“The She-Wolf of Siena” mosaic. (Photo: Tango7174 via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Decoration is usually found on the walls, but why not the ceilings and floors too? That’s clearly what the medieval artists and architects who built the 13th-century masterpiece, the Duomo Di Siena. Known in English as Siena Cathedral, the incredible Gothic masterpiece is richly decorated down to the dirt. Its incredible mosaic floor—largely created between 1370 and 1550 but not strictly finished until the 19th century—is only revealed twice a year, but the 56 marble inlay panels are a site to behold.
The cathedral is a cross plan, with vaulted ceilings and a large decorated dome. A tall bell tower rises attached to the main cathedral. A cathedral library, the Piccolomini Library, abuts the church. Within frescoes adorn high walls and statues grace knaves. Outside, gargoyles look down from on high. Yet the “hidden secret” of the cathedral is its floor. Covered in 56 mosaic panel scenes made of inlaid marble, the mosaic covers 14,000 square feet. Geometric patterns wind their way among biblical and classical scenes. There is a Wheel of Fortune and The She-Wolf of Siena, a 14th-century story about the founding of Siena by Aschius and Senius, two brothers suckled by a wolf. The personified Four Virtues are featured, as are the biblical stories of King David and David and Goliath.
Most of the artists who designed the floor were local to the city. First, they created a sketch. They chiseled their ideas into white marble whose depressions were then filled with dark stucco. This “graffito” technique is connected to the modern word graffiti. This is unlike the traditional inlay method for mosaics, which has been used since ancient times. This latter method was used in the later additions to the floor throughout the Renaissance.
When can you see this magnificent floor? A small portion is usually on display, but the grand unveiling comes in two spurts. In 2022, the dates were in late July and from August to October. This year it is uncovered through the end of July, as well as August 18 through October 18. Tickets are eight euros, about nine dollars. Children under six are free. For more information, see their website.
The Duomo Di Siena is a magnificent cathedral in Siena, Italy with an incredible medieval mosaic floor that is only uncovered twice a year.
The mosaics were largely created between 1370 and 1550, but not completely finished until the 19th century.
A floor panel showing Hermes Trismegistus and dating to the 1480s. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
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