Portrait of a monastic master builder

The cloister of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, south east of Siena, contains a remarkable series of early sixteenth century frescoes depicting the life of St Benedict. The work of Il Sodoma, the eleventh painting in the sequence takes as its subject the foundation of a new Benedictine monastery. In the centre, embodying the truth that architecture is the product of words as well as stone, bricks and timber, the bearded Benedict instructs a mason aloft in the scaffolding, who is applying plaster to the brick vaulting, while another workman whitewashes the new vaults and a stonecutter in the foreground conveys total absorption in the finishing of a column base. 


John Pawson