The symbol of the siren on the lintel of the gate in pieve di Corsignano (Siena, Tuscany)

The symbol of the siren, like many others symbols, has very ancient origins.

As far as its meaning is concerned, in very general terms, you could affirm that:

the - [female-] superior part of the siren is a reference to the "attractive" aspects that -on the corporeal and spiritual dimension- belong to the human kind;

the inferior part- tail or tails of fish- refers to the "wild",and "hidden" instincts that sometimes men cannot control.

In the Western Middle Age the image of the siren was often used to point out the carnal and terrestrial dimension of the life.

We find a good sample of this on the lintel of the gate of pieve di Corsignano, around Pienza (Siena, Tuscany).

In the centre of the carved stone you notice the picture of a siren with two tails; in this case they represent the two ways how man can stand to his instincts, mainly his sexual instincts.

Actually, you see on the left a character who is inspired by a horrible little animal that is whispering something to the hear; probably the character has fallen prey of wild lust and he has degraded his dignity to such a point that he is represented with the "bestial" tail of fish.

On the the right of the siren you see a dressed man holding the arm of a dressed woman with the right hand, while, with the left hand, he catches and "controls" the animal that symbolises his instinct.

So you can say that the carvings on the right of the lintel certainly show a man who dominates his passions and it is clear that his behaviour must be considered the most coherent with the Christian ideal life.

We can add that this church is dedicated to Maria, and, for this reason, the thematic of the femininity is extremely important.

In fact, you see that the "mullioned window" (bifora=double door) -on the fašade, above the door- is supported by a female character that necessarily, in this context, represents the Virgin (1).

It's well known that the image of Maria in superior position as regards the siren or Eva (who, for many aspects, can be considered an equivalent of the siren) is a typical thematic of the medieval iconography.

In the case of the pieve of Corsignano, the statue of the Vergin reminds of an ancient Menade, a pagan character related to the subject of the fertility.

Actually, this reference to the fertility connected with a picture representing Mary seems interesting.

Nevertheless, dealing with these aspects of the iconography of this image would need a very long and complex speech, that, for obvious reasons of brevity, cannot be done in this short outline.

(1) The bifora has two openings of different highness.

This is a quite frequent characteristic in medieval churches of the area around Siena; in many cases (but not in Corsignano) the different highness is extremely clear. Many things could be said about this symbolism; we only quote it, so far.

Carlo Valdameri

Il simbolo della sirena sull'architrave dell'ingresso della pieve di Corsignano (SI). Italian translation

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