The museums and artworks in Siena not to be missed by art lovers

The museums and artworks in Siena not to be missed by art lovers

Musei da vedere a Siena
Musei da vedere a Siena

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Siena’s historic center is a time capsule of urban planning from the 12th and 15th centuries. Its Gothic architecture and atmosphere steeped in history transform the city into a living, open-air museum. Piazza del Campo, known worldwide as the venue for the thrilling Palio di Siena, captivates visitors with its unique shell shape. Among its treasures is the Fonte Gaia, a monumental fountain graced with Jacopo della Quercia’s sculptural reliefs (today replaced by copies for conservation reasons), and the iconic Torre del Mangia, standing as a proud symbol of Siena.

Siena’s wealth of artistic treasures extends beyond its streets into the heart of its many central museums. Join us on a virtual stroll through the quaint alleys and charming local districts to discover them.  

Museo Civico di Siena

The Museo Civico di Siena, nestled within the Palazzo Pubblico in Piazza del Campo, beckons art lovers as the prime destination to explore Siena’s artistic masterpieces and rich history. 
Constructed by the “Nove” rulers of the Sienese Republic between 1287 and 1355, the Palazzo Pubblico is a bastion of local governance, boasting a commanding Gothic edifice and the towering Torre del Mangia, which soars nearly 87 meters. The Tower’s name originates from the bell-ringer Giovanni di Balduccio, known as Mangiaguadagni, shortened to Mangia, because of his reckless relationship with money.

Il Buono e il Cattivo Governo Ambrogio Lorenzetti Siena
Il Buono e il Cattivo Governo, Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Ascend to the first floor of the Palace, through the Cortile del Podestà, to enter the Museo Civico. Here, a procession of fresco cycles unfolds, showcasing masterful works from the 14th to the 19th century by renowned artists. Wander from the patriotic Sala del Risorgimento into rooms adorned with wall paintings from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries by authors as  Spinello Aretino, Martino di Bartolomeo, and Domenico Beccafumi.
Beyond the early 15th-century Cappella, adorned by Taddeo di Bartolo, lies the museum’s crown jewel: the sala del Mappamondo or Sala del Consiglio. It is the largest environment of the Palazzo Pubblico and owes its name to a lost map by Ambrogio Lorenzetti that represented the possessions of the state of Siena and the known world in 1344.

The left wall hosts Maestà by Simone Martini, an International Gothic gem crafted between 1315 and 1321, depicting the Madonna enthroned with Child, flanked by saints and angels, including Siena’s patron saints (Sant’Ansano, San Savino, San Crescenzio e San Vittore) and figures like Santa Caterina d’Alessandria and San Giovanni Battista, depicted according to the typical iconography of the saint.

Maestà Simone Martini Siena
Maestà, Simone Martini

This piece, echoing Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto’s style, is framed with frescoes and inscriptions. The one along the lower red band describes the political character of the fresco: “Response of the Virgin to the saints’ words / My beloved, put in your minds / that your devout honest prayers / as you wish I will make content. / But if the powerful to the weak are troublesome, / weighing on them with shame or harm, / your prayers are not for these / nor for whoever deceives my land.” A warning to maintain honesty in the management of political power and a celebration of Mary as the protector of the Government of Siena.
Opposite the Maestà, stands Martini’s depiction of Guidoriccio da Fogliano all’assedio di Montemassi of the 1330, commemorating the Sienese State’s victories.

Guidoriccio da fogliano assedio di montemassi simone martini siena
Guidoriccio da Fogliano all’assedio di Montemassi, Simone Martini

The narrative continues in the sala dei cicli del Buono e del Cattivo Governo, where Ambrogio Lorenzetti‘s frescoes from 1338-1339, evoke the Allegory of the government of the “Nine”. The theme of the painting, which unfolds on three walls, is the representation of two opposites: the government of the Commune and that of the Tyranny with their respective effects on the city and the countryside. Although undergoing restoration since 2022, the museum’s other rooms, the grand 14th century loggia, and the Tower present an unparalleled experience, crowned with a stunning vista of the Sienese countryside.
These wonders are compelling reasons to secure your entrance ticket!

