Thursday, August 8, 2013
Fine Arts Friday: The Legend of the Foundation of the Hospital
Legend of the Founding of the Hospital, by Lorenza Cecchietta, 1441.
(Click on the painting to see it in a larger size.)
This fresco stands in the Sala Pellegrinaio in the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala, in Siena, Italy. The Spedale di Santa Maria was a hospital founded in the ninth century. In the center of the fresco is an usual sight: infants are climbing a ladder to heaven where they receive a helping hand from the Blessed Mother. According to legend, the hospital was founded by a cobbler named Sorore. The hospital was a way station for pilgrims, until Sorore's mother had a dream that infants were ascending heaven from a ladder at the site of the hospital. This dream spurred the transformation of the hospital from a pilgrim station to a foundling hospital. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a building called a hospital could serve many functions, all offering protection or aid. On the right side of the fresco, a young child enters the hospital as a man offers money to the hospital attendant for the child's care.
Earlier, this hospital's walls were adorned with frescos by the great Sienese painter of the 14th-century painter, Simone Martini, but they have since disappeared. The building served as a hospital until 1996.
I read about this hospital and this story in Richard Cork's The Healing Presence of Art: A History of Western Art in Hospital.
Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala, Siena. The Virgin Mary was the city's patron saint, and the lost frescoes by Martini depicted scenes from her life.