cathedral

floor

Floor of Siena Cathedral

Marble mosaic inlay and "graffito"

"The most beautiful..., largest and most magnificent...ever made" is how Giorgio Vasari described the floor of Siena Cathedral, the product of a programme implemented between the 14th and the 19th centuries.

Siena Cathedral contains numerous masterpieces from every age, but its marble mosaic inlay and graffito floor is in many ways its most prized possession. Giorgio Vasari certainly considered it the "most beautiful..., largest and most magnificent floor ever made". The floor we see today is the product of a programme implemented between the 14th and the 19th centuries. The preparatory cartoons for the fifty-six inlay panels were supplied by leading artists, all of them Sienese save for the Umbrian painter Bernardino di Betto known as Pinturicchio, who designed the inlay depicting the Mount of Wisdom in 1505.

The technique used to transpose the various artists' ideas onto the floor is known as graffito and mosaic marble inlay. Simple to begin with, the technique gradually achieved an astonishing degree of perfection. The first inlays were traced out on white marble slabs using a chisel and a drill and then filled in with black stucco, a technique called "graffito". This was supplemented by a technique based on placing coloured marble pieces together using the marquetry method, a technique known as marble mosaic inlay.

Masterpieces on the FLOOR

The marble mosaic inlay floor is unique both in terms of the technique used to make it and in terms of the message enshrined in its figured panels: a constant invitation to embrace Wisdom.

Giovanni di Stefano, Hermes Trismegistus

Inscription at the entrance

Nave and aisles

An inscription invites the visitor, on entering the nave, to adopt a fitting attitude for someone about to enter a sacred temple: CASTISSIMUM VIRGINIS TEMPLUM CASTE MEMENTO INGREDI (Remember to enter chastely into the most chaste temple of the Virgin).

The first marble inlay to greet the visitor (made by Giovanni di Stefano in 1488) depicts Hermes Trismegistus, the founder of human wisdom; together with the Sibyls (1482–3) in the side aisles, Hermes is part of an iconographical pathway based on 4th century Christian writer Lactantius' Divinae Institutiones.

In accordance with the writings of Varro there are ten Sibyls (five per side aisle) named after their respective geographical areas: the Persian Sibyl, the Hellespontine Sibylla, the Erythraean Sibylla, the Phrygian Sibylla, the Samian Sibyl and the Delphic Sibyl for the Greek and eastern world; the Libyan Sibylla for Africa; and the Cumaean or Cimmerian Sibyl, the Cumana (Virgilian) Sibyl and the Tiburtine Sibyl for the Western world, and thus Italy.

Moving down the nave past the panel of Hermes, we encounter the She-Wolf Suckling the Twins, set in a circle surrounded by eight smaller roundels containing the emblems of central Italian cities.


The wolf suckling Romulus and Remus

Guidoccio Cozzarelli, The Libyan Sibyl

Pinturicchio, The Fortune

Pinturicchio, Crates

This area of the floor, the only area made of mosaic, is probably the oldest in view of the different technique used. The She-Wolf was adopted as the symbol of Siena in the Middle Ages in reference to the city's legendary founding by Aschius and Senius, the two sons of Remus. Behind the beast one can make out the fig tree (Ficus Ruminalis) where the legend says the shepherd Faustulus discovered Romulus and Remus after they had been left on the banks of the Tiber.

The lower part of the inlay designed by Pinturicchio (the fourth panel in the nave) depicts the personification of Fortune: a naked young girl holds the horn of plenty in her right hand while waving a wind-filled sail aloft with her left as though it were some kind of banner. Her balance is unstable, her right foot resting on a globe while her left foot stands on an ungovernable vessel whose main mast has snapped. After a stormy journey, Fortune has succeeded in landing a group of wise men on a rocky islet and they are having to climb a steep and insidious hill in an attempt to reach a female figure, Wisdom or Virtue, perched at the top. With her left hand the figure offers a book to Crates of Thebes, who sheds all his spurious earthly wealth by throwing a basket full of jewels into the sea, while with her right hand she offers Socrates a palm frond. The message enshrined in the allegory on the floor is clear: the path to Wisdom is fraught with difficulties and pitfalls but on overcoming the trials and tribulations one achieves quies or serenity, symbolised by the plateau covered only in flowering shrubs, and clearly stated in the inscription engraved above Fortune's head urging the observer to attempt to climb the grim hill.

Matteo di Giovanni, Slaughter of the Innocents

Transept and chancel

While the nave and side aisles contain episodes from Classical antiquity and the pagan world, the transept and chancel relate the story of the Children of Israel and the story of salvation accomplished and achieved in the figure of Christ, who is constantly evoked but never actually portrayed in the floor since He is present on the altar towards which the entire artistic and spiritual journey converges. The subject matter is all taken from the Old Testament except for Matteo di Giovanni's Slaughter of the Innocents. The horrific scene, which is being played out under the observer's very eyes, is based on the story in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

The hexagon beneath the dome (tories from the Life of Elijah and Acab) and other panels close to the altar (Moses Striking Water from the Rock; Moses on Mount Sinai; The Sacrifice of Isaac) are by Mannerist painter Domenico Beccafumi, who so perfected the marble mosaic inlay technique that he managed to achieve a chiaroscuro effect with it.

Domenico Beccafumi, Isaac’s sacrifice

Domenico Beccafumi, Scenes from life of Moses on Sinai

Share content:
marble inlay floor: viewing hours

Cathedral, public holidays:: 9:30am - 5:30 pm

Last admission half an hour before the museum closes.
Religious services may lead to changes in the opening times.

call center
Information, reservations and ticket.

+39 0577 286300

SEND EMAIL
Immediate access to the masterpieces of the Monumental Cathedral Complex slashes waiting times

BOOKING ONLINE
prices
FULL TICKET:
29/06-31/07
€ 7,00
18/08-26/10
€ 7,00
GROUPS > 14:
29/06-31/07
€ 5,00
18/08-26/10
€ 5,00
SCHOOLS:
29/06-31/07
€ 5,00
18/08-26/10
€ 5,00
OPA SI PASS:
29/06-31/07
€ 15,00
18/08-26/10
€ 15,00
OPA SI PASS+:
29/06-31/07
€ 20,00
18/08-26/10
€ 20,00

A combined ticket that allows you to access to all the museums of the complex of the Cathedral of Siena and to save more than 50% on the total amount of the single tickets.

Valid for three days from the day of purchase Opa Si Pass.


prices
09/01-28/02
€ 8,00
01/03-17/08
€ 12,00
18/08-27/10
€ 15,00
28/10-31/10
€ 13,00
01/11-24/12
€ 8,00
26/12-08/01
€ 13,00
Worship
The Cathedral is by definition the house that welcomes the Christian community as it gathers together for liturgical celebrations, thus it is always accessible to the faithful for private prayer via the Porta del Perdono, the Gate of Forgiveness.
Mass Schedule
Weekdays: 9:00 am (Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament) 10:00 am (Madonna del Voto Chapel)
Public Holidays and the eve of Public Holidays 8:00 am, 11:00 am, 12:15 am, 18:00 am (summer 18:30 am)

When the Cathedral's marble inlay floor is uncovered, mass is celebrated in the church of the Santissima Annunziata.
For mass times on solemn occasions or during special events, please consult the news section.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy.   Read moreI agree