Panorama and Duomo Nuovo
The finest observation point of Siena. A breathtaking panorama. A climb up to one of the most important tokens of Siena's history. On August 23, 1339, with 212 yea votes and 138 nay votes, the Grand Council General of the Bell officially passed the resolution to enlarge the Cathedral of Siena (ASS, Consiglio generale 125, cc. 18r-19r), whose partial construction continued until 1357. The Council's approval, however, was pronounced on construction that had already begun. Indeed, the first stone of the facade of the ‘Duomo Nuovo' was laid, as chronicler Andrea Dei reports, on February 2, 1339. The ceremony with the blessing of the first stone was officiated by Bishop of Siena, Donusdeo Malavolti and Bishop of Massa, Galgano Pagliaresi, and was attended by the entire clergy. The existing church was supposed to become the transept of the new Cathedral whose nave and aisles would have developed in today's Piazza Jacopo della Quercia, long ago known as Piazza dei Manetti: "per planum Sancte Marie versus plateam Manettorum". The Opera della Metropolitana Archive (inv. n. 1736 and 1740) contains two plans of the cathedral enlargement. Both of these provide for maintaining the existing church, modifying the dome and creating a fore-structure with two aisles and a nave, six bays, and a new apse (which would have been semi-octagonal in one, and polygonal in the other), in addition to the dome and demolishing the bell tower. Moreover, the drawings are "of great interest also for the type of building that was to be erected: a Gothic cathedral like those built in countries beyond the Alps, with an ambulatory choir, like those of Chârtres, Cologne, Prague, Brussels, etc.: a plan rarely used in Italy (one example is San Francesco in Bologna)" (Lando Bortolotti).
In truth, works on the extension eastward (Vallepiatta) had already begun on May 1 1317, and construction of the facade of the Baptistery had also begun. As of 1331, buildings on the plain facing the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala and the Postierla were being continuously purchased so that they could be demolished to obtain the space necessary for the development of the new construction.
Direction of the construction site was entrusted to Lando di Pietro (December 1339), an exceptionally versatile goldsmith who had made his mark in works of engineering, in centring bells, erecting the citadel of Montemassi (1328) and the walls of Paganico (1334). He was summoned from Naples where he was in the service of king Roberto d'Angiò, but survived at the construction site in Siena only briefly, that is until his death on August 3, 1340. He was replaced by the quite refined Sienese sculptor, Giovanni d'Agostino (with an act by Operaio Latino de' Rossi, dated March 23, 1340), who quickly pushed ahead with the construction of the ‘Duomo Nuovo', intended to become the masterpiece of Sienese Gothic art, until 1348 when the artist died probably from the Black Death. While Lando di Pietro was a sort of «superintendent» of works, also paid by the Commune of Siena, Giovanni d'Agostino was appointed to the post of Opera Master-builder.
Due to the economic recession caused by the epidemic of Black Death that decimated the population, and problems of statics that had emerged in several parts that had already been built, after 1348 construction first slowed down drastically, and was finally suspended.
Until today, scholars believed that only the construction site of the nave, aisles and the facciatone (big facade) of the ‘Duomo Nuovo' were operative between 1339 and 1348, while work on the Baptistery had been abandoned, and the construction of the middle segment of the facade, the area with the three windows above the portals, continued into the 1350s. More recent analysis instead reveals that during the enlargement of the cathedral, work continued on the facade of the Baptistery. Indeed, in the 1340s, Giovanni d'Agostino created the reliefs in the pediments of the windows of San Giovanni, which portray Christ Blessing, Saint Apollonia and a Prophet, currently replaced by copies (the recently restored originals are awaiting placement). This same artist also authored the busts that adorn the pediments of the Baptistery's side windows (two on the left side and one on the right, which are copies). The archlets that crown the pendentives of the upper part of the facade contain eight human heads, male and female, executed between the 1350s and 1360s, and certainly before 1365, when work on the facade was abandoned. It has been suggested that these heads are by Giovanni d'Agostino's brother Domenico, he too, a sculptor and architect, who took over the post of master-builder of the Duomo of Siena at the death of his brother.
Following the abandonment of the ‘Duomo Nuovo' project, the construction was partially demolished. In June 1357, the Twelve Governors of the Republic of Siena ordered that the portions of the building declared unsafe be demolished. Of the impressive building project, however, there remained an enormous "trunk" consisting of the ‘facciatone', the side walls and the nave oriented northeast. Of the nave oriented southwest, there remained the arches, ogival mullioned windows and the lower part of the marble face. The brick wall was erected for the construction of Palazzo Reale, today headquarters of the Prefecture and the Provincial Administration.
The part of the impressive facade that looks onto the square is lined with strips of black and white marble, in keeping with the typical Tuscan taste. The facade is lightened by three arches – including two large windows or loggias leading to the Museo dell'Opera, Room of Tapestries – and the entrance portal of the ‘Duomo Nuovo', which was walled up to permit the construction of the building destined to house Police Headquarters.
