After the Sack of Rome in May 1527, Peruzzi fled to his native Siena and stayed there, with brief interruptions, until his return to Rome in 1532. In 1527 he was appointed Architetto della Repubblica di Siena and in this role he made preparatory studies for the façade of the Palazzo Pubblico (École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Inv. EBA 249; C.L. Frommel, Baldassare Peruzzi als Maler und Zeichner, in ‘Beiheft des Römischen Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte’, XI, 1967-68, no. 119, Pl. LXXXVIIb) and the plan for the ‘Sala del Cancelleria’ (the office of the chancellery) (Florence, Uffizi, Inv. GDSU 509 A r; H.W. Wurm, Baldassarre Peruzzi die Zeichnungen, Tübingen, 1984, pp. 166-71 [as yet unpublished]), which was located next to the ‘Sala del Concistoro’ (the hall where the heads of the government gathered). It was probably in his capacity as Architetto della Repubblica that he executed this presentation drawing of a ceremonial bench.
As in all his Sienese projects Peruzzi used the Florentine braccio measurement (0.584-0.586 m.). In his autograph inscription (partly cut), he suggests two alternative sizes: one with five ‘quadri’ or pictures, which would make the bench 15 braccia (about 9.18 m.) long and 5 ½ braccia (about 3.22 m.) high; the other with seven ‘quadri’ or pictures which would make it 16 braccia (about 9.38 m.) long and 4¾ braccia (about 2.78 m.) high. In the first alternative, the pictures would be 1 braccio wide and about 2 braccia (1.17 m.) high; in the second, the figures and columns would be smaller and the bench lower. The height of 2/3 braccia (about 0.49 m.) for the seats, and the depth of about 0.30-0.35 m., which corresponds with the size of the pedestals to the columns, are appropriate for a bench.
At 16 braccia long the bench would have occupied the entire length proposed by Peruzzi for the Sala del Cancelleria, as shown in the Uffizi drawing. This room was to be situated between the ‘Sala di Balia’ (an assembly room of the Sienese Republic) on the right side and the Sala del Concistoro on the left. The Sala del Cancelleria would have been 5 1/3 braccia (about 3.12 m.) wide, the same width as the corridor situated between the 14th century Sala di Balia – which contains a comparable bench of eleven seats made in 1410, with intarsias made by Barna di Torino (active from 1378) still preserved - and the Sala del Concistoro. The Sala del Cancelleria in Peruzzi's drawing is, like the corridor, 5½ braccia wide. It is 16 braccia long, the length of the bench, but only part of the length of the corridor. The corridor would thus have been divided into several narrow rooms, one of them being the Sala del Cancelleria. While the Sala del Concistoro was proposed to be to the left of the Sala di Balia in Peruzzi's drawing, it was later moved to the right and decorated after April 1529 by Domenico Beccafumi (1484-1551), when the Emperor Charles V was expected to visit. Peruzzi, who may have built the vault in the Sala del Concistoro and directed the remodelling of the Palazzo Pubblico, cannot have drawn the bench much after 1528.
According to the 1545 constitution of the Sienese Republic, but probably as established before, the Chancellor was the notary of the Concistoro and was supported by five assistant notaries, who were responsible for single branches of government (M. Ascheri, L’ultimo statuto della Repubblica di Siena (1545), Siena, 1993, pp. 27-8). Peruzzi designed the Sala del Cancelleria between the Sala di Balia and the Sala del Concistoro, two of the most important assembly rooms of the Palazzo Pubblico, and the bench was just long enough to accommodate the ‘dodici del governo’, the twelve heads of the government.
The iconography of the five ancient heroes seems to confirm that the bench was intended to be used by the leaders of the Sienese government. Hercules was the hero of the Florentine Republic, while Marcus Atilius Regulus (pointing upwards, with the barrel in which he was killed behind his legs), and Brutus the Elder (with the heads of his two sons) were admired as examples of republican virtue. The warrior on the right, drawing his sword, may be a great republican general like Cato the Elder, although he could also be Julius Caesar. The youthful, beardless hero at the left, pointing downward and holding an unidentifiable object, resembles the figure of Alexander the Great in Sodoma’s fresco of 1519 in the Farnesina, Rome. It is possible that Peruzzi, when designing the bench, already knew of Charles V’s impending visit and represented Alexander and Caesar as the emperor’s forerunners as protector of the republic.
The treatment of the figures supports a date for the drawing not much later than the Sack of Rome (Frommel, op. cit., pp. 109-64). After Raphael’s death in 1520 Peruzzi had developed a classical style which changed only gradually until 1527. The painted figures in trompe-l’œil niches resemble those of the Gonzaga organ at the Louvre, which must have been from some years earlier (Fig. 1; D. Cordellier, Gli Dei musici di Baldassarre Peruzzi e l’organo di alabastro di Federico Gonzaga, in ‘Quaderni di Palazzo Te’, IX, 2001, pp. 22-45). In about 1530, under the influence of Parmigianino, Pontormo and other young artists, Peruzzi’s figures become more slender, three-dimensional and elegant, as in his Augustus and the Sibyl of about 1530 in the S. Maria di Fontegiusta, Siena, inspired by Parmigianino’s slightly earlier etching (Frommel, op. cit., no. 106, pl. LXXXII).
In 1520 Peruzzi had become second architect of Saint Peter’s in Rome and was increasingly focusing on architecture. His stylistic evolution is much more evident in his architecture than in his figurative output. Before 1527 he preferred the use of engaged columns as demonstrated in his tomb of Hadrian VI in S. Maria dell’Anima, Rome, the drawing for the Gonzaga organ in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (Inv. RCIN 905495) and his drawing of an altar, previously at Chatsworth, sold at Christie’s, London, 6 July 1987, lot 8, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Inv. 88.GG.130). Free-standing columns and attached pilasters of a coherent composite order only appear later, as in the projects for the pulpit of Siena cathedral at the British Museum (Inv. 1958,1213.4; Frommel, op. cit., no. 105d, Pl. LXXXc). As in the present drawing, he conveyed spatial depth by contrasting light and shadow. Characteristic of his later years is the ornamental use of ovals and lozenges which in the bench would have imitated coloured marble. The Composite order, in its rhythm and its detail, however, does not differ much from earlier projects.
Neither this bench nor the Uffizi project for the Sala del Cancelleria was ever realized, but they demonstrate that Peruzzi remained, after the Sack of Rome, one of the most prominent representatives of the Renaissance, and for the most part successfully resisted the ‘mannerist’ capriccios of the younger generation.
We are very grateful to Christoph Luitpold Frommel for preparing the above catalogue entry.