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SIENA Museums and galleries - The Museo Civico

Access to the Museo Civico, the city museum of Siena, is from the superbly proportioned gothic courtyard of the Palazzo Pubblico. Founded in the 1930s, the Museo Civico contains some of the finest paintings, sculptures and frescoes of the renowned Senese School.

Two flights of stairs lead up to the Sale Monumentali grand chambers of the museum. Immediately to the right is the Sala del Mappamondo, formerly used as the meeting room for the General Council of the Republic of Siena. The room takes its name after a rotating map, now lost, painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, that showed the lands governed by the city. On the far wall of the chamber is a Maestà fresco by Simone Martini, painted between 1312 and 1315, still striking today on account of its delicate use of the chromatic palette and its purity of lines. This is regarded as being the first real masterpiece by Simone Martini, who in 1328 also painted the portrait of the condottiero Guidoriccio da Fogliano, who seized the Castle of Montemassi.

On from the Sala del Mappamondo, the magnificent Sala dei Nove was used as a meeting chamber for the town’s Governo dei Nove government of nine councillors. Over the centuries this room has changed name a number of times, from Sala delle Balestre when it was used as an armoury to Sala della Pace from an allegorical figure of Peace in the decorations. In 1337 Ambrogio Lorenzetti was commissioned to decorate the room with a cycle of frescoes known as the Allegory of Good and Bad Government. The largest secular painting cycle of the Middle Ages, this work is a political manifesto in which the painter has depicted two opposing methods of government along with their consequences.

To the left of the Sala del Mappamondo is the so-called Anticappella, once used as an antechamber of offices for the Concistoro. In 1415 Taddeo di Bartolo was commissioned to decorate it with a cycle of frescoes depicting The Virtues of Illustrious Gods and Men.
A fine 15th century railing designed by Jacopo della Quercia encloses the Chapel. Completed at the end of the 15th century, when the population of the city was on the rise, this railing is larger than its counterpart on the ground floor of the building. In 1407 Taddeo di Bartolo was commissioned to decorate the room with his Storie della Madonna cycle of frescoes depicting episodes from the life of the Virgin.

The adjacent passageway, known also as the Sala dei Cardinali leads to the Sala del Concistoro, with an internal doorway in marble by Bernardo Rossellino. The brightly coloured frescoes on the ceiling were completed between 1529 and 1535 by Domenico Beccafumi, once more a representation of themes related to justice and patriotic devotion that take their cue from the Lorenzetti Good Government and the di Bartolo Illustrious Men cycles. Next to the Sala del Concistoro is the Sala di Balia, also known as Sala dei Priori. This room is adorned with frescoes by Spinello Aretino (1407) illustrating the Life of Pope Alexander III dei Bandinelli.

The Sala del Risorgimento, known also as the Sala di Vittorio Emanuele II, was inaugurated in 1890. The walls are decorated with frescoes of episodes from the Unification of Italy, painted by late-19th century Senese artists. The upper floor opens onto a large loggia, which overlooks the southern prospect of Siena. A number of adjacent rooms were reopened recently and contain the Quadreria, a collection of detached frescoes, paintings on wood and canvases both of the Senese School and by artists across Italy and abroad.

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