The Frescoes of the Pilgrims' Room

Santa Maria della Scala

Hospital's Stories, Images and Faces

Notes of History, Fragments of Legend
The History of Sorore
In the centre of the fresco a hospital brother kneels before the archpriest, the gesture of his hand telling us that he is recounting a vision. The brother may well be Sorore, who according to a tradition consolidated over time was the legendary cobbler who founded the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.

Sorore's Vision: naked Children are climbing up a ledder towards the Virgin who is placed above. A gold ladder sormounthed by a cross is the Symbol of the Hospital.

Endowing the Hospital with Walls
In the centre, a group of horsemen – among whom we may identify the bishop with the figure riding a mule as a mark of humility, in the company of clergymen and, in the foreground, of an elegant military captain – moves towards a busy building site. On the ground, a master mason draws with a compass while builders carry baskets of bricks onto a scaffolding.

A scaffolding live: the hospital's structural growth is described with a figure in a long blue robe giving a hospital brother some money. The architecture in the background still has a certain Gothic feel to it.

The investiture of the Hospital Rector
Beneath a majestic loggia, Augustinian fria Agostino Novello, accompanied by canons and oblates, is on the point of garbing the rector kneeling before him with the 'veste buia', a dark robe signifying humility that would replace the sumptuous clothing he wore prior to his election.

The buildings depicted in the background are the bishop's palace and the cathedral facade and its portals, with beggars and women giving alms.

The Pope grants an indulgence
he Pope grants the hospital brother an indulgence. The deliver of the document, placed in a grandiose setting echoing both the cathedral floor and the buildings in Ambrogio Lorenzetti's fresco depicting Good Government in the Palazzo Pubblico, is witnessed by numerous clergymen and elegantly attired nobles.

The two figures depicted in the scene may be identified as Pope Eugene IV and the hospital's rector Carlo d'Agnolino. The presence of the college of cardinals and the oriental figuresin the niches are a clear reference to the Council of Florence and Ferrara in 1439, which marked not only a reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox,Coptic Churches but also witness the pope's return to Siena after decades of tension with the city.

Inside the Hospital
Caring for the sick
The scene is placed in two areas known as the Alley and St.Pius' Ward, both originally pilgrims' halls. Portraied in meticulous details the strict statuory regulations governing healing and caring for the sick. The sick are surrounded by doctors and oblates, including the rector wearing a black hat and a brown cloak, and the pilgrim master, gently laying a patient on a bier. On the right an Augustinian friar takes a patient's confession while two servants carry a bier covered with a cloath bearing the hospital's coat-of-arms.

The scene is characterized by elements of remarkable realism: the transparency of the little bottles of glass, the tiny bubbles in the charger where is soaked the foot of the patient in the foreground and the various abojects of everyday usage.

According to the hospital's earliest statute, the hospital was to provide for the needy by handing out bread. The scene takes place inside the church, which was still the hospital's main entrance in the 15th century. In the center a young man is being given a cloak. At the top on the right we can see the baldaquin from which the hospital's holy relics were displayed to the populace in the cathdral square on 25 March.

On the left, a noble figure strides forward accompanied by two pages, one of whom holds a falcon. It has been suggested that the figure may be a youthful, idealised portrait of the Emperor Sigismund the IVth, who died in 1437.

Marrying the Hospital's Girls
The fresco testifies the lives of the children abandoned at the Hospital. Boys and girls, after been bred by wet-nurses in their childhood, received also an education at the Hospital. A hospital girl's coming of age is crowned by the moment of her marriage, celebrated under the watchful eye of the rector. The girl's dowry frequently consisted of cloths and accoutrements made by the hospital girls with their own hands.

The crowd of onlookers includes a frowning figure held by the wrists. It has been suggested that, as in other details in the fresco, he may embody a reference to the sermons of St. Bernardino, who argued that celebrating marriage was the only way to word off the treath of sodomy.

The paupers' supper
The scene depicts how the Hospital was also to prepare meals for the poor.On the left a servant brings food in a copper bowl while in the centre the rector greets a poor dinner guest. The scene is probably set in the Small Courtyard, situated between today's St. Pius and St. Leopold wards. Fascinating is the varied nature of the poor who were fed: from poor nobles to the poor who were sick, poor pilgrims and poor beggars.

A servant brings food in a bowl after receiving his orders from the steward.
The steward was not only the stocks of food's keeper but also the administrator: he took care of kitchens and canteen's shifts. He had a large number of servants at his command, called the famigli.

Pilgrims' Hall Vaults

The vaults decoration was painted by Agostino di Marsiglio in 1439. The painter made figures of saints, blessed, prophets and Old Testament figures, inspired from the iconographic repertory of the 14th century.

Addition of the 16th century
Between 1575 and 1577 the Florentine painters Pietro Crogi and Achille Navesi were commissioned for the decoration of the last bay in the Pilgrims' Hall, which was builtwhen the ward was extended towards the valley. The new frescoes replaced the wall painted by Pietro di Giovanni d'Ambrogio in 1440.

The two frescoes amplified the care for abandoned children. On the left the fresco depicts the payment of the wet-nurses in grain, coming from the hospital's outlying 'granges'.

On the right the fresco depicts the payment of the wet-nurses in money, which the treasurers carefully recorded in their ledgers.

Credits: Story

Santa Maria della Scala, servizio programmazione culturale musei
Redazione di Chiara Nencini

Credits: All media
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