Between 1250 and 1350, Siena's cathedral was radically enlarged: the improvements included a new dome, a spectacular new facade by Giovanni Pisano, the bell tower, and a refurbished interior.
La Ruota Della Fortuna
The famous mosaic floor of the Duomo has an image of a wheel of fortune.
Here I have sat a while every morning for a week, like a philosophic convalescent, watching the florid façade of the cathedral glitter against the deep blue sky. It has been lavishly restored of late years, and the fresh white marble of the densely clustered pinnacles and statues and beasts and flowers flashes in the sunshine like a mosaic of jewels. There is more of this goldsmith's work in stone than I can remember or describe; it is piled up over three great doors with immense margins of exquisite decorative sculpture - still in the ancient cream-coloured marble - and beneath three sharp pediments embossed with images relieved against red marble and tipped with golden mosaics. It is in the highest degree fantastic and luxuriant - it is on the whole very lovely. As a triumph of the many-hued it prepares you for the interior, where the same parti-coloured splendour is endlessly at play - a confident complication of harmonies and contrasts and of the minor structural refinements and braveries. The internal surface is mainly wrought in alternate courses of black and white marble; but as the latter has been dimmed by the centuries to a fine mild brown the place is all a concert of relieved and dispersed glooms. Save for Pinturicchio's brilliant frescoes in the Sacristy there are no pictures to speak of; but the pavement is covered with many elaborate designs in black and white mosaic after cartoons by Beccafumi. The patient skill of these compositions makes them a rare piece of decoration; yet even here the friend whom I lately quoted rejects this over-ripe fruit of the Sienese school. The designs are nonsensical, he declares, and all his admiration is for the cunning artisans who have imitated the hatchings and shadings and hair-strokes of the pencil by the finest curves of inserted black stone. But the true romance of handiwork at Siena is to be seen in the wondrous stalls of the choir, under the coloured light of the great wheel-window. Wood-carving has ever been a cherished craft of the place, and the best masters of the art during the fifteenth century lavished themselves on this prodigious task. It is the frost-work on one's window-panes interpreted in polished oak. It would be hard to find, doubtless, a more moving illustration of the peculiar patience, the sacred candour, of the great time. Into such artistry as this the author seems to put more of his personal substance than into any other; he has to wrestle not only with his subject, but with his material. He is richly fortunate when his subject is charming - when his devices, inventions and fantasies spring lightly to his hand; for in the material itself, after age and use have ripened and polished and darkened it to the richness of ebony and to a greater warmth there is something surpassingly delectable and venerable. Wander behind the altar at Siena when the chanting is over and the incense has faded, and look well at the stalls of the Barili.
Siena Early and Late in Italian Hours, Henry James. Published November 1909.
- 5 September 1260 - After Siena's victory in battle over Florence (the battle of Montaperti) the cathedral became the focus of ritual celebration and thanksgiving on the following day (Sunday).
- 1288 - The original east oculus, almost certainly designed by Duccio di Buoninsegna was installed in the choir.
- 1308 - The Commission of the Works of the cathedral at Siena contracted with Duccio di Buoninsegna to paint for the high altar a large retable of the Maestà.
- 9 June 1311 - Maestà carried in triumph through the cathedral "accompanied by members of the congregation, the government, the clergy and the people carrying lighted candles and torches, to the sound of all the bells of the city, and the music of trumpets and bagpipes." The central pane measured seven by thirteen feet and was surrounded by pinnacles above and narrative panels below in the predella.
- 1313 - Romanesque style black and white campanile.
- 1333 - Simone Martini painted his altarpiece for the cathedral assisted by his brother-in-law, Lippo Memmi.
- 1365 - Oculus taken down when the choir was extended and fitted into a new opening.
- 1380 - Main facade completed.
- 1494 - "When the parties of the Nove and the Popolari met and kissed one another by twos in the cathedral at Siena on New Year's Eve, 1494, an oath was read by which all salvation in time and eternity was denied to the future violator of the treaty: 'an oath more astonishing and dreadful than had ever yet been heard.'" - Jacob Buckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, 1860.
- 1549 - The west window in the Duomo, the Last Supper, dates from 1549, and is the work of Pastorino de pastorini.
- 2000 - It is now in the Museo dell'Opera after a complete millennium restoration. Originally, the light from the oculus would have tumbled down onto Duccio's Maestà Altarpiece which is also in the museum.