Italian cathedral unveils magnificent mosaics
Called “the most beautiful, the greatest and most magnificent floor” ever created, the sweeping marble panels which make up the floor of the Siena Cathedral in Italy are so spectacular that they are unveiled for just a few weeks each year.
Recently, the stunning Renaissance mosaics were revealed, giving visitors a chance to glimpse scenes local artists worked centuries to create.
They depict vivid stories from the Bible and classical antiquity, in black, white, green, red and blue marble, with some dating back to the 14th century.
The marble mosaics cover the entire floor of the cathedral.
Most of the panels, created between the 14th and 16th centuries, have a rectangular shape, but the later ones are hexagons or rhombuses.
They represent many different concepts, including the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues.
In a later stage marble of different colors were used.
Among the oldest mosaics is the “She-Wolf of Siena,” executed around 1373, which shows the wolf suckling infants Romulus and Remus. Legend has it that while Romulus founded Rome, Siena was founded by Remus’ son, Senius, according to the wire service.
“The panels’ iconography is very unusual. Even though they are scenes depicted on the floor of a cathedral, many of them tell the stories of profane characters,” art historian Marilena Caciornia told Agence France-Presse.
“The Sibyls, for example, are typical characters from classical antiquity linked to Apollo,” she said.
The Cumaean Sibyl, depicted on the cathedral floor by artist Giovanni di Stefano, was lusted after by the god Apollo: legend has it that when she refused him he cursed her by giving her eternal life, without eternal youth.
“Other highly-prized panels include “Moses on Mount Sinai,” designed by Sienese artist Domenico Beccafumi, who was renowned for his technique of using different gradations in the marble inlays to obtain chiaroscuro effects,” according to the wire service.
The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263.
The mosaics have proven inspirational over the centuries. When German composer Richard Wagner visited, he was reportedly “moved to tears,” according to a letter written by his wife Cosima in 1880.
The floor is uncovered for a short period each year, following the Palio di Siena horse race, a medieval dash which attracts thousands of tourists. This year the floor will remain uncovered until late October.
(Above: A close-up detail of one of the mosaics on the floor of the Siena Cathedral in central Italy. Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse.)