• Italiano

Guido da Siena, Paliotto. Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale

Author Biography[1]

There is no documentation on Guido da Siena; in order to reconstruct his opus, training, production and role in Sienese art of the time, it is indispensable to examine the artworks attributed to the painter by means of stylistic analysis.

The painter was active in the 13th century; he is referred to in a well-known inscription at the base of the Maestà of San Domenico, discussed by many scholars: “Me Gu(i)do de Senis diebus depinxit amenis: quem Chr(istu)s lenis nullis velit a(n)gere penis: A.D. MCCXXI”. Apart from the Maestà of San Domenico, the hand of the painter has been unanimously recognized only in the antependium n. 7 of the Siena National Painting Museum.

There are however limits in a traditional approach when defining the catalogue of a medieval artist, especially if the approach is based on the concept of autography, considered as the expression of the exclusive activity of an individual, without taking into account collaborators, assistants and followers. The artworks usually referred to Guido da Siena are actually the products of a large workshop, whose members could use a common repertoire of models to create artworks that can sometimes appear uneven, but only in terms of quality.  His workshop might have been a society of painters, in which commissions could be distributed amongst its members.

H. B. J. Maginnis pointed out in 2002 that the proposals for the definition of the catalogue of Guido da Siena are basically of three kinds: those that, recognizing the superior quality of the San Domenico Maestà, assign to its author the role of a dominant personality within a workshop having many followers and collaborators, that cannot be recognized and identified; those that approve the categories advanced by Stubblebine, who classifies the artworks referred to Guido into autograph paintings, paintings realized by his assistants in the decades 1270 and 1280, and later artworks and those realized by his followers; and, finally, those that agree with the proposal of Luciano Bellosi, according to whom many of the artworks assigned in the past to Guido da Siena are to be attributed to other painters, thus reducing the catalogue of the artist.

Given the difficulties in interpreting Guido da Siena's personality and activity, an attempt to define the painter’s stylistic characteristics can be done on the basis of the San Domenico Maestà. This painting shows how he was influenced by Coppo di Marcovaldo’s up-to-date Byzantine stylistic and iconographic solutions, but at the same time it is also possible to retrace the influence of Cimabue’s production at Assisi. As for his first steps and following evolution, it has been hypothesized that his training could have taken place in Lazio (Brandi, 1951), or in Lucca with Bonaventura Berlinghieri (Stubblebine), before achieving a more ductile artistic language, matured thanks to the influence of Cimabue. 

As for the models that contributed to stimulate and enrich Guido da Siena's painting, it should not be forgotten that the painter however always maintained his own personal and characteristic style. In particular, one must not overlook his Sienese origins and how these pervade his art. In his paintings all the elements that characterize Sienese art can be found, namely the elegance of forms and of the drawing outlines, the precious, refined materials, the finesse of details and the meticulous care for decorative elements.


History of the artwork

The Paliotto is an antependium painting depicting the Transfiguration, the Entry into Jerusalem and the Resurrection of Lazarus. It is considered one of the oldest examples of painting on canvas that we know. The attribution to Guido da Siena is quite recent; the painting is dated around 1270.

Its original location is unknown. In 1894 the Paliotto was moved to the Galleria del Regio Istituto provinciale di Belle Arti, Siena, currently the National Picture Gallery. Previously the artwork was kept in the Church of Santa Cecilia at Crevole, a small church in the Siena countryside. Unfortunately, we do not know the previous history of the painting.

We do not know for whom the Paliotto was realized, nor when; the Church of Santa Cecilia was probably not its original location, as already hypothesized by Enzo Carli in 1981.

The painting belongs to the cultural context of which the highest expression can be considered the magnificent mural paintings recently discovered in an ancient environment beneath the Cathedral of Siena, a space that was very early abandoned to allow the posterior enlargement of the Cathedral and the construction of the current baptistery. Marco Ciatti has ventured the hypothesis, confirmed also by Andrea De Marchi, of the possible origin of the Paliotto for this particular environment, although it is uncertain if there was an altar onto which the antependium could have been placed.  

The painting is currently kept in the National Picture Gallery, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena [2].


Artistic technique

The painting is a tempera on canvas measuring 187 x 91 cm.

The support is very thin linen canvas with a very high density. A fine and compact weave was probably chosen to obtain a smooth, flat surface, similar to that of a wooden support.

No gesso ground was observed; the ground layer seems to be only a sizing of animal glue, applied in a thin layer on most of the surface: this was confirmed by cross-sections performed on stratigraphic samples. In certain areas, the ground layer is clearly visible under the microscope and has a colour ranging from reddish-brown to dark red.

