University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Medieval Art Seminar Series > Santa Maria della Scala: A Byzantine treasury for the medieval city of Siena

Santa Maria della Scala: A Byzantine treasury for the medieval city of Siena

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In 1359, the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena acquired from a Tuscan merchant resident in Venice and working in Constantinople a group of Byzantine relics and reliquaries of the Passion of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, and of a number of apostles and saints. These items, accompanied by two fourteenth-century documents testifying to their Constantinopolitan and imperial origin, constituted the earliest and prime nucleus of the treasury of the Hospital. The celebrations for their arrival in town, the artistic commissions prompted by their acquisition and the age-long public cult developed around them, are testament to the key religious and cultural role played by these objects in Siena; a role, in turn, largely dependent on their Byzantine provenance, repeatedly emphasised and consistently promoted in the city-state. My paper will consider some aspects of the elaborate process of translation of these relics and reliquaries from Byzantium to Siena. Their acquisition and incorporation into the highly specific Sienese cultural, religious and political context implied a significant reinterpretation of the meaning and function of the objects, the result of which, I will argue, was the transformation of a group of holy items meant for the private devotion of an individual into a unified, comprehensive and organised treasury for the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, and into a public religious and civic asset for the whole city of Siena.

This talk is part of the Medieval Art Seminar Series series.

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