Il cattivo governo Ambrogio Lorenzetti Siena
Il Cattivo Governo (detail), Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Santa Maria della Scala

Next to Piazza del Campo, Piazza Duomo is not only the site of the city’s majestic cathedral but also the impressive Santa Maria della Scala museum complex, sprawling across 7 distinct architectural tiers. This layered marvel, shaped by centuries of architectural evolution from the 12th through the 15th centuries, offers a unique spatial narrative within its walls.
Originally serving as a hospital, sanctuary for pilgrims, orphans, and the destitute, the complex has been transformed into a cultural treasure trove, hosting the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, the Biblioteca e Fototeca Giuliano Briganti, the Collezione Piccolomini Spannocchi, the Fonte Gaia, and the Museo d’Arte per Bambini.
Let’s see some details.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale, established in 1931 and later relocated to Santa Maria della Scala in the 1980s, initially into the spaces of the ancient women’s hospice and some adjacent rooms. In 2001, it was moved to its current location, on the museum’s lowest level, where ancient sandstone tunnels and rustic brick archways form a dramatic backdrop to a rich tapestry of ancient artifacts. Urns, vases, and numerous other archaeological findings – some also from private collections – mark the path through the history of local Etruscan and Roman civilizations. 
An unmissable destination for enthusiasts wandering through Siena.

Collezione Piccolomini Spannocchi

The Collezione Piccolomini Spannocchi, a harmonious amalgamation of three separate collections, formed over the years by different members of the two families and eventually merged into the current collection. Initially divided between the Museo Civico and the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, it is now on display within the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.
Its genesis dates back before the official merger in 1774, following the union of Caterina Piccolomini di Modanella and Giuseppe Spannocchi, from whom it took its name.

The first group of paintings – containing works by Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Sofonisba Anguissola, and Albrecht Dürer – was in fact recovered by Lidovino Piccolomini of Modanella (1611-1680) from the “celeste galeria” of the Gonzaga of Mantova, plundered in 1630 by the Landsknechts. We owe to this Sienese nobleman, collector and art lover, the creation of the foundational nucleus. From Trento, the original location of the collection, the works were moved and integrated into Siena, arriving intact to Caterina Piccolomini who, together with her husband, would be the last heir of the collection as we know it today. The Museo della Scala proudly safeguards the canvases, crafted by both Sienese virtuosos and illustrious Italian and Northern European painters such as Ludovico Dondi, Lorenzo Lotto, Correggio, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Tintoretto, Albrecht Dürer, Rubens, and Albrecht Altdorfer among others.

Museo d’Arte per bambini

Tucked away in an ancient apothecary, the Museo d’Arte per bambini offers a whimsical haven crafted just for the young and the adolescents. Within its welcoming walls, a vibrant collection unfolds, brimming with sculptures, paintings, photographs, videos, and hands-on installations that celebrate the wonder of childhood.
This museum goes beyond mere display; it invites its pint-sized patrons to dive into a sea of art through a varied roster of educational activities. Each program is thoughtfully designed to match the intellectual appetites of different age groups, guiding them through a thematic adventure in art that proves, unequivocally, that museums are a fertile playground for the minds of children and teens alike.

Before leaving Santa Maria della Scala, make your way to the storied fourth floor. Here lies the heart of the old hospital’s monumental grandeur. Among these is the grandioso pellegrinaio maschile, frescoed by the masters Lorenzo di Pietro, Domenico di Bartolo, and Priamo della Quercia, between 1439 and 1446, bringing to life the hospital’s storied past with vivid scenes and daring perspective that will capture your imagination and transport you through time.
Book your journey to Santa Maria della Scala today.

