Pellegrinaio Ward

Santa Maria della Scala hospital in Siena contains one of the most important senese mid-15th century frescoes series: the Pellegrinaio ward.
In the ward can be found ten different frescoes, each one representing the hospital’s mission and function. The painting of the ward’s walls was commissioned by Giovanni di Francesco Buzzichelli, the hospital’s dean from 1434 to 1444. His aim was to make the hospital’s functions more clear to the visitors in order to promote the hospital and to increase the donations.1,2


The ward is located on the ground floor of the structure (room 7 in the map).
From the left of the main entrance to the room towards the right, the frescoes are: 'Storia del Beato Sorore', 'Costruzione delle mura dello spedale', 'Investitura del rettore dell'ospedale', 'Celestino III concede privilegi di autonomia allo spedale', 'Pagamento dei baliatici con il grano', 'Pagamento dei baltici col denaro', 'Governo e cura degli infermi', 'Distribuzione delle elemosine', 'Accoglienza, educazione e matrimonio di una figlia dello spedale' and 'Pranzo dei poveri'.


The first fresco to be painted was ‘Storia del Beato Sorore’ (History of Holy Sorore) painted by Lorenzo Vecchietta in 1441. This illustration represents the legend of the cobbler Sorore. Sorore dreamed of St.Mary who told him to build a place in Siena where foundlings, called ‘gittatelli’, could be taken care of. Some of them were illegitimate children, others were abandoned by poor families with the hope that one day they would have been reunited with each other. They used to break in two pieces a coin and give one piece to the family and the other one to the baby because otherwise it would have been difficult to recognise the child years after.3


‘Costruzione delle mura dello spedale’ (The construction of the hospital’s walls) by Domenico di Bartolo.


‘Investitura del rettore dell’ospedale’ (The investiture of the hospital’s dean) by Priamo dell Quercia.


‘Celestino III concede privilegi di autonomia all’ospedale’ (Celestino III granting autonomy privileges to the hospital) by Domenico di Bartolo.
This fresco represents one of the most important moments in the hospital’s history. Pope Celestino III gave power to the seculars to modify the hospital in order to make it more efficient; he also gave them the permission to elect the dean themselves.4


‘Pagamento dei baliatici con il grano’ (Wet nurses payment with wheat) and ‘Pagamento dei baliatici col denaro’ (Wet nurses payment with money) by Pietro d’Achille Crogi and Giovanni di Raffaele Navesi.
Wet nurses were women who breast fed and took care for others children. They were fundamental figures in the hospital because without them it would have been unthinkable to welcome so many ‘gittatelli’.5


‘Governo e cura degli infermi’ (Caring for the sick) by Domenico di Bartolo.
This is probably the most important fresco in the series, certainly it’s the one that best represents the hospital’s functions. In the centre can be identified the dean accompanied by the hospital’s ‘frati’ and the surgeon, showing the dedication he put in his job. On the left two doctors are consulting each other on the patient’s urine. It’s also illustrated one ‘frate’ who is taking care of a man with an open wound on his thigh: he’s cleaning the patient’s foot before the doctor examines him. The aim of this fresco was to show how much care was put in nursing patients and to show the hospital’s hygiene.6


‘Distribuzione delle elemosine’ (Reception of pilgrims and distribution of alms) by Domenico di Bartolo.
The fresco shows how ‘frati’ used to give clothes and bread to the poors. On the right an open door shows Siena’s cathedral: this is an important detail because it demonstrates the veracity of the scene. This fresco represents the remarkable charity of the hospital and the assistive function.7


‘Accoglienza, educazione e matrimonio di una figlia dello spedale’ (Rearing and marrying of female foundlings) by Domenico di Bartolo.
The aim of this fresco was to show the importance of gittatelli’s education and to promote what the hospital could offer them. On the left there are some children who are practising writing and reading; it’s also visible a ‘balia’ breastfeeding, and other women bringing food to the foundlings. On the right it is represented the marriage of one ‘gittatella’. At the age of eighteen ‘gitattelle’ had to choose between working in the hospital, becoming a nun or marriage. They were desired wives because well educated and provided with a good dowry given by the hospital. Male foundlings had to choose at the age of sixteen between working in the hospital, clergy or going to work as an apprentice.89


‘Pranzo dei poveri’ (Feeding of the poor) by Domenico di Bartolo.
This is another fresco that represents the assistive function of the hospital. Unfortunately this fresco has been ruined because in the 1970s an orthopaedic decided to create a little window to supervise his patients during the night shift; this led to the removal of a little piece of the fresco.10


  • Photos and main text by Claudia Volterrani moc.liamg|inarretlov.aidualc#| and Olga Sciortino ti.kooltuo|onitroics.aglo#| (December 2018)


  • D.G.Cavallero, Lo spedale di Santa Maria della Scala in Siena , Pacini Editore, Pisa 1985, pp. 493
  • F.Gabrielli, G.Piccini, Il Pellegrinaio dell'ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala , C&P Adver Effigi, Siena 2014, pp. 208
  • E.Toti , Santa Maria della Scala , Protagon Editori, Siena 2008, pp. 125
  • Sito ufficiale Santa Maria della Scala

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