It is difficult to relate the artistic technique of the ground layers of the Paliotto to the context of other coeval paintings on canvas, since very few of the survived examples have been analysed. Although the painting technique and the final appearance are very different, the use of a ground layer with only hide glue and with no gypsum or plaster can be related to the so-called tüchleins, artefacts produced in the Netherlands from the 15th century, using tempera or vegetable gum paints upon a canvas with an animal glue ground. However, the original effect of the Paliotto would have probably been similar to the brightness of a painting on panel.

High resolution scanning infrared reflectography revealed the strokes of a schematic underdrawing that would seem to be charcoal and a liquid medium applied with a brush. Many changes were also found, in particular in the city of Jerusalem in the background, revealing that the artist made several modifications in the final composition after the underdrawing phase.

The backgrounds of the three scenes, as well as the haloes of Christ, the apostles, the prophets and Lazarus, are gilded with gold leaf applied with an oil-based mordant. The reddish-brown mordant has a tone similar to that of the red bole generally used in gouache gilding. The mordant was applied with a brush in two layers on the entire surface to be gilded. Towards the perimeter of the textile support the mordant tends to be thinner, and increases in thickness near the figures and haloes, where well-defined brush strokes are visible. The X-ray fluorescence reveals that an almost pure gold leaf was used.

The painting technique of the Paliotto is similar to that of other paintings by Guido da Siena and his workshop. The appearance of the painting, with softly hatched brushstrokes, indicates that the paint binder is presumably egg tempera. The paint layers are thin and the dense weave of the underlying canvas is quite evident, even though the original surface probably appeared shiny.   

Most of the information on the composition of the pigments was obtained thanks to the X-ray fluorescence investigation, in association with the observation of cross-sections. The fleshtones are modelled with various proportions of lead white and vermilion on a green and lead white underlayer ground layer, onto which a yellow layer is added in certain areas. The shading is obtained by leaving the background layer visible, whilst the highlights are painted with small thin brushstrokes. The main shadows are defined with thin black lines.

The robes of the figures of Christ, of the two Marys and of Moses present almost an iridescent combination of colours, varying from purple to blue, painted with azurite and lead white with overlying layers of red lake. There are a few direct incisions, realized when the first paint layers were still wet, which served as a guide for these colour variations.

The folds and contours of Christ's robe and mantle, as well as the motifs in the vertical blue bands separating the scenes, are defined by means of silver leaf decorations. The mordant for the application of the silver leaf is similar to the mordant used for the gold leaf.


Conservation conditions

The conservation conditions of the Paliotto are closely related to the many interventions it has undergone in the past.

The presence of three canvases, the original canvas and two linings, had created a rigid and heavy system; the second lining, furthermore, had large areas that were no longer adhered to the intermediate lining canvas.

There were also areas of loss of adhesion between the original and the intermediate canvas, located mainly along the perimeter and around the losses and tears.

The deterioration phenomena of the original and intermediate canvas corresponded almost totally; both presented extensive lacerations along the edges, sometimes clean cut; there were also evident losses, tears and burns, mainly concentrated in the upper area of the central scene.

In correspondence of the azurite layers the original support was almost totally lost, and the conservation conditions of the paint film also seemed to differ according to the pigments used: where there was more lead white the paint layer was better preserved; the intermediate tones were almost completely lost, whilst all the azurite fields of colour were in critical conservation conditions.

The entire paint film had many lacunae and abrasions, causing the loss of many details and even of entire figures; moreover, on the surface there were opaque marks and blanching, caused mainly by consistent and inconsistent deposits embedded in a non original layer of glue and wax present on the surface.


Previous interventions

Many interventions have been carried out in the past, including two linings realized in different periods and with different methodologies. It is however difficult to date the various interventions, as the antependium is documented for the first time in 1862.

The first lining was realized with a linen simple weave canvas, adhered with animal glue. Due to the deterioration of the original canvas, especially in the areas corresponding to Christ’s mantle in the three scenes, it had probably been necessary to apply this new support already in very ancient times.

For the second lining, considerably more recent, a thick linen-hemp canvas was instead used, definitely oversized compared to the delicate original linen canvas, although already lined. In this case the two lining canvases were glued together with an uneven layer of starch. This second intervention had probably become necessary due to the fraying of the edges of both the original and the intermediate canvas, and to the presence of various tears, a long split, a break damage due to an accidental hit and a significant burn, which had all invested both canvases. We do not know if the second canvas was coevally applied to a pictorial intervention that can be dated between 1907 - year of a publication containing a photograph of the antependium without the retouching - and 1932, year in which the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Siena was inaugurated. Gesso fillings were carried out prior to the pictorial intervention. In the same restoration many overpaints were diffusely carried out on large portions of the surface, covering in part the original paint layers and not always matching their colours

Above the paint film there was also a thin layer containing animal glue and wax. These materials are probably related to the first lining, due to the migration of the lining glue onto the surface, or to adhesives used for the facing, or could also be related to fixing interventions carried out on the paint layers and the gilding.

