(b. 1439, Siena, d. 1502, Siena)

Madonna del Terremoto

Panel, 40 x 53 cm
Archivo di Stato, Siena

The typical tablet from the Biccherna (revenue office) has a votive subject: the Virgin as intercessor to protect the city against earthquake. The contribution of an anonymous assistant referred to as "Fiduciario de Francesco" is assumed.

Beginning as a talented young painter, fully integrated within Sienese tradition, Francesco di Giorgio Martini ended as the most famous architect, engineer and 'universal man' of his era. His beautiful little Biccherna cover, painted in his late twenties, draws effortlessly on an accumulated imagery of the city that goes back to the early trecento (as does the Biccherna form itself). Towers and palaces rise up, surmounted by the striped Cathedral and the tower of the Palazzo Pubblico, all contained within the circuit of the wall, its brick transformed to a hotter pink, as though lit by a setting sun. Shaken by earthquakes, the inhabitants have moved outside into a tented camp. But the ever-protective Virgin (who resembles earlier Madonnas by Francesco's master Vecchietta, and whose angel-attendants recall in turn those of Vecchietta's teacher, Sassetta) still keeps covenant with her city. In the long lineage of Sienese civic images, Francesco's is perhaps the last that is truly memorable.