Home Museums Siena Cathedral Unveils Breathtaking 14th-Century Mosaic Floors

Siena Cathedral Unveils Breathtaking 14th-Century Mosaic Floors

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Detail of the mosaic floor of the Duomo di Siena. The mosaic floor is generally covered and is only visible at certain exceptional times. (photo via Getty Images)

Those who travel to Siena this summer can catch a glimpse of one of the northern Italian city’s most stunning sights. At the medieval Duomo di Siena, in addition to the many works of art that adorn the interior and exterior of the church, visitors will be able to view nearly 14,000 square feet of intricate mosaic marble floor dating from the 14th century.

Built during the first half of the 13th century, the Duomo di Siena is full of sculptures, paintings and other furnishings that make it both a marvel of architecture and art. But apart from the works of Italian masters Michelangelo, Pisano, DonatelloAnd Berninithe church’s large-scale mosaic floor is another artistic feat – covered in incredibly detailed philosophical and biblical imagery inlaid on 56 marble panels.

Giovanni di Stefano, “Hermes Trismegistus” (1488), marble mosaic inlay (image via Wikimedia)

The frail inlaid floors of the cathedral in black and white stripes spend most of the year covered in fiberboard panels for protection against foot traffic. Each year, after the town’s traditional Palio di Siena horse race, which takes place twice a year, the ground is briefly uncovered for several weeks during summer and autumn.

Much of the work was created in several stages between 1370 and 1550but the whole project was not completed until 500 years later in the 19th century.

The designs provided for the 56 floor panels were designed by artists all from Siena, with the exception of the Umbrian painter Bernardino di Betto. The artists’ sketches were transferred to the floor using a combination of techniques that achieved startling precision. Initially the designs were chiselled onto white marble and then filled in with black stucco, a method called “graffiti”. This approach was later replaced by a technique of marble mosaic inlay, which involved joining pieces of colored marble.

Detail of ‘The Wolf of Siena’ on the mosaic floor of the cathedral (photo via Getty Images)

Some of the most notable works on the floor include that of Giovanni di Stefano, who designed the first inlay that greets visitors at the entrance to the central area of ​​the church, “Hermes Trismegistus” (1488). On either side are inlays of sibyls, designed by di Stefano and Neroccio di Bartolomeo. Above “Hermes Trismegistus” is “The Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus” (1373) by Leopoldo Maccari, which depicts the mythological Roman twins who founded the city of Rome surrounded by eight small circular emblems of Italian cities. Around the altar of the church and under the dome are works by Matteo di Giovanni and Domenico Beccafumi which depict intricate scenes from the Old Testament.

The floor of the Duomo di Siena will remain uncovered until July 31, as well as from August 18 to October 18. Full price tickets to visit the church and its floors are €8 (~$9), with reduced prices for guided groups. Admission is free for children up to six years old, residents of the Municipality of Siena, visitors with disabilities, students of the University of Siena and other eligible persons.

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