True works of art that held the financial records of the Sienese republic.
The term ‘Biccherna‘ originates from the name of the institution of the financial magistracy of the Municipality of Siena called Biccherna, which from the 13th century onwards began to require special covers for its administration registers. These books were accompanied by actual paintings, made by the most important Sienese artists. Soon other organisations, such as the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, the Tax Office, the Consistory or the Council Chamber began to commission valuable covers for their inventories and due registers.
The Biccherne Museum is located in the building of the State Archives of Siena, which in turn is housed in a prestigious Renaissance palace: Palazzo Piccolomini.
The Biccherne Collection represents a very important record that bears witness to how the city of Siena and the management of public affairs evolved. Analysing the tablets, you can observe how the form and function of this object changed from a simple wooden cover of an ordinary register to a true work of art.
The earliest surviving specimen dates to the second half of 1258 and its ‘tablet’ depicts the portrait of Camerlengo Ugo, a monk of the Abbey of San Galgano, examining his account books on a desk. One from 1440 shows a mason building the wall of a fortress, while another from 1467 depicts the Virgin Mary protecting the city of Siena during an earthquake, with citizens taking refuge under tents erected outside the city walls.
Today, around one hundred Biccherne are preserved and exhibited in the State Archives of Siena collection, while others are in private collections or in other museums around the world such as London, Berlin and New York. This is because some tablets were requested by the families of the magistrates who had them painted, thus entering private hands and being resold on the international antiques market.
Visiting the collection, you can choose to follow one of three paths designed around three different ways of approaching the Biccherne. One follows the signatures of the painters themselves, another focuses on the theme of the content and the third is based on the subjects of the representations, some political others religious.
State Archive of Siena
Banchi di Sotto 52, 53100 Siena SI (Italy)
TEL: +39 0577 247145
Open to the public on Saturday
with entry between 10:00 am to 11:30 am (maximum 20 people at a time).