Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-9)
By Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Interpretation of Sienese fresco paintings

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Effects of Bad Government
(detail) From the fresco cycle
by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

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Sienese painters like
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, see
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Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-9)
Fresco cycle of six paintings in the Siena Town Hall

Effects of Good Government (detail)
From the fresco cycle by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.


Why this Painting is Important
Other Pictures by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Famous Paintings by the Sienese School


Name: "Allegory of Good and Bad Government"
Date: 1338-9
Artist: Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1285-1348)
Medium: Fresco
Genre: History Painting
Movement: Sienese School of Painting
Location: Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Renaissance, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


Analysis of the Allegory of Good and Bad Government

The "Allegory of Good and Bad Government" is a series of fresco paintings executed by Ambrogio Lorenzetti which are located in the Salon of Nine (or Council Room) in the Town Hall (Palazzo Pubblico) of the city of Siena. This famous cycle of pre-Renaissance painting is made up of six different scenes: Allegory of Good Government; Allegory of Bad Government; Effects of Bad Government in the City; Effects of Good Government in the City; Effects of Bad Government in the Country; and Effects of Good Government in the Country. Commissioned by the Council of Nine (the city council) and designed as a sort of political warning, aimed at members of the Council (drawn from Siena's ruling families), to reduce corruption and misrule, these mural paintings offer a pictorial contrast between the peace and prosperity of honest rule, versus the decay and ruin caused by tyranny.

One one wall of the Salon of Nine, Lorenzetti portrays the benefits of good government - a 'good city' - probably based on Siena's real architecture (same cathedral, same bell tower) - which features dancers as well as busy traders, while outside the city peasants and travellers go about their business in peace and safety. On the other wall, the 'bad city' has a decaying, cramped appearance, while street crime is clearly visible. Outside the city, the 'bad countryside is marked by burning farms, disease and widespread drought. Ironically, in 1348 both Ambrogio Lorenzetti and his artist-brother Pietro Lorenzetti would die in Siena from the Black Death.

NOTE: As well as expressing the idea that a city's peace and prosperity is caused by the good government of its rulers, the fresco suggests that its citizens can also help matters byworking in accordance with the natural order of things - namely, the seasons and the planets.




Why This Painting is Important

To begin with, unlike other works produced by the Sienese School of painting, The Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government has a secular rather than a religious theme - a rare characteristic at a time when the bulk of all Proto-Renaissance art consisted of religious paintings. Indeed, it remains one of the first significant examples of secular political art, since classical antiquity. Compare, for instance, works by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), Duccio's pupil Simone Martini (1285-1344), Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45) and Sassetta (1394-1450).

Secondly, the work demonstrates the artistic modernism of its creator Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Not only was he active in Siena - a city noted for its conservative style of medieval painting - he was also a member of an important crafts guild in Florence, which suggests he was familiar with the advances made by Giotto and others. This is borne out by his depiction of realistic architectural space, his use of primitive perspective (see also his 1342 painting entitled The Presentation in the Temple), and his modelling of faces and figures.

NOTE: Despite its secular nature, Lorenzetti's fresco can be said to anticipate the moralistic scenes created two centuries later by Netherlandish painters like Hieronymus Bosch (in Garden of Earthly Delights) and Pieter Bruegel (in Netherlandish Proverbs).

Other Pictures by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Nursing Madonna (1320-30) Pontificio Seminario Regionale, Siena.
The Investiture of Saint Louis of Toulouse (1329) San Francesco, Siena.
Virgin and Child between St Nicholas and St Proculus (1332) Uffizi, Florence.
The Presentation in the Temple (1342) Uffizi, Florence.
The Annunciation (1344) Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.

Famous Paintings by the Sienese School

For an interpretation of other celebrated works by artists from Siena, see the following articles:

Stroganoff Madonna and Child (1300) by Duccio
Tempera/gold on wood, Metropolitan Museum of New York

Maesta Altarpiece (1308-1311) by Duccio
Tempera/gold/wood, Siena Cathedral Museum

Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333) By Simone Martini
Tempera and gold on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.


• For the meaning and interpretation of other Renaissance frescoes, see: Homepage.

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