Claralyn Burt, Brigham Young University
Ambrogio LorenzettiÛªs fresco cycle, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1339), decorates the walls of the ÛÏRoom of PeaceÛ (Salla della Pace) in the municipal headquarters of the medieval, Tuscan city state of Siena. These frescos employ countless carefully crafted allegories and representations of virtues and vices used to inspire SienaÛªs civic rulers to govern justly. Traditionally, this piece has generated a good deal of scholarship because of its importance in the history of Sienese art. Many attempts to delve deeper into its meaning have employed an iconographical approach in art history. My project, however, will go beyond the limitations of Erwin PanofskyÛªs system of iconography and will instead employ a semiological analysis, which considers the full range of meanings evoked by a signifier. As the fresco cycle portrays different aspects of Sienese cultureÛÓpolitics, religion, labor, economics, etc.ÛÓa semiological analysis will enable an exploration between these overlapping parts of society. To do this, I will bring to light the importance of one small but critical object: the solitary birdcage hanging above the classroom in the center of the Good Government fresco. I argue that through its representation of containment and bondage, this birdcage functions as a semiological signifier for submission to the city of Siena in civic, religious, and cultural contexts. My project makes an important contribution to the scholarship of one of the most iconic masterpieces of fourteenth-century Italy, but it also contributes a fascinating, medieval perspective on faith and obedience to the greater conversation about government and its relationship with its citizens.