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Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Good and Bad Government Reconsidered

Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Good and Bad Government Reconsidered


This book sheds new light on one of the most important artworks of the early Italian Renaissance, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco cycle of Good and Bad Government in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. By connecting the images with the Hymn to Justice inscribed on the walls and highlighting Ambrogio’s ingenuity and personal approach to the subject the volume presents a fresh reading of its rich artistic message.


In 1338 Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted three huge frescoes, known today as Good and Bad Government, on the walls of the Sala dei Nove, the Room of the Nine, in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, where the city’s nine executive magistrates presided over the destiny of this famous commune. The frescoes were meant to be strong visual reminders of the Nove’s duties and an admonishment of the nefarious effects of bad government. Boasting the largest artist’s signature of all time, the frescoes are testament to the extremely high esteem in which Ambrogio’s art was held by his fellow citizens.

Nowadays Good and Bad Government has become one of the most widely reproduced works of the early Renaissance and is recognized for its many innovations, including the first European panorama of a cityscape and countryside. But what sort of visual journey was Ambrogio asking the Nove to make through this expanse?


In pursuit of an elusive answer, the murals have become one of art’s great puzzles, challenging scholars and public alike. Scant attention, however, has been paid to the images themselves. They have been studied merely as symbols and allegories of abstract political concepts in which good and bad government are starkly juxtaposed. Despite his enormous signature, Ambrogio has been treated more as a servile illustrator than a creative artist, disregarding his highly personal approach to painting and the way his visual ingenuity, from composition to brushwork, shaped a far more complex and fascinating message.


This book attempts finally to illuminate Ambrogio’s pictorial strategy by reading it in light of the Hymn to Justice inscribed upon the walls. The frescoes enrich the poet’s message, subtly changing and even subverting it. Instead of a pictorial lecture straightforwardly contrasting a utopia with a dystopia, Ambrogio blurs the binaries and invites the viewer to look beneath the idyllic surface of Sienese civic life.

  • By Jules Lubbock

    Hardback, 280 x 245 mm

    304 pages, approx. 100 illustrations

    ISBN: 978-1-915401-13-7

  • About the Author

    Jules Lubbock is the author of numerous scholarly books on art and architectural history. He is a former architecture critic for the New Statesman and was an architectural adviser and speechwriter for The King. He is Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Essex.

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