Municipal Museum of Lucignano
The highlight of the museum is a superb silver and gilt copper reliquary of St. Francis of Assisi in the shape of a tall tree, known as the “Albero d’oro”; made between 1350 and 1471 by Arretine and Sienese goldsmiths, the “golden tree” is a unique example of popular devotion as well as one of the finest masterpieces of the Italian goldsmithing tradition.
Home to the town-hall and to the Municipal Museum, the Palazzo Pubblico stands next door to the San Francesco complex in the (ideal and geometrical) centre of the old town.
The building was possibly built in the late 1200s and perhaps renovated by the Florentine after 1353. The current site of the museum formerly housed the town’s prisons and courthouse: the so-called Sala del Tribunale, the main room in the museum, has its walls and ceiling covered with a superb cycle of frescoes depicting a series of illustrious (male and female) figures from the past meant to inspire and warn the local lawmen, also by means of accompanying inspirational inscriptions (the first of them, prominently placed in the middle of the entrance wall, reads: “...ODITE L’ALTRA PARTE...” [hear the defendant]).
Since 1984, in the centre of the Sala del Tribunale stands a superb silver reliquary in the shape of a tall (height: 260 cm, breadth: 90 cm) tree known as the “Albero d’Oro” (golden tree), the “Albero di S. Francesco” (tree of St. Francis) or the “Albero di Lucignano” (tree of Lucignano). The “golden tree” was exquisitely crafted over the course of two centuries (14th and 15th) to contain relics of Franciscan saints and fragments of the Holy Cross. Unique in its kind, the “Albero d’Oro” is of the few phytomorphic reliquaries surviving in Italy as well as an unsurpassed masterpiece of medieval jewellery. Throughout the centuries, the large reliquary has been a constant presence in the life of the local community as well as a symbol of the (divine) love the citizens of Lucignano wished to have translated into a work of art when the “golden tree” was commissioned between the 14th and the 15th century.
The undisputed heart of the museum, the Sala del Tribunale provides visitors with a unique insight into the town’s political and religious history.
Interspersed with telling references to the town’s political and artistic history, the frescoes adorning its walls and ceiling are thought to have close parallels with those painted by Taddeo di Bartolo between 1408 and 1414 for the ante-chapel of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.
Commissioned by the priori appointed to govern the town, the frescoes were painted over the course of about fifty years (the first visible date is 1438, the last 1479). Having been a free commune for only a short period of time and having successively fallen under Florence, Arezzo and Perugia (whence the rampant griffin, the town symbol, was derived), in this period the town finally came under the rule of Siena ejoying a time of relative peace.
All of the commissioning “cancellieri” shared a common political project which appears to have been strongly influenced by the work of Dante and his idea of justice (as can be read in the reference to ancient Rome as the model to follow). The accompanying inscriptions taken from the Divine Comedy make these frescoes unique in their kind.
Since its opening in the current location (1984), the museum has undergone several renovations (including the restoration of a number of its exhibits) and was eventually completely refurbished in 2012 (the exhibits were re-arranged in a chronological order, the museum layout was re-done and its rooms revamped as part of the “PICCOLI GRANDI MUSEI” project by CRF) making it more accessible and appealing to visitors.
In addition to that, the #VISITLUCIGNANO project (www.visitlucignano.it/), which involved the installation of wireless solar-powered information points across the town, made it possible for tourists to get real-time information on the museum, the town and its surroundings and to share photographs and stories about their visit on social media by tweeting the hashtag #visitlucignano.
The oldest exhibit on display is a byzantine-style “Crucifixion” painted by an Umbrian-Tuscan master in the mid-1200s; amongst the most curious are a pair of (now rarely found) bier-heads (respectively from Siena and Arezzo), providing interesting insight into religious practices in the Arezzo area in the period of the Counter-reformation as well as into the use of “cataletti” by local fraternities between the 17th and the 18th century.
Other exhibits on display include a lunette depicting St. Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata painted by Luca Signorelli (Cortona 1445 - about-1523) in connection with the “golden tree” reliquary. In the lunette St. Francis in depicted in the act of receiving the stigmata, his hands being pierced by beams of light cast by Christ/a seraph as Friar Leo watches on in astonishment within a scenery reminiscent of the sheer cliffs at La Verna.
Other works from the Sienese school include a San Bernardino (1448) by Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio (1409 c.-1449) depicting the saint standing against a blue and gold background in the act of admnonishing the viewer to spurn worldly things; under his feet are three mitres representing the three bishoprics he rejected. The works has been unanimously hailed as a masterpiece by critics.