Renaissance Siena: Art in Context

Renaissance Siena: Art in Context

Renaissance Siena: Art in Context

Renaissance Siena: Art in Context


The art of Renaissance Siena is usually viewed in the light of developments and accomplishments achieved elsewhere, but Sienese artists were part of a dynamic dialogue that was shaped by their city's internal political turmoil, diplomatic relationships with its neighbours, internal social hierarchies, and struggle for self-definition. These essays lead scholars in a new and exciting direction in the study of the art of Renaissance Siena, exploring the cultural dynamics of the city and its art in a specifically Sienese context. This volume shapes a new understanding of Sienese culture in the early modern period and defines the questions scholars will continue to ask for years to come. What emerges is a picture of Renaissance Siena as a city focused on meeting the challenges of the time while formulating changes to shape its future. Central to these changes are the city's efforts to fashion a civic identity through the visual arts.


Did Siena have a renaissance? As recently as 1994 a historian of late medieval Siena wrote about the city in the fifteenth century, “All sectors of Sienese life reflected this economic lethargy, including urban planning. Again, no changes or noteworthy additions to the architectural fabric of the city are to be found.… The urban restructuring that characterized numerous other contemporary Italian cities had no significant impact upon Siena.” Although Duccio Balestracci is here referring to urban planning in particular, his remarks reflect a broad consensus that has governed historical attitudes towards the Sienese Renaissance at least until the last twenty years or so. Indeed, many scholars assert that Siena had no true renaissance, even when they speak of Renaissance Siena, and this is especially true when they equate that period with the artistic and architectural styles that developed in fifteenth-century Florence.

This volume will argue on behalf of a renaissance in Siena, first by restating the definition of a renaissance, and then by looking at specific works of art or architectural commissions and understanding them, not only as pale reflections of Florentine ideas and styles, but also within the political, social, economic, and cultural context of Siena itself. The following essays will address this latter task, which is often more daunting than one might suppose. This introduction will consider what it means to talk about the Renaissance in Siena. And if indeed Siena had a renaissance, as it seems it did, then it becomes important to construct a framework for the issues that define the work of scholars interested in that city in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. What follows, then, is not so much an exhaustive review of the literature on Renaissance Siena, but a consideration of the state of research in this area of Italian fifteenth- and sixteenth-century studies. It is important, too, to situate the book within the field since in many ways it both reflects current scholarly trends and points the way to the future.

Interest in Siena during the Renaissance, a period most often defined as stretching from about 1400 to the city’s incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1555, has blossomed in recent years. This seems to be part of a more

Duccio Balestracci, “From Development to Crisis: Changing Urban Structures in Siena between the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,” in The “Other Tuscany”: Essays in the History of Lucca, Pisa, and Siena during the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. Thomas W. Blomquist and Maureen F. Mazzaoui (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1994), 199–213.

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