The Basilica of San Domenico

The Basilica’s Masterpieces

In addition to the works dedicated to Saint Catherine the basilica houses a number of paintings, some of which are genuine masterpieces of the Sienese art world.
Along the nave’s right wall, just before the transept, there is the beautiful painting on board with The Nativity of Jesus in the centre (1495-1500) ascribed to Francesco di Giorgio Martini, but partly made by Bernardino Fungai and by an almost unknown painter called Lodovico Scotti. In the forefront, on the ground against a piece of marble, lies the newborn baby, who gazes at the viewer; next to the Infant Christ are the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph in adoration, while behind them there are two shepherds and two angels. The scene is built so that the Infant Christ  is the hub of the painting, towards whom converge the two diagonal directrices along which the characters have been placed; that naked baby, humbly placed on the ground, epitomizes the Word of God to mankind, the light of the world that rises from the darkness of paganism. It is by no coincidence that a majestic ancient arch stands out on the background: completely in ruins, adorned by adorned clypei portraying Quinto Curzio and Muzio Scevola, two ancient Roman dignitaries. The stateliness of the arch is more than a mere landscape element: it symbolises the renovation of the ancient world through the birth of Christ. The work is completed by a lunette representing The Deposition of Jesus Christ with Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Michael Archangel, made before 1497 by Matteo di Giovanni, and a predella divided into five compartments representing, from left to right, the Vision of Saint Catherine, the Martyr of Saint Sebastian, the Massacre of the Innocents, Saint Vincent Ferrer Converting the Jews and the Saracens and  Saint Mary Magdalene Receiving the Stigmata.
In the second chapel in the left transept, on the altar, there is the imposing Maestà, dating back to the late thirteenth century and made by Guido da Siena, one of the first Sienese painters of whom we have some works. It is, therefore, one of the most ancient tokens of Siena’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The altarpiece represents the Blessed Virgin on a throne with the Infant Christ on her knees, surrounded by a trilobed arch, surmounted by six Adoring Angels; the crowning structure has a triangular cusp which encloses the Blessing Redeemer between two angels. This work, which has strong Byzantine influences, was made around 1265-1270, although under the beam there is the following inscription: 1221 (ME GUIDO DE SENIS DIEBUS DEPINXIT AMENIS QUEM CHRISTUS LENIS NULLIS VELIT ANGERE PENIS A.D. MCCXXI - I was painted in joyful days by Guido da Siena who Christ did not want to anguish with any distress). This date is unanimously rejected by scholars who consider it either to be a mistake made by whoever  repainted the caption or a reference to an older image of which the current one inherited the cult. The work has with no doubt been subsequently altered in time, and this is confirmed by the faces of the Blessed Virgin and Child, which are of a much later style; it is believed that they were most probably repainted in the early fourteenth century by Duccio di Buoninsegna or by one of his immediate fellow-workers.
In the same chapel, on the side walls, there are two important Sienese works of art: the first portrays the Blessed Virgin with Child with Saints Gregory, John, John the Baptist and Sebastian, made by Benvenuto di Giovanni in 1483, whose great expertise is revealed by the luminosity and radiance of the colours, the expressiveness of the faces and the richness of  the details.
On the facing wall hangs Matteo di Giovanni’s Saint Barbara on the Throne between Saints Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria (1479), probably the peak of the artist’s pictorial production, which combines mastery of design with a superb chromatic refinement.