Real lessons in civic education are hosted on the walls of this small room, used for the meetings of the Salon of Nine, Siena’s dominant government from 1287 to 1355. The fresco is didactic, there isn’t a single figure without an explanation of their identity written underneath. Tyranny sits on the throne of the Bad Government, flanked by Greed, Pride, and Vainglory and at their feet lies Justice, tied up and abused. The landscape that surrounds the scene is devastated by violence: the city is crumbling and war rages beyond the walls. The Good Government, on the other hand, seats the Township on its throne, with the cardinals and theological Virtues close by. The effects on the city are those guaranteed by an ideal administration: buildings under construction, a teacher with a class of children, and a carol of women in revelry.
Siena in the first half of the 1300s was the beating heart of the Italian Gothic and the Lorenzetti brothers (Pietro and Ambrogio), along with Simone Martini, are the founders of a painting style that would have a historical impact on Italian art in the following decades, through to the late 1400s. The extremely elegant Sienese style inherits an important trait from the cycle of Assisi frescoes by Giotto (and his school): the realistic representation of the everyday. This characteristic reveals the artist’s intent to render these painted stories more concrete, allowing the public to better identify: today it would be called an “immersive experience”. This is the great power of the Good and Bad Government, that through examples taken from quotidian life, recognizable to its entire audience, it produces an effective declaration of both political and didactic intent.