The paint layers show abrasions and signs of wearing that are probably due to an aggressive cleaning carried out in a previous restoration.


Restoration work

The intervention on such a rare artwork with many previous interventions entailed an extremely cautious approach. The cleaning was carried out very gradually, in order to re-obtain a balance of the various parts of the artwork, on which there had been alteration both of the original materials as of materials added later. The cleaning initially consisted in thinning the film-forming materials present on the surface, using differentiated water-based cleaning methods. It was then decided to continue the thinning of part of surface substances using highly thickened solvent formulations, which could not penetrate into the substrates, completing with mechanical cleaning under the control of the stereomicroscope.

As for the many overpaints, it was decided to remove only those that covered the original paint film and the discoloured overpaints, whilst maintaining the others.

The many gesso fillings of the first decades of the 20th century, which surmounted above the original paint layers and created tension on the canvas, were removed.

The structural intervention was then carried out: it was decided to remove the twentieth-century lining canvas, as it no longer had any supporting function; the intermediate lining, forming almost an all-in-one with the original canvas, was instead maintained.

After removing the stretcher frame, the second lining was removed by means of mechanical separation. After the mechanical cleaning of the back of the canvas, the deformations of the support were gradually flattened. It was then considered necessary to re-establish the adhesion of the widespread detachments between the original canvas and the lining by means of a thickened adhesive, considered suitable for the artwork.  

The structural intervention foresaw the mending of the tears and losses of both canvases, by means of thread-to-thread gluing, welding the end of each broken thread to the end of its corresponding filament. The frayed outer edges of the canvases were rectified by applying an outer continuous canvas extension along the artwork’s perimeter, within which the painting is inserted by means of a thread-to-thread adhesion.

As the two canvases of the artwork were extremely fragile, it was considered necessary to perform an additional lining (lining also the outer canvas extension), carried out with a polyester canvas and a synthetic adhesive.

The 20th century stretcher frame was no longer functional: it was therefore replaced with a panel equipped with an adjustable elastic system, able to control the movements of the canvas system in relation to thermo-hygrometric variations.

After tensioning the artwork onto the new support structure, the inpainting was carried out by means of undertone glazing with watercolours, leaving the losses of the ancient lining canvas visible. Finally, the perimeter extension was toned to the ancient lining canvas.



The restoration was carried out by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and Restoration Laboratories, Florence.

Directors of the restoration: Marco Ciatti, Cecilia Frosinini

Technical Director: Roberto Bellucci

Restorers: Roberto Bellucci, Lucia Maria Bresci, Camilla Fracassi, Anna Marie Hilling, Linda Lucarelli, Luciano Sostegni

Diagnostic Investigations: OPD SCIENTIFIC LABORATORY: Natalia Cavalca, Monica Galeotti, Carlo Galliano Lalli, Giancarlo Lanterna, Maria Rizzi, Isetta Tosini; Ottavio Ciappi and Cristiana Massari for the X-radiograph. ENEA: Pietro Moioli and Claudio Seccaroni. INO-CNR: Raffaella Fontana and Luca Pezzati.

Photographic documentation: Roberto Bellucci, Fabrizio Cinotti, Giuseppe Zicarelli



C. Fracassi, Il “Paliotto” di Guido da Siena della Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: studio della tecnica artistica e progetto di restauro. Degree Dissertation of the OPD Higher Education School, supervisors R. Bellucci, C. Frosinini, C. Lalli, L. Lucarelli, L. Sostegni, A.Y. 2008

M.Ciatti, R. Bellucci, C. Fracassi, C. Frosinini, C. G. Lalli, L. Lucarelli, L. Sostegni The ‘Paliotto’ by Guido da Siena from the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, in “Studying Old Master Paintings: Technology and Practice: The National Gallery Technical Bulletin 30th Anniversary Conference Postprints”, London 2011, pp. 1-7

M.Ciatti, R. Bellucci, C. Fracassi, C. Frosinini, C. G. Lalli, L. Lucarelli, L. Sostegni, L. M. Bresci, Il paliotto di Guido da Siena della Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena: studi e restauro, in “OPD Restauro” n. 30, 2018, pp. 21-39

[1] http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/guido-da-siena_(Dizionario-Biografico)/

[2] http://pinacotecanazionale.siena.it/