Pinturicchio's frescoes

Piccolomini Library

Piccolomini Library, Siena's Cathedral.

Raphael's ideas, Pinturicchio's frescoes

A fresco cycle of outstanding quality, in which Pinturicchio illustrates ten episodes from the life of Pope Pius II, making full use of his endless supply of narrative and chromatic talent.

To honour the memory of his maternal uncle Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II) and to preserve the rich collection of books and manuscripts that that humanist pope had put together while in Rome, Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, archbishop of Siena and himself subsequently elected to the papacy with the title of Pius III, commissioned the construction of a library in circa 1492, on the area formerly occupied by the priest's house parallel to the northern wall of the Cathedral. Todeschini took his inspiration from the French tradition of having libraries attached to cathedrals and from the inauguaration of the Vatican Library by Pope Sixtus IV, a move which embodied the Renaissance ideal of creating an institution that was at once a centre of scholarship and an artistic expression of the "modern era".

The frescoes adorning the library were painted by Pinturicchio and his workshop between 1503 and 1508. They celebrate the life and work of Pius II and his pontificate, with a wealth of atmospheric landscapes and real and imaginary costumes, sophisticated ceremonies and figures painted in a rich, enamelled palette.

The decorated vault,
the frescoes
and the sculptures

The splendour of living colour: paintings in the vault in the Classical style and ten stories illustrating the life of Pope Pius II.

View of the vault with grotesques

Frescoes

The glittering vault decorated in the "grotesque" style contains a series of allegorical figures, pastoral scenes, bacchanalia and marine thiasoi, two larger panels depict episodes from classical mythology (Diana and Endymion and the Rape of Proserpina) and the arms of Cardinal Todeschini Piccolomini – five crescents beneath a cardinal's hat – loom large in the centre of the ceiling.

The frescoes showing Scenes from the Life of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini unfurl on three of the Library's four walls, the fourth wall consisting in windows. The "painted biography" method comprises scenes focusing on a single individual whose life is outlined in a series of salient episodes and events shown in strict chronological order. Thus the north-eastern wall of the Library has four scenes basically recounting Aeneas Silvius' youth (the young man is portrayed with flowing blond locks) from his departure for the Council of Basle to the scene in which he is reconciled with Pope Eugene IV and subsequently ordained bishop. The two panels on the south-eastern wall show Aeneas Silvius exercising his functions as a bishop and being made a cardinal. And the four scenes of the south-western wall depict episodes from his life as pope, stretching from his coronation to his Arrival in Ancona where he surrendered his soul to God.

The Life of Pius II written by the humanist Giovanni Antonio Campano, who was secretary both to Aeneas Silvius and subsequently to his nephew Francesco Todeschini, and Pius II's own Commentarii are crucial reference works for the origin of the individual scenes and for gaining a fuller picture of Aeneas Silvius' life.

The fifth scene in the cycle depicta one of the better-known episodes, showing the meeting (in which the pope played a facilitator's role) between the Emperor Frederick III and Eleonora of Aragon that took place by the city's Porta Camollia gate on 24 February 1452. Pinturicchio dwells at length on the depiction of the fabrics, adornments and jewels worn by the figures gathered around the august bride- and bridegroom-to-be.

Pinturicchio, Departure to the Council of Basel

In the scene depicting the Canonisation of St. Catherine of Siena, the crowd of onlookers in monks' and friars' garb in the bottom left-hand corner includes two figures who have long been identified as the young Raphael (in red hose), who is reputed to have worked with Pinturicchio on the Library frescoes, and Pinturicchio himself (sporting a red cap).

Pinturicchio, Meeting between Frederick III and Eleonora of Aragona

Pinturicchio, Pius II canonizes St Catherine of Siena

Pinturicchio, Raphael, detail of Pius II canonizes St Catherine of Siena

Pinturicchio, Pius II at Ancona

Sculpture and illuminated manuscript codices

The marble group of the Three Graces (a Roman-era copy of a Hellenistic original) that Francesco Todeschini purchased from Cardinal Prospero Colonna in Rome stands in the centre of the Library. The 19th century floor is made up of rhomboid tiles manufactured by the Ginori porcelain works to replace the original smaller triangular tiles, some of which are now in storage with the Museo dell'Opera while others have found their way into various museums' collections. The showcases around the walls contain a magnificent series of illuminated manuscript codices (Graduals and Antiphonaries) that form a collection offering an almost complete overview of the history of Italian illumination in the 15th century. In addition to the work of Sienese artists, the most precious pages are those illuminated by Girolamo da Cremona and Liberale da Verona, both of them famous illustrators summoned from northern Italy to produce these illuminations in the late 1460s.

Sano di Pietro, Calling of St Peter and St Andrew

The Three Graces

Original floor tiles from the Library

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Piccolomini Library: OPENING HOURS

1 March - 1 November: 10:30 am - 7:00 pm / Sundays, public holidays: 1:30 pm - 6:00 pm / Eve of public holidays: 10:30 am - 6:00 pm
2 November - 28 February (but not 26 December – 8 January): 10:30 am - 5:30 pm / Sundays, public holidays: 1:30 am - 5:30 pm / Eve of public holidays: 10:30 am - 5:30 pm
26 December - 8 January: 10:30 am - 6:00 pm / Sundays, public holidays: 1:30 am - 5:30 pm / Eve of public holidays: 10:30 am - 5:30 pm
Cathedral: Sunday opening hours (March only): 1:30 am - 5:30 pm

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

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