The allegory of Good and Bad government is a series of three fresco panels, located in Siena’s Palazzo pubblico, more specifically in the Sala dei Nove (Salon of Nine), which was the council hall of the Republic of Siena’s nine executive magistrates.
The fresco was painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between February 1338 and May 1339, it had the purpose to “Remind the nine magistrates of just how much was at stake as they made their decision”.
The Council of Nine commissioned the work, and the subject matter had to be civic, and not religious (unlike most art at the time).
Siena at the time was one of the most powerful and important Italian city-state of the 14th century, with many international interactions.
Now, I would like to focus my attention and my analysis only on The Allegory of Good government.
In the Allegory of Good government, there are allegoric figures divided into two groups on a stage, representing the good government: these two groups are linked by a procession of councilors. There are also represented on the scene the citizens, they are a symbolic representation of the magistrates and of the various civic officers. The figure of the Justice is balancing the scale held by Wisdom. Wisdom is sitting above the head of the personification of the Commune of Siena: he is sitting on a throne holding a scepter and orb (these are symbols of the temporal power) and dressed in the colors of Balzara, the black and white Sienese coat of arms. This character is guided by Faith, Hope and Charity, all virtues that make him a good, just and proper ruler.
Above the scene, the bodiless ghosts of the virtues float.
The virtues of the Good Government are represented by six crowns: Peace, Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance, Magnanimity, Justice.
This fresco has a deep meaning behind its graceful figures, it expresses the idea that the peace is not only a business of the government (that needs to be a good one) but also of the people, the citizens, that have to “act in accordance with the temporal and astral force that governs” them.
In the painting, the ruler has some people at his feet, and there is a rope, a binding rope: the people are keeping the king on leash, and this is a metaphor of the contract between the people and the ruler, a contract that has to be respected by both, in order to provide peace and prosperity for everyone.
The people are not just ruled by the king, are not subdued to him, they have the power to take back the power that they gave to him if he is not able or willing to respect the contract.
In the painting it is also suggested that the base of a good government is the hard work of the people: in fact, he shows the citizens completing different labors each month, in accordance to the seasons; and he underlined the importance of following activities to foster peace and not disrupt it.
It is also important to perform the right task at the right time, in accordance with nature to ensure peace, to guarantee an equilibrium and to preserve and defend the harmony, to have justice.
When there is no harmony or accordance, the city fall in a state of corruption and chaos, which can only lead to wars (this situation is represented in The Bad government scene).
There is the requirement for a just and good government, a government that can guarantee prosperity to the city and peace to its people. As it is said in the fresco “This holy virtue (The Justice), where she rules, induces to unity the many souls (the citizens), and they, gathered together for such a purpose, make the Common Good their Lord”.