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Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government (detail), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1338-40


Travel guide for Tuscany

Ambrogio Lorenzetti | Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government


Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290 – 1348) was an Italian painter of the Sienese school. He was active between approximately from 1317 to 1348. Although having done work in Florence, Ambrogio Lorenzetti was known within the Sienese School of painters. This school of painting from Siena, Italy, was an elegant style that was said to rival, at time, even the Florentine painters throughout the 13th and 15th centuries.
Lorenzetti’s work survives in history with a painting from 1328 that contains the first documented existence of the hourglass. Very few of Lorenzetti’s pieces have survived and his earliest known work was the, Madonna and Child, painted in 1319. His other works, additional to the wall frescos on the Sala dei Nove, include a fresco at San Francesco titled The Investiture of St. Louis of Toulouse (1329), an altarpiece in San Procolo from 1332 titled, Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas and Proculus, another fresco at San Francesco titled Franciscan Martyrdom at Bombay (1336), and an altarpiece of Santa Petronilla commissioned for the altar of San Crescenzo in Siena Cathedral from 1342.
Though he also contributed a piece of historic relevance called, Well-Governed Town and Country, which is a pictorial encyclopedia that depicts an idealistic countryside, or medieval “borgo.” This piece was a familiar style of Lorenzetti’s from frescos he created on the walls of Sala dei Nove (the Hall of the Nine), or the Sala della Pace (Hall of Peace) in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico. They are important works in Siena’s preservation of history, and exhibit the artist as an astute political and moral observer.
These frescos, painted from 1337 – 1339, were secular representations of allegorical figures of virtue in how a republic was governed. Aside from, Well-Governed Town and Country, there are three more, less preserved frescos, Allegory of Good Government, Effects of Good Government, and Allegory of Bad Government and its effects on Town and Country. They are complex, panoramic works that contained the Gothic influence of other Sienese painters like Simone Martini (1284 – 1344).

The Allegory of Good Government carries a strong social message of the value of the stable republican government of Siena. It combines elements of secular life with references to the importance of religion in the city at the time. While classified as medieval or proto (pre)-renaissance art, these paintings show a transition in thought and an evolution in theme from earlier religious art.

Lorenzetti’s The Effects of Bad Government fresco has not been written on as extensively as The Effects of Good Government, partly due to the worse condition of this fresco. The wall on which the fresco of The Effects of Bad Government is depicted used to be an exterior wall, so has suffered much moisture damage in the past.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti died from a plague in 1348.

Allegory of Good Government

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1338-40

Ambrogio Lorenzetti was certainly the most inventive Sienese artist of the early 14th century. Many of his innovations in naturalism are without parallel; many of his works are characterized by iconography that is equally original.
The peaceful and gently lyrical temperament of Ambrogio Lorenzetti is in complete contrast to bis brother's fiery and often intensely dramatic spirit. Vasari did not realize that the two were related, and wrote of Ambrogio that bis manners "were. .. more those of a gentleman and philosopher than those of an artist," and he speaks about his love of literature and bis intellectual acumen, qualities that enabled him to turn bis hand both to sacred painting and to historical, allegorical and other "profane" themes, to pick up hints from classical antiquity and from the fabled Orient, to be a cosmographer and cartographer, and above all to bring profundity and boldness of ideas to bis work, and to revolutionize accepted notions of iconography.[1]

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1338-40
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government (detail), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1338-40

Unlike Pietro Lorenzetti, Ambrogio shows no signs of the influence of Duccio in his painting. He is known to have been in Florence earlier than 1321, and his earliest known painting was found in Florentine territory: dated 1319, it comes from the church of Sant'Angelo at Vico l'Abate, and is now in the Musea di Cestello in Florence. However, the spirit of Giotto visible even in this work does not tend, as in Pietro, to create three-dimensionality by means of strong contrasts of colour and of light and shade, but rather to define the structure of the forms by a precise vigour of outline, and with strong lines surrounding clear and vivid chromatic planes. Even his experiments in perspective, which Ambrogio pursued instinctively and in which he attained some fascinating results, are to be seen in this tension between line and colour.
In 1324 the artist was in Siena, where he must have done a lot of work, as we see from numerous pictures including - presumably in this period - a Madonna at Brera and the famous Madonna del Latte, formerly in the monastery of Lecceto and now in the Archbishop's Palace in Siena. The calm, gentle and interconnected development of the linear structures here bind the image of the Child to that of the Mother in an admirable and moving unity of composition. But in 1327 he is recorded as being a member of the "Arte dei Medici e Speziali" in Florence, the guild to which painters and pigment merchants also belonged. Two important altarpieces used to be in the Florentine church of San Procolo, a triptych which seems once to have borne the signature and the date of 1332, now vanished, and which was reconstructed at the Uffizi in1959, and an altar-frontal, which like Martini's altarpiece of the Blessed Agostino Novella, appears to have had in the centre an image of St. Nicholas of Bari, now either lost or unidentified, flanked by four panels depicting miracles performed by the Saint, now preserved in the Uffizi. In these panels the artist may have given one of the earliest proofs of his skill at architecture and landscape, qualities that foreshadow the frescoes of the Good and Bad Government: the great frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena which allegorically sum up so much of the ideals of 14th-century Tuscany, and incidentally give us a most wonderful and exact picture of the daily life and customs of the time.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti's most revolutionary achievement - one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the Renaissance - is the fresco series that lines three walls of the room in the Palazzo Pubblico where Siena's chief magistrates, the Nine, held their meetings (Sala dei Nove). These frescoes are collectively known as Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government.

