Journal of Undergraduate Research


Ambrogio Lorenzetti, birdcage, semiological signifier for submission, good government




Comparative Arts and Letters


Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco cycle, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1339), decorates the walls of the “Room of Peace” (Salla della Pace) in the municipal headquarters of the medieval, Tuscan city state of Siena. Traditionally celebrated for their secular subject matter, these frescos employ countless carefully crafted allegories and representations of virtues and vices used to inspire Siena’s civic rulers to govern justly. Our project brought 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. We argued that through its representation of containment and bondage, this birdcage functioned as a semiological signifier for submission to the city of Siena in civic, religious, and cultural contexts. Building upon previously conducted research done by my mentor and myself, I traveled to Siena to analyze the fresco series in situ, research medieval and Renaissance “documents of submission” at the Archivio di Stato, and discover Sienese artistic precedents for allegorizing political and religious submission, resulting in a publishable paper.