Antonio Federighi in Siena Cathedral

(Above “Sibilla Eritrea” by Antonio Federighi 1482)

(Below a piece from “Allegoria del Colle della Sapienza” (Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom) designed by Pinturicchio and inlaid by Paolo Mannucci 1505)

Detail of Allegoria del Colle della Sapeinza by Pinturicchio in Siena Cathedral

There are 56 “riquadri”, which loosely translated means framed works of art.

(Below “Storia di Giuditta” (Story of Judith) by Francesco di Giorgio 1473)

Storia di Giuditta by Francesco di Giorgio in Siena Cathedral

Giorgio Vasari called it the most beautiful, grand and magnificent pavement ever created. He wasn’t exaggerating!

(Below: “Cacciata di Erode” (The Banishment of Herod) by Benvenuto di Giovanni 1485)

Cacciata di Erode by Benvenuto di Giovanni in Siena Cathedral

Jean Tori

by Jean Tori

Artist- Art website: www.jeantoriartwork.com Art blog: www.jeantori.com Design company: www.kimonorabbit.com Jean also rents holiday houses in her medieval hamlet in Umbria at www.caiporri7.com.

24 Responses to “Marble Floors of Siena Cathedral”

  1. The entire cathedral is one of my favorites! We were there last month. I didn’t know they uncovered the floors once a year. I do remember seeing them one trip. I love the pieces with women with books (as I am a professor). The side room is also incredible. This is a MUST see in Tuscany! Thanks for sharing! Just beautiful!

    Reply
    • Thanks Deb, you’re right, it is all stunning. I’m looking forward to taking a tour of the vaulted area of the cathedral, which they just opened up recently. Even more stunning views this cathedral has to offer. Grazie e ciao, Jean

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  2. Just back from 6 weeks in Siena, and in fact the floors were what I had remembered the most from my first trip! And for some reason, they were all uncovered before August. They didn’t distract me from admiring the entire cathedral, though–probably my favorite in all of Italy.

    Reply
    • Dear Gale, you were very fortunate! Also spending so much time in such a lovely city! It holds so many treasures. Yes, the cathedral is so stunning everywhere, it’s a burst of beauty to the senses. Ciao, Jean

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  3. Thank you! We hope to be in Siena the third week in August. I hope the floors are uncovered then!
    I have greatly enjoyed receiving your notes about Italy!

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  4. Dan Johnson

    Had I known that the floor coverings were removed for only a short period of time each year, which happened to be when we were in Sienna, I would have taken more pictures of them in addition to all the other beautiful art inside the Duomo. The borders around each of these images were a study in moasics themselves. Thanks for sharing these images!

    Reply
    • Dear Dan, yes, I think it is incredible that they decorated these masterpieces with just as beautiful borders. We took hundreds of photographs and it was difficult choosing which ones to post as they are all so impressive! Glad you got to enjoy the floor first hand. Saluti, Jean

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  5. Alexander A. DiSanti

    This is beautiful to the point of staggering the imagination. The unique talent and artistic creativity inherent in these floor murals begs the question again. How were so many superlative artists in so many varied crafts native to one small portion of the globe responsible for beginning the transformation of the western world out of the dark ages? What was unique about the population this small group of city states? Thank you so much for this wonderful article.

    Reply
    • Dear Alexander, yes, it boggles the brain. I am still in awe every time I see the photographs of how much beauty was created on the floor, let alone the rest of this magnificent cathedral. The question is wise one and much debated around the dinner table. With all the many answers that are given, I still think that it’s a miracle of wonder and beauty, and I am reminded of this daily living here. It never ceases to amaze me. Thanks and ciao, Jean

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  6. GARRETT

    Alexander DiSanti says it best. How is it that in this tiny part of the world at this particular time in history there was such a concentration of stupendous artists? What facilitated all this? If we knew we could bottle it and sell it perhaps! Ah, but no. for if we could then it would be more commonplace. It is exquisitely special just the way it is. got to get to Sienna for sure!

    Reply
    • Dear Garrett, you definitely have to get to Siena! And another suggestion is to sit at a café in Siena’s Piazza del Campo and discuss the miracles of Italy’s artistic masterpieces and talented concentration of artists, while overlooking another masterpiece that holds even greater works of art, and even when you will be answered with a rational list of the whys and how this happened you will still be surprised and incredulous that it was all possible. And after all the wonder, then you will go to lunch! Definitely special! Thanks, ciao, Jean

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  7. Anstell Ricossa

    Wonderful article.Thank you !…I agree with Alexander Di Santi ! And Jean, I think it will take more than one sitting at a cafe at the Piazza del Campo to fathom an answer to Alexander’s question !

    Reply
    • Dear Anstell, happy you enjoyed the article and you’re right about needing more time to answer the question! I’ve been living in Italy for the last 17 years and the discussion is still going strong! Ciao, Jean

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  8. David Barneby

    Amazing !!! Thank you !!! I have been to the cathedral many times , but never registered to these amazing marble floors . Siena Cathedral is so beautiful in many respects , so many wonderful works of art or literature to see .

    Reply
    • Dear David, thank you for your message. It never ceases to amaze me how this cathedral has one of the greatest concentrations of magnificent artwork from the floors to the architecture to the Piccolomini library. Even the façade is beautiful! Saluti, Jean

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  9. Grazie, Jean! I was in Siena several years ago and was fortunate enough to be there when the floors were “exposed” and had a wonderful local guide give us a detailed tour and explanation – so lovely to “revisit” here…and hopefully again in the future.
    V.

    Reply
    • Cara Victoria, so glad you got to see the floors and having a guide must have been so interesting. Happy you enjoyed the “revisit”! I will have another visit too, but I’m hoping it will be to see the floors from the cathedral roof walkways. Another first for me. Ciao, Jean

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  10. Dan Johnson

    A less expensive alternative to a personal guide is to rent one of the guided-tour tape machines available inside the Duomo. It enhanced my wife’s experience while I ran around taking pictures. Photo Tip: Tripods aren’t allowed, but a mono-pod (single leg) wasn’t objected to and almost a necessity to be able to hold a camera steady so as not to get a blurry picture in the available light (no flashs!) in this and other Duomos. A large lens (small number F-stop) and a fast chip in a digital camera also help.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the great advice. I’ll be able to remind our guests of the tour tapes. Glad you got to go photograph happy there, it really is amazing! Thanks and ciao, Jean

      Reply
    • Cara Monica, happy you will be able to revisit one of my favorite cathedrals too! I can’t wait to return too this autumn. Saluti, Jean

      Reply

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