Having recently been back to stunning Siena on a sneaky pre-university trip with my mother, I simply had to take her to see the famous and important Lorenzetti fresco series of Good and Bad Government. Once again, I was struck by the figures, by the delicate grace of Pax, lounging on the hidden armour, and by the amount of complexity that could be painted into one fresco. Since I started Art History at Warwick University, this fresco series has turned up numerous times. Medieval Art was intended for study, only for learned men, none more so than The Nine, who sat in the Palazzo Pubblico, discussing the best way to govern Siena, the momentous eye of Good Government looming over them. The figures of Faith, Hope and Charity hover disembodied above The Commune of Siena who is aided by elegant and strong female representations of virtues such as Fortitude Prudence, Temperance and Justice. The mirrored layout of Bad Government on the left wall provides a poignant contrast.
As I considered their gracious strength, I wondered are these virtues any less important in today’s government? And is there a modern day equivalent of this allegory for our own government to look to? Not having an immediate answer, I did the modern thing. I Googled it. The range of answers was inconclusive and thoroughly negative which made me think, that the virtues Lorenzetti depicted, while they should be important, are not. Since nowadays we are bombarded by visual stimulation and information, we can know every detail about our government, and needless to say they are often portrayed as more like the tyrannical fanged figures on the Bad Government side.
Is this simply bad press or bad politics? Maybe qualities such as patriotism, power and economic survival have overshadowed the Virtues of the Sienna fresco. However, while the years of the Nine were prosperous, they were eventually overturned. Maybe there is no perfect guide for Good Government, and Lorenzetti painted an idealistic dream that, while beautiful, is unrealistic. Nevertheless, the allegorical meaning in those amazing fresco’s is something which modern leaders and governmental figures can in fact look to, so they might be reminded of the potential their positions have, for good and for evil, just as the Nine did.
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