The Choir of Antonio Barili – Collegiate

In San Quirico d’Orcia, inside the Collegiate Church are the wooden choir stalls by Antonio Barili.

The work dates from between 1483 and 1504. There were originally nineteen panels, all finely decorated and made for the Chapel of St. John the Baptist in Siena Cathedral.

From 1600 onward the inlays were disassembled because of deterioration due to moisture.

In 1664 Marquis Flavio Chigi purchased the best-preserved panels, and in 1979 they were placed inside the Collegiate Church; arranged behind the high altar reassembled in an order that, however, does not reflect the ancient one.

Seven inlays are found in San Quirico d’Orcia, while one bearing the author’s self-portrait is in the Museum of Crafts in Vienna; unfortunately, the others have been lost.

The description we have of the work was left to us in the late 1600s by the scholar Alfonso Landi, now preserved in the Archives of the Opera del Duomo of Siena.

The wooden sculpture is repeated equally in each panel. Each inlay is enclosed by two small columns

fluted with leafy Corinthian capital, and two dolphins. Higher up is another capital on which a brazier with splendid flame was carved. Some frames bear rosettes, birds, foliage. A vase in the center filled with fruit, leaves, and with two ears of wheat hanging on either side, a cornucopia, a symbol of abundance. Striking the eye is a winged animal, with the body of a horse, covered with feathers, the head of a buffalo, and a necklace dangling from its neck.

Barili’s chancel is an extraordinary work in several respects, beginning with the more distinctly documentary ones: two of the panels give us a closer look at the carver’s craft, whose tools we see in the panel with the cabinet. But even on the stylistic level, great mastery is evident. In fact, the search for the third dimension, with windows opening onto the characters, the exceptional chiaroscuro of the draperies obtained through juxtapositions of small portions of wood of different hues, the subtle carvings that recreate curls and locks of hair are all details that make Antonio Barili’s almost virtuosic skills evident.

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