An Art-Filled Room

July 29, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Siena, Tuscany

To the left of the main apse of the Cathedral of Siena is a tiny door where you can find a room full of artistic wonders – the Piccolomini Library.

Built in 1492 by Pope Pius III to house the collection of books and manuscripts of his uncle, Pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini), the room was then frescoed between 1503 – 1507 by Pinturicchio.

View of Libreria Piccolomini

Pinturicchio signed one of the first artistic contracts with the Piccolomini family, where it was stipulated that the walls had to contain ten frescoes depicting the (incredible) life of Pope Pius II. The contract required that only Pinturicchio was to draw all the cartoons and fresco outlines (not his assistants, one of whom was later Raphael) and that it was also his responsibility to paint all the faces in the cycle of frescoes.

(Below: Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) presents Emperor Frederick III with his bride-to-be Eleanora of Portugal at the Porta Camollia in Siena)

Bishop of Siena Piccolomini presents Frederick III his bride-to-be Eleanora of Portugal

Another first in the library goes to the fresco (see below) titled “Enea Silvio Piccolomini leaves for the Council of Basel”, where one of the very first scenes of a storm was ever painted in Western art.

Piccolomini leaves for Council of Basel

And if all the stunning frescoes weren’t enough, underneath them in wooden and glass cases are Piccolomini’s collection of illuminated choir books. Definitely an art-filled room.

An illuminated choir book, Piccolomini Library

(Below: Piccolomini crowned court poet by emperor Frederick III)

Piccolomini crowned as court poet by Emperor Frederick III, by Pinturicchio

(Below: Pius II convokes a Diet of Princes at Mantua to proclaim a new crusade in 1459)

Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) convokes Diet of Princes at Mantua to procliam new crusade in 1459

Jean Tori

by Jean Tori

Artist- Art website: Art blog: Design company: Jean also rents holiday houses in her medieval hamlet in Umbria at

22 Responses to “An Art-Filled Room”

  1. Dan Johnson

    Half the time we spent in the Sienna Duomo was probably spent in the library wing. Art was everywhere! Sore necks were an outcome! Truely an inspiring visit.

  2. This is my absolute favorite room in ALL of Italy. I make a point to get there whenever we can, to bask in the beauty and whimsy of some of the ceiling paintings. I have photographed many and they surround my work space. Thanks for this informative piece. Brava!

    • Dear Deb, thanks. I loved your description of the ceiling as a mixture of beauty and whimsy – evocative! Saluti, Jean

  3. Torre Newman

    Two comments really. First, I have been to this room and I was completely taken by it. The illuminated choir books are astoundingly beautiful. One of my favorite things to see at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, is their collection of illuminated manuscripts. I just get transfixed and lost with these.

    Second, and I could be wrong on this one but, I think this is the same place that has an outstanding alter piece that was done by a female. One of the very few female artist of the time. Unfortunately, I do not recall her name (would have to look back through my travel logs).

    • Dear Torre, one of my favorite things too is illuminated manuscripts and didn’t know the Getty had such a collection. How wonderful. As for the altar piece created by a female artist, if you find out more in your travel logs do let us know as that would be very interesting. Not many female artists from the period get recognition, which is a pity. Thanks for your comment. Ciao, Jean

  4. Domemic Piccolomini

    Truly my favorite! The most beautiful room in the world. Pinturicchio was a true genius. Thank you for sharing this Jean!

    • Dear Domemic, thanks for writing. Yes, Pinturicchio is incredible and I think this room holds some of his best work. By the way, with such a surname, I can’t help but ask if you are related to the patrons of the the Piccolomini Library? Saluti, Jean

  5. Patricia Welch

    These frescoes are better than the Sistine Chapel because they have never been touched. Each panel shows a portrait of Raphael (blonde) and one panel has a self-portrait of Pinturicchio in tights with Raphael standing next to him.

    • Dear Patricia, thanks for this great update. I had no idea! I will definitely keep an eye out the next time I visit. Saluti, Jean

  6. Linda Boccia

    These lovely frescoes and paintings were done when society and particularly the wealthy truly valued art as enhancing to their lives. Now tawdry prints and nick knacks, along with irrelevant family photos clutter homes along with enormously out of scale furniture. As an artist I am appalled at the lack of taste in many Americans….gaudy and ill designed.

    • Dear Linda, yes, this was only possible with the patrons of the arts and definitely life enhancing. And what a family “photo” Pinturicchio created! It helps that Piccolomini had such a colourful life! thanks and saluti, Jean

  7. From memory, the floor in the library is pretty special to. I was there last year when the inlaid floor of the main cathedral were on show, and sure i took photos of the floor in the library too.

    • Dear Fiona, thank you for this reminder. To be very honest, I don’t think I even noticed the floor as my eyes were upward bound the whole time while we were there. I will take a better look. I love that one can return so many times and still have things to see! Ciao, Jean

  8. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Ah, timely reminder that one returns if and when possible to reaffirm in spite of everything there is art and one might rejoice! Many thanks for this!

    • Dear Pat, thank you for your message and yes we can rejoice that there is so much beautiful art to fill our eyes and creative well! Saluti, Jean

  9. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks for this note and looking forward to peeking in when back in Siena again / have to go soon as the floor will be uncovered of the cathedral soon..til November…! corretto?
    So grateful for our Pinturicchio here – in Spello – 3 masterpieces

    • Dear Anne, thanks for you message and the reminder of the Pinturicchio in Spello! Must get back to see them too. I think the covering of the floor in the cathedral may be October, but they do change their minds often, so as always, best to call. Cari saluti, Jean


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