With secular painting, new themes entered the repertory of public painting in Italian city states: political and social visions, subjects from epic literature, and battle scenes in chronicle style. In addition, the scope of narrative changed. Allegory became its new domain. This was conveyed through fictitious narrative, that is, narrative used as a device for carrying out arguments, or narrative as exemplum to illustrate a point made by a program of an abstract or theoretical nature.[2]

The aim of the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government is to exalt the political creed of the government of the Nove, who were Guelphs and retained power in Siena until 1355. It elaborates on two themes already foreshadowed in the inscriptions on the Maestà of Simone Martini: that of Justice on the one hand, and on the other the subordination of private interests to those of the common good, according to a concept of Aristotelian origin that was expressed in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and popularized in the early 14th century by the Dominican friar Remigio de' Girolami. The painting works essentially on two levels, one allegorical and symbolic and other concerned with description and exemplification, while whole cycle covers three walls of the great hall. On the wall opposite the window, 7.7 metres long, is Allegory of Good Government. This is
personified by the Commune, represented by a venerabie old dressed in the colours of the Balzana, the black and white Sienese coat-of-arms, seated on a throne and surrounded by the four Cardinal Virtues and by Magnanimity and Peace. Homage is being paid to these figures by twenty-four citizens (in memory of the government of the Twenty-Four, which between 1236 and 1270 marked the entry of the common people into the government of the Commune, though they are also symbolic representations of the various civic officers and magistrates), and these are linked by two woven cords ("concordes") which Conrord gathers up from under the scales of Justice at the instigation of Wisdom. Above Good Government are the three Theological Virtues, and at bis feet is the she-wolf with the twins Romulus and Remus, an allusion to the Roman origins of Siena. On the right are fully-armoured knights and foot-soldiers symbolizing the

Flanking the Allegory are two other paintings on perpendicular walls: Effects of Good Government and Effects of Bad Government. Both these frescoes depict a recognizable view of Siena and its countryside.

In the allegorical representation of Good Government, the prosperous townspeople are trading and dancing in the streets. Beyond the city walls is a lush countryside in which crops are harvested.

In the allegory of Bad Government, crime is rampant and diseased citizens roam a crumbling city. The countryside suffers from drought.

Allegory of the Good Government, fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

Ambrogio Lorenzetti frescoed the side walls of the Council Room (Sala dei Nove) of the City Hall, the Palazzo Pubblico, of Siena. The subject of the frescoes are the Good and Bad Government and their effects on the life of the cities and villages.
The Allegory of the Good Government is situated on the smaller wall opposite to the windows. The composition is built up from three horizontal bands. In the foreground the figures of contemporary Siena are represented. Behind them, on a stage, there are allegoric figures in two groups, representing the Good Government. The two groups are connected by the procession of the councillors. The upper band indicates the heavenly sphere with the floating bodyless ghosts of the virtues.

The enthroned man on the right side of the middle band represents the city of Siena and embodies the Good Government. Around his head the four letters C S C V (Commune Saenorum Civitatis Virginis) explain his identity. At his feet the two plating children are the sons of Remus, Ascius and Senius, the founders of Siena according to the Roman legends. On both sides of Siena the virtues of Good Government are represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude and Prudence on the left, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right. On the far left of the fresco the figure of Justice is repeated as she is balancing the scales held by Wisdom.

The legend has it that Siena was established by Senius, son of Remus and nephew of Romulus. Therefore the symbol of Siena is a she-wolf breastfeeding Romulus and Remus. This symbol has been repeated in different parts of town and pieces of art.


Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government (detail), with the wolf and twins at his feet.

Effects of Good Government on the City Life (detail), fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena


The Effect of the Good Goverment is situated on the longer wall of the room. This panoramic fresco represents several scenes indicating the life of Siena and its environment in the 14th century. This detail shows the centre of the city. In the middle the dancing young women probably represent the nine Muses. There are several genre like scenes in the picture (shops, chatting men, riders, working men on the roof etc.)


Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life (detail), fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

The court of bad justice is governed by a devil holding a poison cup. He has a foot on a goat's horns and his eyes are crossed.
Floating above his head are Avarice, Pride, and Vainglory. Sinners surround him. War, Treason, and Fury sit to his left,
and Discord, Fraud, and Cruelty on his right. Justice is bound, and her scales fallen.

Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life

On the wall opposite the Effect of Good Government and to the left of the Good Government Ambrogio painted another fresco called Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life, which uses the same forms and compositional devices as the other frescoes in the room, but inverts them. The malevolent-looking figure representing Bad Government, pointedly labeled as Tyranny, is enthroned and stares hieratically out at the observer.. Neither male nor female, it is fanged, cross-eyed, and porcine, clearly bloated with corruption. In place of the cardinal virtues, personifications of Avarice, Pride, and Vainglory fly over its head. Tyranny is flanked by clearly labeled seated figures representing Cruelty, Treason, and Fraud at the left, and Frenzy, Divisiveness, and War at the right. A bound figure representing Justice lies at its feet. The city to its left is falling into ruin, robbers roam the streets, and, in the foreground, a group of ruffians drags a woman by her hair. Even in its now ruinous condition the image conveys a dire warning.


Effects of Bad Government (detail, the Tyrant in Allegory of Bad Government)

When the viewer turns to examine the Effects of Bad Governmentmural, they are confronted with a devious looking figure adorned with horns and fangs, and appearing to be cross-eyed. This figure is identified as TYRAMMIDES (Tyranny). He sits enthroned, resting his feet upon a goat (symbolic of luxury), and in his hand he sinisterly holds a dagger.


Effects of Bad Government on the Countryside (detail), 1338-40, fresco in Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

Effects of Bad Government on the Countryside


In the hilly countryside the only activities are ones of death and destruction, setting fire to isolated houses and whole villages. The countryside is bare and barren, the trees bear no fruit and no one is cultivating the land.
The Allegory of the Bad Goverment is situated on the wall opposite to Allegory of Good Government. At the centre of the dais sits Tyrannia, with the appearence of a demon, with horns and fangs. The figure of Tyranny has flowing woman's hair, a cloak with gold embroidery and precious stones, a gold cup in her hand and a goat, the traditional symbol of lust, at her feet. Below is the vanquised Justitia: the scales are broken and scattered around her on the ground. Around Tyranny's throne are gathered the Vices.

The Funeral of the Virgin

This fresco is located on the north wall of the Cappella dei Signori in the Palazzo Pubblico. The Cappella dei Signori was constructed in about 1404-05 on the first floor of the Palazzo Pubblico, next to the important Sala del Mappamondo. As soon as the Cappella dei Signori was finished, the government commissioned Taddeo di Bartolo to paint its walls and vaulting, paying him for the work at regular intervals between 1406 and 1408.
The north wall of the chapel is embellished with four large mural paintings depicting events surrounding the death of the Virgin - the arrival of the apostles at her death bed, Christ receiving her soul at the moment of her death, the funeral procession to her burial site and Christ raising the body of the Virgin from her tomb. The Funeral of the Virgin in particular offers a sense of Taddeo di Bartolo's considerable abilities as a painter of narrative: the foreground is occupied by an impressive procession of monumentally conceived figures of different ages, genders and ethnic types. In the background, meanwhile, appears an assured view of a walled city, the buildings of which resemble those of Siena itself, yet making an implicit parallel between the holy city of Jerusalem and Siena.



Art in Tuscany | Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Nicolai Rubinstein, Political Ideas in Sienese Art: The Frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Taddeo di Bartolo in the Palazzo Pubblico

Carol M. Richardson (Editor), Kim W. Woods (Editor), Michael W. Franklin (Editor), Renaissance Art Reconsidered: An Anthology of Primary Sources

Guide to Siena: history and art |

Giorgio Vasari | Le vite de' più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a' tempi nostri | Ambrogio Lorenzetti

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Feldges-Henning, Uta (1972). "The Pictorial Programme of the Sala della Pace: A New Interpretation". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 35: 145–162. 

Enzo Carli, Sienese Painting, New York, Scala Books, 1983, p. 38.

[2] Hans Belting comments on narrative frameworks in medieval secular painting.
Belting, Hans. “The New Role of Narrative in Public Painting of the Trecento:Historia and Allegory.” Studies in the History of Art 16 (1985), p. 4.

Holiday homes in the Tuscan Maremma | Podere Santa Pia

Podere Santa Pia

Val d'Orcia


Siena, Palazzo Publico


Monte Cucco wine region

Hidden away from mass-tourism, discover a piece of Italy which remains largely unchanged both nature and lifestyle-wise. The peacefulness of the countryside, the various unique villages and the friendly atmosphere will no doubt pleasantly surprise you!
Podere Santa Pia is a 4 bedroom holiday home, perfect for families, located in the heart of the Maremma. The peacefulness of the countryside and the opportunities offered by the city achieve an excellent symbiosis. One can easily reach some of the most beautiful attractions of Tuscany, such as Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano and San Quirico d'Orcia, famous for their artistic heritage, wine, olive oil production and gastronomic traditions.

Val d'Orcia, between Pienza and Podere Santa Pia