The artistic and sociological imagery of the merchant-banker on the book covers of the Biccherna in Siena in the early Renaissance
Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, the account covers of the Biccherna, Siena's foremost financial and administrative office, bore painted decorations and inscriptions. The wooden covers are deemed unique and unprecedented, but most studies have dealt with the attribution of selected covers, not their genesis and development as a whole. This dissertation tests the assumption that they lack a geneology by proposing to establish a place for them within larger historical and artistic contexts.The focus of the study is the principal and most ignored group of images, which began as a portrait of a seated official in 1258 and evolved into a genre-like office scene in the fourteenth century. Its most salient feature is the handling of money by the Camarlingo (treasurer). Because the Biccherna's key officials were prominent merchant-bankers, the depiction of money in light of traditional medieval attitudes is discussed, as are the changing ideas about wealth, profit, usury, and citizenship. In Siena, these emerging sentiments were promulgated by its officials, whose depiction on the covers as virtuous public servants were in part inspired by the hagiographic exempla used in popular sermons of the period.In order to decipher their embedded messages, the scenes on the covers are compared with exempla and Italian miniatures of money transactions in the Decretum Gratiani. The investigation includes certain portraits that are combined with inscriptions: Roman consular diptychs, ecclesiastical and judiciary seals, and pitture infamanti (defaming pictures used as a form of public punishment). The office scene is also examined in relation to Ambrogio Lorenzetti's frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.By integrating its socio-historical context with a visual analysis, the scene can be perceived as a didactic instrument used by the officials to persuade, validate, and legitimize their function and status. That the scene emphasized the role of the officials as communal leaders is reinforced by an examination of its disappearance and a comparison with the Medicean themes on sixteenth-century covers. The study ends with a suggestion that similar scenes appearing later in northern art may have had Italian connections.
- Art history