Siena Cathedral contains numerous masterpieces from every age, but its marble mosaic inlay and graffito floor is in many ways its most prized possession.
The floor is normally covered with carpets as the Cathedral is used for the Holy Mass on Sundays. However, only from August 18 to October 27, the whole floor is uncovered and visitors have the chance to see what Giorgio Vasari certainly considered the “most beautiful…, largest and most magnificent floor ever made”.
The floor we see today is the product of a programme implemented between the 14thand the 19th centuries. The preparatory cartoons for the fifty-six inlay panels were supplied by leading artists.
The technique used to transpose the various artists’ ideas onto the floor is known as graffito and mosaic marble inlay. Simple to begin with, the technique gradually achieved an astonishing degree of perfection. The first inlays were traced out on white marble slabs using a chisel and a drill and then filled in with black stucco, a technique called “graffito”. This was supplemented by a technique based on placing coloured marble pieces together using the marquetry method, a technique known as marble mosaic inlay.