Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. (1290-1348) was an Italian painter, who, together with his older brother Pietro, helped introduce naturalism into the art of Siena. You will see the Gothic influence in his artistry but also experiments with three-dimensional and spatial arrangements, foreshadowing the art of the Renaissance. Ambrogio developed into a more realistic and inventive painter than Pietro, which I why I chose him over his brother.
The dates for Lorenzetti’s birth and death are not precise because there is little extant documentation. Furthermore, as with many of the artists working in the 14th century, the chronology of his work is debatable. Some of the frescos he worked on with his brother are lost, and only six works can be clearly documented to Ambrogio, covering a period of merely 13 years.
Lorenzetti may have trained in the workshop of Duccio, the principal painter in Siena,
Florence’s major rival, at the beginning of the fourteenth century. He may also have been influenced by Giotto (see G), who broke with the Byzantine style by drawing accurately from life.
One of his earliest attributable works is the Madonna and Child painted in 1319. The Gothic influence is clear in that the image of the Madonna faces the viewer, while the Child gazes up at her. Like Duccio, Ambrogio broke down the sharp lines of Byzantine art and softened his figures. He did not use light and shading but instead employed pattern and color to move the Madonna into a third dimension (note the drape of her gown). In a Madonna and Child painted by his brother Pietro thirteen years later, there is a similar use of pattern and color, but he turns the Madonna’s head to the side in an intimate depiction of an affectionate mother caressing her playful baby, resembling Duccio.
Ambrogio is best known for the fresco cycles of Good Government and Bad Government in the Palazzo Publico of Siena. The Allegory of Good Government portrays Justice as a woman, resembling the figure of Mary, Queen of Heaven, the patron saint of Siena. She gestures to the scales of balance, and Wisdom floats over her throne. On her left, a convicted criminal is beheaded; on the right, figures receive the rewards of justice. At far left is Virtue, who is portrayed as a female
rather than male, figure. The largest figure is a judge, center right. The judge is surrounded by additional figures, including Peace, with elaborate blonde hair, which was not a natural hair color for Italian women from this region.
The Allegory of Bad Government has not been written about as extensively as that of Good Government, partly due to its deteriorated condition. In it, there are personifications of flaws and bad principles. In the middle there is Tyranny, with a demonic appearance and bigger than the rest of the figures. Under its feet, Justice is tied with a broken scale. Ambrogio’s
frescoes show a remarkable transition in thought and theme from earlier religious art.
For the Annunciation, painted in 1344 for the City Council of Siena, Ambrogio painted the Virgin and Angel with gentle elegance and
sweet expression Note the Roman arches and the development of his three dimensional perspective.
The Annunciation, Pietro Lorenzetti, 1342
Compare this to the Annunciation painted by his older brother in 1342, where the Gothic style persists, with static figures, a flatter perspective and Gothic arches.
The peaceful and gently lyrical temperament of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, particularly in his later paintings, is in complete contrast to his brother’s dramatic style, which never truly emerged from the constraints of his Gothic training. Ambrogio Lorenzetti died, along with his brother, from a plague, probably the Black Death, in 1348.