UNKNOWN MASTER, Italian
(active 1480s, Siena)
Offering of the Keys1482
Tempera on wood, 59 x 40 cm
Archivio di Stato, Siena
This picture shows one of the small panels that served as book covers for the semiannual ledgers of the Biccherna and Gabella, the financial and fiscal offices of the commune of Siena. The tradition of binding the ledger volumes with painted wood panels was instituted in 1257 and the oldest preserved panel covers the accounts of the second semester of 1258. The Archivio di Stato in Siena has a collection of over a hundred of these panels.
The present tablet originating from the Biccherna (revenue office) depicts the offering of the city keys of Siena to the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral. It shows the Cathedral interior where part of Duccio's Maestà is visible, painted as described in the inventory; above, on the left, the round window designed by Duccio can also be seen.
The earliest covers usually show the camerlengo (the chief financial officer of the Republic), often a monk from the Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, as he writes in his account book, counts or disburses money, or supervises a clerk. The covers always display the coats of arms of at least four leading citizens who served as provveditori charged with overseeing the financial proceedings. The names of all these officers are prominently mentioned on the lower half of the panels, thus vouching for the accuracy of the accounts.
While most of the panels of the 13th and 14th centuries are anonymous, we find among the later panels attributions to Paolo di Giovanni Fei, Giovanni di Paolo, Sano di Pietro, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and Benvenuto di Giovanni. The present panel is attributed to Pietro di Francesco degli Orioli. Some 15th century panels record important events of Sienese history, such as the coronation of Pius II on a biccherna of 1460, or the Virgin protecting Siena from an earthquake on the biccherna of 1467.