Last weekend we were staying near Siena for a wedding (my husband’s cousin) in the city, and while we were there we took the opportunity to visit the cathedral. It’s a beautiful building, though quite different to the plain unpainted cathedrals of England, being more full of art than light (perhaps better suited to the Italian climate, though!), and fantastically striped black and white. In the Duomo itself were statues by Michelangelo, and in the Battistera bronzes by Ghiberti, and other artists.
However, what was most astonishing and at which we spent a long time looking, were the choir books of the Piccolomini Library. The room is a riot of colour, both from the painted walls and celing, but also because of the open choir books, displayed in the glass-fronted display cases, which are beautifully illuminated. They also seem to be in fantastic condition, too.
The choir books give the tunes for the sung portions of the daily services, and although the chant is quite easy to read, the Latin isn’t (though mediaevalists are probably used to all the letters looking the same). Since they’re so decorative, I do wonder if they were used very often: the size seems to indicate that the singers would have gathered around them.
I don’t know enough Latin (nor, indeed, am familiar enough with the old rite) to determine if the detailed illustrations relate to the words to be sung or the appointed readings for the day. Aren’t they beautiful?