Cityscapes: Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Italian, 1290-1348) was one of the most important painters of the Sienese School. Sienese painting in the 13th and 14th centuries was less naturalistic than the paintings produced in Florence, overall more decorative, and tending towards the mystical.  

Of all the painters in the Sienese School, Ambrogio Lorenzetti was the most original, which was a difficult thing to accomplish considering most artwork at the time was commissioned. His paintings shows a unique blend of the Byzantine style with classicism.

City by the Sea  (approx. 8"x12") 1336
City by the Sea is attributed to Lorenzetti, although some art historians argue otherwise. The jewel-like precision of these tiny buildings as well as their inventive arrangement are quite in his style, as well as the floating-dream like quality of the scene. This is possibly the earliest known cityscape, and one that shows an exquisitely ideal town, with all the emphasis on the buildings and hardly a person in sight.

City by the Sea (detail)

Lorenzetti's most famous work is The Effects of Good and Bad Government, a series of frescos commissioned by the city council of Siena and completed on the walls of the Council Room of the City Hall. The Effect of Good Government depicts several vignettes of the life of Siena, and overall shows a peaceable, stable atmosphere complete with dancing young women who likely represent the nine Muses.

Effects of Good Government in the City fresco 1338-39

Effects of Good Government in the City (detail) 1338-39

The opposing fresco, Effects of Bad Government in the City, is in poor condition. This work shows the effects of a city suffering from bad government, including an over-emphasis on war, violent takeovers of the seat of power, and buildings in a state of decay. Here are two details, the first of some buildings in a state of near-ruin, and the second showing a tyrant leader with the horns of a goat. 

Effects of Bad Government in the City (detail) 1338-39

Effects of Bad Government in the City (detail) 1338-39

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