In the bowels of the CATHEDRAL

The dawn of Sienese painting

A descent into the world of colour takes you into the very entrails of the Cathedral, an area commonly known as the "Crypt" and unquestionably one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the past twenty years.

The story of the Passion


When the work originally commissioned by the Opera della Metropolitana in 1999 to recuperate the spaces connected to the Oratory of San Giovannino and San Gennaro was expanded to include the area beneath the Cathedral chancel, it brought to light a totally unexpected space decorated with a cycle of paintings in the second half of the 13th century.

The absolute novelty and superb quality of the frescoes rediscovered after so many centuries extends our knowledge of 13th century wall painting immeasurably, providing us with crucial evidence of the birth and early development of the Sienese school of painting. Nor was the discovery confined solely to figurative art. The archaeological and architectural finds, in perfect harmony with the paintings, are also of immense interest, and indeed many of the structural elements are still abundantly decorated, offering us a new and unusual image of painted architecture. Together with the discovery of the foundations of the church's apsidal section, this has shed valuable light on the phases of the Cathedral's construction and on the numerous still unresolved problems surrounding it.

The deposition from the cross


Painted by artists working in Siena in the second half of the 13th century – men such as Guido da Siena, Dietisalvi di Speme, Guido di Graziano and Rinaldo da Siena – the cycle of paintings is remarkable for the brightness of the colours covering not only the frescoed walls but also the columns, pilasters, capitals and corbels with geometric or phytomorphic embellishments. The scenes are arranged on two registers with stories from the Old Testament in the upper register and stories from the New Testament in the lower register. The mesmerisingly solemn depiction of the Passion of Christ captures the three great moments of the Crucifixion, the Descent of Christ from the Cross and the Entombment.

The entombment

Visitors go on to explore a number of areas housing parts of the Cathedral structure dating back to the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. Stone walling from what must have been the chancel and north transept of the 12th century Cathedral can still be made out, but the entire area was totally overhauled in the 14th century and following the construction of the Baptistry and the extension of the Cathedral into Piazza San Giovanni, it was incorporated into the new brick structures with their large Gothic lancets.

Ancient cathedral building

The crucifixion

Isaac sending Esau off to hunt

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1 March - 1 November: 10:30 am - 7:00 pm /
2 November - 28 February (but not 26 December – 8 January): 10:30 am - 5:30 pm /
26 December - 8 January: 10:30 am - 6:00 pm /

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

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