BASILICA OF SAN FRANCESCO, Lower Basilica Simone Martini

Audio File length: 3.16
English / USA Language: English / USA

In the Chapel of San Martino, you can see the work of another artist from Siena, the exquisitely talented Simone Martini, a competitor of Pietro Lorenzetti and the painter of the finest cycle of frescoes in the whole basilica. Start by taking in the paintings as a whole: you’ll be struck by their extraordinary elegance and sophistication, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in some royal court rather than the church of the “poor man of Assisi”.

Now look at the scenes one by one. I’ll be pointing out a few details of each one.

In “Saint Martin and the Beggar”, the curls of the horse’s mane seem to have been styled by a top-class hairdresser;

On the bed of the “Dream of Saint Ambrose”, the light glides across the checkered blanket, and at the foot is a sturdy trunk for keeping valuable objects;

In "Investiture as a Knight”, just look at the inspired expressions, and the clothing of the groups of musicians and falconers;

In "Saint Martin Renounces his Weapons”, marvel at the incredible concentration of enemies lying in wait behind the mountains;

In “Meditation”, observe the bright, luminous space and the cleric gently shaking the bishop, who appears to have fallen asleep;

In the Miraculous Mass”, the snowy-white tablecloth is embellished with exquisite Turkish decorations;

In the “Miracle of the Resurrected Child”, admire the priceless, perplexed expression of the man in the large blue hat;

In the fresco, “Death of Saint Martin”, observe the marvelous glimpse of the deacon’s head bent over Saint Martin, and in the “Funeral”, note the Gothic church interior, with the windows adorned with slender columns and tracery.

Martini was a painter of great sensitivity, fascinated by the beauty of the world around him, which he enjoyed exploring, and illustrating its details with insatiable curiosity.


An interesting fact: look again for a moment at “Saint Martin and the Beggar”. Did you notice something odd in the sky above the head of the horse? What is it? If you start asking yourself questions, you’ll find out a lot of interesting things. In this case, it’s a second head of the saint. But what’s it doing there? There’s an explanation: initially, Martini had painted San Martino on the far right, only to change his mind and move it to where it can be seen today. Obviously, he painted the blue of the sky over it, but the color later faded away, and the head thus reappeared.

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