The allegory of the Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti is a large cycle of frescos that were painted from 1337 to 1339. They are located in the Sala dei Nove, in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of good governance, 1337-40, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of good governance, 1337-40, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of good governance in cities, 1337-40, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of good governance in the country, 1337-40, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
The Good and Bad Government is the first, and only secular-themed painting that existed in its time period. The political party in power in Siena wanted the artist to depict an allegory of ‘bad government’ (assassinations, sacking, violence, poverty, famine and so forth), and one of ‘good government’ (prosperous cities, cultivated lands, well-being, wealth, joy and so forth). The overall meaning of the painting is clear: if the city is administered in a ‘good’ way, then the whole city will benefit from the public administration in power. The artwork is divided into four sections: the Allegory of Bad Government, represented by an evil man with horns dressed in black (like the Devil) who is surrounded by allegorical figures representing Cruelty, Discord, War, Fraud, Anger and Tyranny; the Effects of Bad Government on Town and Country in which the lands are uncultivated and the people are suffering from violence and thefts; the Allegory of Good Government, represented by an old, wise monarch who sits on a throne and is surrounded by allegorical figures like Justice, Temperance, Prudence, Strength, Peace, as well as the theological virtues of Charity, Faith and Hope; and finally, the Effects of Good Government on Town and Country in which the city of Siena is depicted as rich, prosperous, serene and tranquil. This is the first painting in which the landscape plays a central role in art; only in the 1600s does landscape painting in Italy enter fully and autonomously into the visual arts.