Siena Duomo – The Gothic Marvel the Renaissance Forgot

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We’ve been travelling through Europe for seven months now and have developed a sort of astronomically high standard when it comes to things to see and do. Mediaeval hill-top towns with charming, impossibly narrow cobbled streets that would have once had me salivating are now generally met with a lacklustre “it’s nice but we’ve seen better”. Ditto for churches and castles. We went to Assisi and didn’t step foot into a church. When we saw photos of the Siena Duomo, however, the newly found HDR photographers in us couldn’t wait to photograph it and it didn’t disappoint.

One of the first things we noticed about this gothic masterpiece was the cacophony of detail in the facade. We’ve both often wondered at the practicality of such lavish detail that is going to be viewed from a great distance. A sculpture that may have taken months to complete may never be focused on for itself but will just blend into the rest!

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We wandered the town before entering the Duomo in order to avoid a school group that was just about to go in. I didn’t find the town itself particularly captivating – there was none of the grandeur of Rome, the beauty of Florence or the charm of tiny villages but the piazza was rather impressive in its vastness.

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We spent hours in the Duomo being generally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of photogenic goodness and not wanting to miss a great shot. Truly, we would have had lacklustre photos if not for our new found HDR skills given the bright spots of light coming in through the windows and the lamps with the rest being in shadow. Tripods weren’t allowed even if we had one so my shoulder and both of us holding our breath was the next best thing.

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I love that those dudes above look like they’re at a rock concert, fist-pumping the air.

Another thing that’s easy to overdose on during an extended jaunt through Europe is religious themed art, especially in Italy. One of the highlights of the Siena Duomo for me was the library which had massive illuminated vellum hymn books on display. To my delight they were filled with creatures and floral designs that could easily slot into a pop surrealism painting today. This guy put me strongly in mind of an X-Men cartoon:

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Awesome afro.

By far my favourite little guys were these dolphin-like creatures that I could totally see in a Greg “Craola” Simkins painting – they’ve even got his trademark pearls!

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I felt such a powerful sense of kindred-spiritness through this vast span of time with the whimsical soul who conjured up these bizarre creatures. It’s the first time that I felt I could really relate to a specific person from another time period and it made me reel a little bit at the… I don’t know, interconnectedness of it all, I suppose. You can’t get much more modern than pop surrealism in the art world. Like the Impressionists and the Salon, pop surrealism artists are still largely unaccepted by mainstream galleries: That’s how new it is. Yet, here’s some dude illuminating hymn books with these imaginary slightly creepy creatures almost 600 years ago that could be published in the funkadelic Hi-Fructose magazine today. This to me, was much more interesting than seeing an umpteenth Madonna and baby Jesus.

After spending some time pouring over the books Mike asked me if I’d looked up yet.

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Thank goodness for zoom lenses and digital SLRs because it turned out there were more creepy creature goodies all the way up there getting lost in the “more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts-ness”.

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We probably could have stayed and spent another hour or two photographing the cathedral but we were racing daylight so we headed off at peak hour, as usual, for our home for the night – a sosta in the delightfully named town of Poggibonsi.

6 Comments Siena Duomo – The Gothic Marvel the Renaissance Forgot

  1. suzi banks baum

    Whew!!!!!!!!!! Nel- all this Pop-art goodness is too much for me…I am laughing one minute jaw dropping awe the next…your neck must get tired for all that looking up in to the faces of those cherubs and birds…stunning! And the HDR is a really different quality visual… at least as I see it on my computer. Thank you for posting these. I am off for a walk in the woods and will take you with me. Thanks for the slow walk through the Duomo. Love, S

  2. Sean and Lauren

    Very nice pics, and I agree with statements like these … “astronomically high standard when it comes to things to see and do.” and “… it’s nice but we’ve seen better.”

    We end up not going out as much as we thought we would as we travel the world. We are in England now and sometimes it seems like pictures do the actual monuments more than being there in person.

    So we both thank you for the detailed pics of this very intricate gothic masterpiece.

    Keep it up! – Sean

    1. Katherine

      Hi guys, thanks for your comment. Just checked out your blog and I looove this: “the bonus round begins when a person remembers his or her true nature and begins to live awesomely”. I’ve come across this sort of idea before – I have this quote saved on my lappy: “some of the ancient Greek philosophers called the point of life “eudaimonia”. It’s commonly translated as “happiness” but I believe a more accurate translation would be “fittingness”: How well your actions match your gifts, match who you are” from “Walking on Water” by Derrick Jensen.

      I’m glad it’s not just us with the “astronomically high” travel standards :) We’re in England at the moment too – Cornwall to be specific. Loving it so far – haven’t actually done much travelling, just getting some work done. Hope you enjoy your time in England!

  3. Sean and Lauren

    Hey Katherine, so glad you looove it! :) Feel free to leave a comment, LIKE it on FB, Tweet it, etc.

    I like the quote you have as well. When your “actions match your gifts” you are truly Living in the Bonus Round.

    We are in the NE London area, Walthamstow, but soon to be near Edinburgh, Scotland for a month.

    Let’s connect on FB for sure. And be sure to check out our new page on FB about Living in the Bonus Round… – Sean

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