In a room of Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico we find the most surprising fresco cycle that medieval civic painting was able to conceive. The fresco cycle by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, known as the Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-1339).
The frescoes were commissioned by the ambitious governors of the time (The Council of Nine) to explain the idea of town, a ‘culture of government’ in a didactic way, now with evocative allegories. The outcome was a fascinating summary of idealism and pragmatism, the wellbeing of individual and shared prosperity, a fruitful interaction between the public and the private. This is why we see a young, ruddy woman impersonating Peace calmly seated and observing that microcosm, holding an olive branch and with her feet resting on relics of war weapons to prevent their use. But the most interesting aspect of these scenes are the pictures of a town that – yesterday like today – is none other than its surrounding lands. Between town and country we see that there’s an osmosis of human relationships, connections between trade, hard work and exchanges.
In that simbiotic link between walled city and the surrounding countryside, Siena shines like the capital of outlying lands that ensures sustenance to the city in exchange for peace and security. We see that the lands of Siena extend in perfect balance, with the same aesthetic metre that aligns within the urban fabric. The same mould of composed nobility and beauty. A model of a practicable utopia, Lorenzetti’s Good Government remains, down the centuries, the image of a city world that we all want: it is both the truth and a bringer of dreams. Just observe the joyous scene of dancing girls (what choreography of concord!) and the wedding procession that procedes with natural elegance with towers and bridge houses in the background. A sort of declaration of the right to happiness, the ‘luxury’ of sentiment, the reasons of the heart.
Siena is universally recognised as being centuries old but never distant. Its extraordinary history makes its presence felt in every today, free from discontinuity. In virtue of this, the tale started by Ambrogio Lorenzetti has continued non-stop to our day, with a similar relationship between town and its surrounding lands, craftsmanship, fine food and wine, art, scenery and high standards of living. Visiting Siena is like living a legend. Such is its power to evoke that everything we see becomes a ‘vision’, every stone a memory, every emotion, hope. Because beauty here still seems possible, livable and usual. Here, disorientations between the heart and the mind feel at home.