The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, with the Oratory of San Bernardino next door, is a place with a magical timeless atmosphere that reveals in a single breath the spirituality of the territory and gives insight into Sienese painting from the 13th to the 18th century.
The architectural structure of the Oratorio chapel, originally from the late Middle Ages, was modified over the course of the 1500s. Built to serve as the home of the Confraternity of St. Mary and St. Francis, the oratory was named after Fra Bernardino Albizzeschi. Venerated even during his life and canonized in 1450 only six years after his death, he was famous for the impassioned sermons he preached in the public squares of Siena. Particularly striking on the sober brick façade are the elegant portal in travertine and the symbol of San Bernardino, which also appears on the Palazzo Pubblico and on the Cathedral: a radiant sun the centre of which is dominated by the letters JHS, an abbreviation for “Jesus hominum salvator” (Jesus, Humankind’s Saviour).
The ceiling of the entryway, with its La Madonna che protegge Siena, San Bernardino e Santa Caterina (Madonna who protects Siena, with St. Bernardino and St. Catherine) by Arcangelo Salimbeni and Francesco Vanni, is surrounded by lunettes dedicated to the life of San Bernardino painted by Ventura Salimbeni, Rutilio Manetti and many other artists from the first half of the 1600s. Inside the museum, visitors may admire paintings and sculptures from the 1200s to the 1600s, along with numerous articles in goldwork.
The heart of the museum is and shall always be the magnificent chapel of the upper oratory, named after Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels), with its coffered ceiling showing the heads of cherubs against a sky-blue background. The walls, entirely frescoed with the Storie della Vergine (Stories of the Virgin), provide a unique example of Sienese painting from the early 1500s, represented here by the renowned artists Domenico Beccafumi, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as “il Sodoma”, and Girolamo del Pacchia.