By their tenacity in clinging to the medieval tradition, by the emphasis placed
on Oriental patterns, and by an ingrained preference for the sensitive and
precious instead of the dramatic side of paintmg, the Sienese may be said to
have originated the esthetic attitude toward art.
Since the thirteenth century
this attitude has reappeared from time to time, but always in declining periods
when traditions have run to seed and creative energy has been vitiated by a
strained preoccupation with past styles.
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The Sienese, abjuring the humanities
that revolutionized Florentine art, cultivated the Byzantine style with a mas
tery of execution which became almost the sole standard of appreciation, and
which eventually reduced their art to a form of cabinetmaking embossed in
But this somewhat febrile enthusiasm for Oriental design, abetted
by consummate workmanship, produced a form of art which, though continu
ously derivative, is sufficiently individual to deserve the name-the Sienese
The artists of Siena were not irreligious; they were, in fact, devotional
painters to a man, but they found themselves in the position of appealing to
an audience of connoisseurs who judged their performances by esthetic stand
It was not an accident that The Annunciation, by Simone Martini; should
have been esteemed by his contemporaries as the most perfect expression of
Sienese genius-it commands the same esteem among modern connoisseurs.
When Martini, a man of many honors, painted the picture, he considered, first,
the placement of the figures, the linear pattern, the effect of color against a
background of gold, and the appeal of the altarpiece as a splendid object of
He gave subordinate consideration to the subject matter and its emotional
implications. As a consequence, the painting invites esthetic appreciation but
does not deeply disturb the emotions: the Virgin is a resisting silhouette and
the Gabriel a lovely attitude.
But the painting, as a design, is the flower of
medieval decoration, and one of the permanent glories of Sienese art. The
altarpiece has been restored-not too expertly-and the two lateral panels
are generally ascribed to Martini’s brother-in-law, Lippo Memmi, who is
known to have had a hand in the execution of the work.