The square-plan Piazza Jacopo della Quercia thus embraces the nave and the left aisle of the ‘Duomo Nuovo', and is paved with pietra serena, like the Piazza del Duomo. We can still see the marble perimeters of the southwest aisle, demolished after the enlargement project was abandoned. Also still visible are the pilasters of the northeast aisle lined with black and white marble, where the arches of the Museo dell'Opera and the loggia in front of it still stand. The structure that houses the museum was indeed derived by walling up the first three bays of the right aisle of the ‘Duomo Nuovo'. In 1869, the Prefect of Siena informed cav. Ferdinando Rubini, at that time Rector of the Opera della Metropolitana, that the Ministry of Public Education had given its consent to creating the Museum. Initially, the rooms needed to house the Museum were rented from the Provincial Administration (August 1869). In 1874 Opera purchased the premises for 6000 liras, thus becoming the owner of the entire building, an immense livery stable" with its corresponding barn, a "vast depot with an apartment and a gallery above, the co-called "facciatone", and the adjoining "enormous open courtyard" with a cistern: "an altius non collendi easement on the buildings sold through this instrument situated opposite the palazzo and property of the province on the said Piazza del Duomo, shall be instituted and imposed in favour of the aforesaid palazzo. The expenses of restoration and subsequent maintenance of the portion of the building known as the ‘facciatone' shall be the exclusive responsibility of the Opera Metropolitana. Also at its expense and within the term of ten days from today, the aforementioned Opera shall demolish the little cabin of the aforementioned ‘facciatone' that gives communication between the sold buildings and the palazzo of the province" (AOMS 139, Affari diversi 5, ins. 6). This period thus saw a series of restoration interventions conducted on the area where the Duomo Nuovo was built.
The first nucleus of the Museum's collection was formed by sculpture, paintings, jewels and anthem books from the Cathedral. From its very foundation, cav. Rubini strove to create a museum structure capable of collecting and housing the rich artistic fittings that, as tastes changed, had been removed from the holy temple. The Museum entrance is situated under one of the surviving spans. On the left of the door, an inscription preceded by the Piccolomini coat of arms commemorates a visit by pope Pius II to the Opera construction site: M.CCCC.LVIIII A DI V DI FEBRARIO PPA P.II VENE I QUESTA BUTIGA (On February 5, 1459, pope Pius II came to this workshop).
Another inscription, located further ahead on the same wall and visible in the Gallery of Statues, records the Sienese sojourn of Charles V in 1536: CARLO CESARE V IMPERATORE FE' LINTRATA IN SIENA EL DI XXIIII DAPRILE EL DI XXVIII SI PARTI' A.D. MD.XXXVI (Emperor Charles Caesar V entered Siena on April 24 and departed hence on April 28, 1536). The Museum structure consists of three floors, plus a mezzanine: the ground floor with the ticket office, the staircase with the balustrade of little pillars of yellow Sienese "brocatello" marble, dated 1765 and originally in the Basilica dei Servi, the Gallery of Statues, the Entrance Hall at the centre portal, the Room of the Apostles, the entrance inside the Church of San Niccolò. On the first floor is a succession of all rectangular-plan rooms: the Duccio Room, the Jacopo della Quercia Room, the Crucifix Room, the Cartoons Room. These rooms still contain visible architectural and decorative elements of the ‘Duomo Nuovo'. On the mezzanine we find the trapezoidal-plan Treasury; on the left wall we see the centre part of the mullioned window of the right aisle of the ‘Duomo Nuovo'; on the second floor is the trapezoidal-plan Room of the Madonna with Large Eyes; on the left wall we can see the upper portion of the mullioned window of the right aisle of the ‘Duomo Nuovo'. On the second floor are the Ensigns Room and the Tapestries Room. Over the entrance of the ‘facciatone' is a single-lancet ogive window, which was also part of the project to enlarge the Cathedral.
The sculptures and fragments that decorate the architecture of the ‘Duomo Nuovo' include many outstanding elements, such as the bas-reliefs of the lunettes over the entrance to the loggia, depicting the Madonna and Child and the Saviour Blessing between Two Cherubim, which manifests the "pictorial" style of Giovanni d'Agostino. These reliefs introduce "the most beautiful portal of all Sienese art" (Enzo Carli) that opens onto the left side of the nave of the ‘Duomo Nuovo', visible from Piazza San Giovanni, at the end of a scenographic staircase, today utilised as a passageway between Piazza del Duomo and Via di Monna Agnese. The original statues of the group sculpture depicting the Saviour and Two Angels is today housed in the Room of the Apostles inside the Museo dell'Opera, and constitute one of the absolute peaks of fourteenth-century sculpture, in perfect linguistic syntony with the Sienese painters of this century.
As reported by the "‘bibliographic chronicle' of the Bullettino senese di Storia patria" (XVII, 1910, fasc. II, pp. 283-284), in an article published in "Rivista d'arte", architect Agenore Socini "reports on the discovery of several remains of an old window found in a wall of the Cathedral of Siena". Thanks to these remains, "on the basis of its ornamentations, combined with others, Socini hopes to succeed in studying more intimately the architectural and exterior decorative features of the Duomo conceived and undertaken by the Sienese in 1339, which make one regret that its splendid forms were not completed, that its magnificent remains let us intuit even today". In "Rassegna d'arte senese" (1911), Vittorio Lusini brings to the reader's attention several operators of restoration conducted by Agenore Socini on the "remains of the ancient Duomo", in which he intends the parts relative to the aisles but not the Facciatone. Then in 1911, for example, the restoration of several "existing corbels in the Facciatone of the Duomo Nuovo" is reported, and workers are paid "to make the column bases" the so-called "calate'" (AOMS, Eredità Bambagini Galletti, 1911, n. 12).