Pinturicchio’s Paintings in the Libreria Piccolomini are Simply Stunning:
Connected to the Siena Duomo is the Libreria Piccolomini (Piccolomini Library), a small room with the most stunning frescoes and a magnificent collection of hymn books. If you’re visiting Siena and its beautiful cathedral, do not miss seeing this outstanding library whose artwork and colours are as alive as the day they were painted over 500 years ago.
As you enter the Siena Duomo, the Piccolomini Library is about half way down the nave of the cathedral and on the left hand side. A huge marble altar, the Piccolomini altar, is to the left of the small entrance to the Library. The Piccolomini Library itself is quite small, so it can get quite crowded inside during the peak tourist season.
The Libreria Piccolomini was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini in 1492 as a memorial and repository of the books and the manuscript collection of his uncle, Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini who was a greatly admired poet and also a prolific writer. In one of the panels you’ll see a young Piccolomini being crowned as court poet by emperor Frederick III. Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini went on to become Pope Pius II in August 1458 and ruled up to his death in 1464. The Piccolominis are a prominent noble family in Siena and amongst its members were two popes and a number of archbishops, generals and statesmen.
The colourful paintings in the Piccolomini Library are mainly the work of Pinturicchio and his assistants. Pinturicchio designed the Story of Fortuna, the last of the 56 panels of inlaid marble mosaic floor of the Siena Duomo.
The ceiling, covered with panels of mythological scenes, was painted by Pinturicchio and his assistants around 1502. In the central square is the coat of arms of the Piccolomini family – a cross with the cinque lune (five gold moons). The other two squares depict the Rape of Proserpine and Diana and Endymion.
The ten wall panels of frescoes depict key points in the life of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Siena’s favourite son, who eventually became Pope Pius II. Below each panel, the Latin inscription explains the scene, which is not helpful if you don’t read Latin.
To follow Piccolomini’s life story, head to the back of the room with the two huge windows. Start at the panel next to the window on the right and walk clockwise:
- The first scene is easy to identify as it shows Piccolomini, on a white horse, leaving for the Council of Basel and a storm is fast approaching.
- Scene two shows Piccolomini as an Ambassador to the Court of James I of Scotland
- In scene three, a young Piccolomini is crowned as court poet by emperor Frederick III
- Scene four has Piccolomini making an act of submission to Pope Eugene IV
- In scene five, Piccolomini, as Bishop of Siena, presents Emperor Frederick III with his bride-to-be Eleanora of Portugal at the Porta Camollia in Siena.
- In scene six Piccolomini is elevated to cardinal status and receives the cardinal’s hat
- In scene seven, Piccolomini is made a pontiff in 1458 and takes the name Pope Pius II
- Scene eight shows Pope Pius II at the Congress of Mantua
- In scene nine, Pius II canonizes Catherine of Siena
- Scene ten shows Pope Pius II arriving in Ancona to launch the crusade
Pinturicchio, who was friends with Raphael, painted himself and Raphael into several of the panels. So art lovers can play “spot Raphael and Pinturicchio” in the Piccolomini Library.
Other Piccolomini Library Treasures
The other precious treasures in the Library are the beautifully illustrated hymn books below the panels. In the middle of the Library is the famous Three Graces sculpture, a Roman copy of a Greek original.
Surprisingly, you’re allowed to take photos in the Libreria Piccolomini.
For more photos of the Piccolomini Library see Travelsignposts Siena Duomo album Here.