Opera del Duomo

Our curated journey through Siena’s essential museums leads us to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, nestled over several floors in the right nave of the Duomo Nuovo. Started in 1339, the cathedral’s rise was halted by the 1348 plague. Today it houses masterpieces and artifacts of inestimable value, including the renowned works of Duccio di Buoninsegna and the sculptures of Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, and Jacopo della Quercia.

Stepping inside, the ground floor greets you with a parade of marvels from the 13th to 15th centuries: Giovanni Pisano’s marble statues depicting Sibyls, Prophets, and Philosophers, once gracing the Cathedral’s facade; Jacopo della Quercia’s bas-relief of the Madonna in trono col Bambino e il cardinal Casini, originally in the chapel of S. Sebastiano in Duomo; the  Madonna col Bambino, known as Madonna del Perdono a roundel by Donatello from the old altar of the Madonna delle Grazie in Duomo; and the great Vetrata by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 6 meters in diameter, dedicated to three stories of the Virgin (the Entombment, the Assumption, and the Coronation).

Maestà Duccio di Buoninsegna Siena
Maestà, Duccio di Buoninsegna

The absolute protagonist of the first floor is the Maestà by Duccio di Buoninsegna, a 14th century panel painting of divine craftsmanship. Created between 1308 and 1311, the altarpiece is decorated on both sides. On the front, it presents the Vergine in trono con il Bambino, surrounded by a chorus of ten Angels and several rows of Saints, including the four patrons of Siena. In the upper register, the Apostles are recognizable. On the back, the Passione di Cristo in 26 scenes. In addition to the two central bodies, the altarpiece was originally composed of two predellas (still in the Museo del Duomo) and other panels, divided between Siena and other museums around the world.
According to a contemporary source, the new placement of the panel was accompanied by a grand city procession: in the following centuries, it was moved and dismembered. Only from 1878 was it rebuilt – almost entirely – and again celebrated as a masterpiece. Today, visitors are enthralled by the multiplicity of subjects, the sinuous lines of the drapery, the chromatic contrasts, and the brightness of the gold background, masterfully created by this immense Master. 

Venture further to discover the Sala del Tesoro of over two hundred sacred liturgical items. The upper levels unfold a gallery of sacred panels and canvas paintings, Sienese altarpieces from the 15th and 16th centuries, and a significant textile collection.

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La Pinacoteca Nazionale

The Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena is a gem set in the heart of the city, within the walls of the captivating Palazzo Buonsignori and Palazzo Brigidi. It’s a premier cultural destination in Siena, renowned for its vast and unmatched collection of Sienese art from the golden 14th and 15th centuries. The inception of this artistic haven was the vision of two forward-thinking clerics of the 18th century, Abbot Ciaccheri and Abbot De Angelis, who endeavored to protect and preserve the rich artistic legacy of Siena, salvaging treasures from the ruins of religious and communal life.

The collection, now numbering over 150 paintings, is a chronicle of Siena’s artistic brilliance, with masterpieces by illustrious artists such as Duccio, Simone Martini, the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and extends through the Renaissance with creations by Giovanni di Paolo, Sano di Pietro, Sassetta, and Vecchietta. Since welcoming its first admirers in 1932, the museum has expanded its narrative to include 16th century Sienese Mannerist works by the likes of Domenico Beccafumi, Sodoma, Riccio, Marco Pino, Brescianino culminating with the 17th century artistry.

For those who prefer the history of science and technology, we suggest visiting the Museo di Storia Naturale dell’Accademia dei Fisiocritici, with its esteemed botanical, zoological, and anatomical exhibits. Furthermore, the Museo dell’Acqua offers a subterranean adventure through the ‘bottini’, the lifelines of aqueducts beneath the city’s streets.
Siena’s array of museums offers a rich cultural fabric, enchanting art and culture enthusiasts from every corner of the world.

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