Martyrdom of the Franciscans fresco

Date: Ca. 1330s
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Description: This episode was frescoed by Ambrogio Lorenzetti ca. 1330 for a monastery in Siena dedicated to St. Francis. It was one of several scenes in and near the chapter house that narrated Franciscan history, including events that occurred far from Italy: the Franciscans' missionary activities took them to Central Asia, China, India, and elsewhere. In this fresco, an enthroned Mongol khan (or khagan), flanked by courtiers in distinctive clothes and headgear, oversees the decapitation of a group of Franciscan monks. Several such episodes occurred, so it is difficult to know which one is being represented here.

The khan wears a robe with tiraz bands, and several of his attendants have a belted short-sleeved robe over a long-sleeved one. These genuine Mongol fashions are also depicted in Ilkhanid paintings. Knowledge about Mongol dress may have reached Siena with ambassadors to the Italian and papal courts, or via merchants or missionaries, or by way of illuminated manuscripts. So-called panni tartarici—Tartar, meaning Mongol, cloths—were highly prized and imitated in Europe.

Unlike the garments, the elaborate armor worn by some of the Mongols in the fresco was not accurate; it may have been intended to suggest their military prowess. Similarly, the rib-vaulted building that represents the khan's palace is an entirely European-looking structure. The multiple classical-looking statues on its roof may be types for Christian virtues.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 9
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Sailko

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