Around the middle of the thirteenth century, some members of the Marescotti family of Siena built a tower on the ancient Via Francigena, a strategic artery for European traffic and trade. According to historical chronicles of the famous Battle of Montaperti, fought on 4 September 1260, the site was used as a lookout and watchtower. Traces of the first owners are still visible on the palace façade and the frames of the fireplaces and doors, which bear the family arms of an eagle with widespread wings.
In the early sixteenth century, the building was purchased by the Piccolomini del Mandolo family, who commissioned the Raphaelesque painted decorations on the porch attributed to Giorgio di Giovanni, the frieze illustrating stories of Pius II, and the frescoes of ancient heroines and Bible scenes present in some of the rooms.
In 1770 the home was bought by Bernardino Saracini, who left it to his brother Marcantonio, both heirs of one of the most prominent families in the city. Marcantonio, together with his son Galgano, enlarged the building and filled it with a collection of masterpieces and rarities. The ancient medieval core was expanded by the purchase of three adjacent buildings and the addition of a row of three-light windows. In 1791 it already had more or less the same imposing neo-Gothic ante litteram appearance that we still see today.
The palace was opened to the public for the first time in 1806. The news was reported in the Gazzetta Toscana as follows: “Galgano Saracini’s Gallery, consisting of fourteen rooms rich in works constantly incremented by the owners, sparing no expense, is now open to the public. Opening hours are every day from 10 a.m. to one o’clock in the afternoon.” Seeing the great success of this initiative, in 1819 Galgano Saracini published a guide-inventory of his gallery, officially confirming the existence of a private museum in his family home. The museum space was made up of twenty rooms holding his valuable collections of antiques, paintings, sculptures, and applied arts and embracing a much larger range of artists and techniques than the gallery at Siena’s Istituto d’Arte. The count, who from his youth had overseen the rearrangement of the palace to show off the art, carried out various public tasks in the cultural sphere in Siena before becoming what we would call today the Superintendent of Fine Arts. This explains his familiarity with the work of local artisans, to whom he turned for the maintenance of his paintings, the construction and adaptation of frames, and the showcases and shelves necessary for display.
Some documents testify to the fact that he was himself an expert on artistic techniques, in particular on the “cutting” of frescoes much in vogue in that period. He commissioned two local painters, Antonio Castelletti and Tommaso Paccagnini, to paint the ceilings of the rooms with scenes glorifying the deeds of the Saracini family in an allegorical-classical mode. The collection was heterogeneous from the beginning, and it is evident that the count used the services of a vast web of small antiquarians and merchants as well as of learned men and collectors to broaden his own cultural horizons and to have a constant idea of appraisals and prices in order to have better access to the art market.
In the inner courtyard he installed an ancient well from an old monastery on Via delle Sperandie. He had a chapel built to Saint Galganus, where he placed important works purchased during the suppression of the convents: a Crucifixion from the altar of the Oratory of Santa Caterina al Paradiso and frescoes and gilt stuccoes from the Oratory of San Giovanni Battista della Morte, while at the entrance was positioned the colossal statue of Pope Paul V made by Fulvio Signorini for the cathedral. On the porch and in the forechapel were installed numerous busts representing some illustrious ancestors, coming from various places, among which particularly famous was the image thought to be of Abbot Feo Saracini engraved on a late fifteenth-century tomb slab which Galgano had recovered, after extensive negotiations with the public administration, from Abbadia Isola.
At Galgano’s death in 1824, his property passed into the hands of his two sons, Marco (1805-1848) and Alessandro (1807-1877). The elder was a skilled draftsman and enjoyed traveling and writing literature and pieces for the theater. From 1826 to 1829, he went on a Grand Tour of Europe, noting in a Diario everything that struck his interest. Accomplished paintings and drawings by him survive. Alessandro, Mecenas alter and a Superintendent like his father, was noted for his military valor and his wide knowledge of art, two aspects that made him a prominent and admired public figure, as is recorded in the plaque on the palace façade. His competence in various fields of culture took concrete form in his intense activity with the Istituto d’arte and his collaboration with some local artists such as Agostino Fantastici, who renovated the drawing rooms in a romantic style, as well as Giovanni Dupré, Cesare Maccari, Luigi Mussini, Tito Sarrocchi, and a great number of Sienese artisans who left their mark throughout the palace interior.
At Alessandro’s death in 1877, his designated heir was his nephew Fabio Chigi, son of Carlo Corradino, who was required to add the name Saracini to his own family name of Chigi.
In 1906 the palace and all Fabio’s property passed into the hands of Guido Chigi Saracini, a man of vast culture and many interests, predominant among them a love of music. After graduating from the Luigi Cherubini conservatory in Florence, in 1932 he founded the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, located in his family palace on Via di Città which was remodeled for the occasion by an emerging young artist in Siena in the early twentieth century, Arturo Viligiardi. The count’s long and fruitful collaboration with this versatile artist who was an architect, sculptor, painter, and designer reached its height with the creation of the concert hall; the design plan for the decorations was presented in 1914 and brought to a close in 1923 in an eighteenth-century Venetian style. On the ceiling was painted a celebration of the Battle of Montaperti, an epic fight that has been a symbol of Sienese civic pride since the thirteenth century. Fulvio Corsini made two bronze statues representing Harmony and Melody. The rest of the palace as well was renovated to adapt it to its new purpose of a temple of music, and walls were torn down to make room for a little Theater for the performance of literary works; it is still used today for teaching purposes.