THE FRESCOES AT LECCETO
The frescoes at Lecceto are doubly interesting because they depict scenes from the writings of Filippo di Leonardo di Cola O.S.A., who was the Prior (Augustinian religious leader) of Lecceto from 1398 to 1420, during the second energetic building phase there.
Obviously a great story-teller, Filippo wrote moralising stories against the moral faults of society in Siena, particularly of gambling by the men and vanity by the women.
He wrote to have his readers guard against the lure of wealth and self-ostentation, and to follow the example of virtuous men and women of previous times.
His main writing was Gli Assempri (“Examples”), which has won him a place in the history of fourteenth-century Italian (and particularly Sienese) literature.
Gli Assempri provided the themes for frescoes that were painted at Lecceto in the decades after the death of its author.
In the portico of the church of the eremo of Lecceto, there is a fresco that has come to be called “worldly ways.” It is possibly the work of the celebrated fifteenth-century painter, Giovanni di Paolo (1403 – 1483). He lived in Siena nearby, and today his paintings are owned by the most famous art galleries of the world.
The fresco depicts a group of men seated at a table and playing dice. One of them has stood up from the table, looking very angry. He has been cheated, and strikes out with his fist against the chest. Behind his back the devil is seen urging him on, and probably enticing the man to take revenge by murder.
Gli Assempri also provided the inspiration for five frescoes that were painted on the east wall of the inner cloister at Lecceto. These frescoes depict a group of Augustinians who feature in chapters 23, 24, 40 and 41 of Gli Assempri. These Augustinians are Fra Giovanni the lay brother, Fra Giovanni Molli, Fr Bandino de Balzetti, and Fra Nicolo Tini.
Unfortunately two of the five frescoes ceased to exist when the plaster fell off the wall. One of these is known to have depicted Giovanni the lay brother shouldering the yoke of obedience, and the other showed Fra Bandino.
Bandino de Balzetti O.S.A. had purchased much of the land for the monastery about the year 1227 and was the Augustinian leader there until his death in about the year 1270.
The fresco of Fra Giovanni Molli is well preserved and quite visible. The artist, whose identity is uncertain, adhered to the text of Gli Assempri, but also included another Lecceto legend. This was that, once during winter when the food on the monastery table was poor, an angel brought them heavenly food. The artist, however, shows just one angel, who is eating the poor food that Giovanni had found difficult to eat.
Gli Assempri records that Giovanni persisted at Lecceto, and was Prior from 1332 to 1339. It may even have been during his leadership that this fresco with this lesson for him was painted; he was willing to have others learn for his bad example.
The fourth and fifth frescoes feature Fra Noccolo Tini O.S.A., who was Prior at Lecceto some time after 1332. The fourth one is now badly defaced, but evidently showed Niccolo praying when the monastery was threatened by a destructive mob from Siena. The fifth fresco apparently depicted the death of Niccolo.
Without Gli Assempri, the information known about these frescoes would by much less than it is.
To view the photo gallery of Lecceto on Augnet select Italy: Lecceto after you click here.
Augustinian Origins, Charism and Spirituality, by Balbino Rano O.S.A. (edited in English by John Rotelle O.S.A.): Augustinian Press, Villanova, Pennsylvania, 1994.