Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture


















ARCHITECTURE - Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCULPTURE - Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14


PAINTING - Part 1, 2




see also:
Architecture in Italy

Italian Gothic architecture stands apart from that of the rest of Europe. Judged by the formal criteria of the Ile-de-France, most of it hardly deserves to be called Gothic at all. Yet the Gothic in Italy produced structures of singular beauty and impressiveness that cannot be understood as continuations of the local Romanesque. We must be careful, therefore, to avoid too rigid or technical a standard in approaching these monuments, lest we fail to do justice to their unique blend of Gothic qualities and Mediterranean tradition. It was the Cistercians, rather than the cathedral builders of the Ile-de-France, who provided the chief exemplars on which Italian architects based their conception of the Gothic style. As early as the end of the twelfth century, Cistercian abbeys sprang up in both northern and central Italy, their designs patterned directly after those of the French abbeys of the order.



Abbey Church of Fossanova

One of the finest buildings, at Fossanova, some
60 miles south of Rome, was consecrated in 1208 (figs. 474 and 475). Without knowing its location, we would be hard put to decide where to place it on a mapit might as well be Burgundian or English. The plan looks like a simplified version of Salisbury, and the finely proportioned interior bears a strong family resemblance to all Cistercian abbeys of the time. There are no facade towers, only a lantern over the crossing, as befits the Cistercian ideal of austerity. The groined vaults, while based on the pointed arch, have no diagonal ribs; the windows are small; and the architectural detail retains a good deal of Romanesque solidity. Nevertheless, the flavor of the whole is unmistakably Gothic. Churches such as the one at Fossanova made a deep impression upon the Franciscans, the monastic order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the early thirteenth century. As mendicant friars dedicated to poverty, simplicity, and humility, they were the spiritual kin of St. Bernard, and the severe beauty of Cistercian Gothic must have seemed to them to express an ideal closely related to theirs. Thus, their churches from the first reflected Cistercian influence and played a leading role in establishing Gothic architecture in Italy.

474. Nave and choir, Abbey Church of Fossanova. Consecrated 1208
475. Plan of the Abbey Church of Fossanova


Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence

Sta. Croce in Florence, begun about a century after Fossanova, may well claim to be the greatest of all Franciscan structures (figs.
476 and 477). It is also a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, even though it has wooden ceilings instead of groined vaults except in the choir. There can be no doubt that this was a matter of deliberate choice, rather than of technical or economic necessity. The choice was made not simply on the basis of local practice. (Wooden ceilings, we will recall, were a feature of the Tuscan Romanesque.) It also sprang perhaps from a desire to evoke the simplicity of Early Christian basilicas and, in doing so, to link Franciscan poverty with the traditions of the early Church. The plan, too, combines Cistercian and Early Christian features. We note, however, that it shows no trace of the Gothic structural system, except for the groin-vaulted apse.

Hence, in contrast to Fossanova, there are no longer any buttresses, since the wooden ceilings do not require them. The walls thus remain intact as continuous surfaces. Indeed, Sta. Croce owes part of its fame to its wonderful murals.

Why, then, do we speak of Sta. Croce as Gothic? Surely the use of the pointed arch is not sufficient to justify the term. A glance at the interior will dispel our misgivings, for we sense immediately that this space creates an effect fundamentally different from that of either Early Christian or Romanesque architecture. The nave walls have the weightless, "transparent" quality we saw in northern Gothic churches, and the dramatic massing of windows at the eastern end conveys the dominant role of light as forcefully as Abbot Suger's choir at St,-Denis. Judged in terms of its emotional impact, Sta. Croce is Gothic beyond doubt. It is also profoundly Franciscanand Florentinein the monumental simplicity of the means by which this impact has been achieved.

476.Nave and choir, Sta. Croce, Florence. Begun ń. 1295
Plan of Sta. Croce



The Florence Baptistry or Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistry of St. John) is a religious building in Florence (Tuscany), Italy, which has the status of a minor basilica.

The octagonal Baptistry stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza di San Giovanni, across from the Duomo cathedral and the Giotto bell tower (Campanile di Giotto). It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, built between 1059 and 1128. The architecture is in Florentine Romanesque style.

The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures. The south doors were done by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east pair of doors were dubbed by Michelangelo "the Gates of Paradise".

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptized in this baptistry. In fact, until the end of the nineteenth century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here.

For a long time, it was believed that the Baptistry was originally a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, the tutelary god of the old Florence.

The unscholarly chronicler Giovanni Villani reported this medieval Florentine legend in his fourteenth-century Nuova Cronica on the history of Florence. However, twentieth-century excavations have shown that there was a first-century Roman wall running through the piazza with the Baptistry, which may have been built on the remains of a Roman guard tower on the corner of this wall, or possibly another Roman building. It is, however, certain that a first octagonal baptistry was erected here in the late fourth or early fifth century. It was replaced or altered by another early Christian baptistry in the sixth century. Its construction is attributed to Theodolinda, queen of the Lombards (570-628) to seal the conversion of her husband, King Authari.

Battistero di San Giovanni Church in Florence, Italy
The altar, Inside view of Battistero di San Giovanni Church in Florence, Italy


478. Florence Cathedral (S. Maria del Fiore).
Begun by ARNOLFO DI CAMBIO, 1296; dome by

If in Sta. Croce the architect's main concern was an impressive interior, Florence Cathedral was planned as a monumental landmark to civic pride towering above the entire city (figs. 478 and 479). The original design, by the sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio, which dates from 1296 (about the same time construction was begun at Sta. Croce), is not known in detail. Although somewhat smaller than the present building, it probably showed the same basic plan. The building as we know it is based largely on a design by Francesco Talenti, who took over about 1343. The most striking feature is the great octagonal dome with its subsidiary half-domes, a motif ultimately of late Roman origin (see figs. 251, 252, and 306-8). It may have been thought of at first as an oversize dome above the crossing of nave and transept, but it soon grew into a huge central pool of space that makes the nave look like an afterthought. The basic characteristics of the dome were set by a committee of leading painters and sculptors in 1367. The actual construction, however, belongs to the early fifteenth century.

Florence Cathedral (S. Maria del Fiore).

Florence Cathedral.

Apart from the windows and the doorways, there is nothing Gothic about the exterior of Florence Cathedral. (Flying buttresses to sustain the nave vault may have been planned but proved unnecessary.) The solid walls, encrusted with geometric marble inlays, are a perfect match for the Romanesque Baptistery nearby (see fig. 421). The interior, on the other hand, recalls Sta. Croce, even though the dominant impression is one of chill solemnity rather than lightness and grace. The ribbed groined vault of the nave rests directly on the huge nave arcade, producing an emphasis on width instead of height, and the architectural detail throughout has a massive solidity that seems more Romanesque than Gothic (fig. 480). Thus the unvaulted interior of Sta. Croce reflects the spirit of the new style more faithfully than does the Cathedral, which, on the basis of its structural system, ought to be the more Gothic of the two.

Typical of Italy, a separate campanile takes the place of the facade towers familiar to us in Northern Gothic churches. It was begun by the great painter Giotto, who managed to finish only the first story, and continued by the sculptor Andrea Pisano, no relation to Nicola or Giovanni Pisano, who was responsible for the niche zone. The rest represents the work of Talenti, who completed it by about 1360.

The west facade, so dramatic a feature in French cathedrals, never achieved the same importance in Italy. It is remarkable how few Italian Gothic facades were ever carried to completion before the onset of the Renaissance. Those of Sta. Croce and Florence Cathedral both date from the nineteenth century. Fortunately, Arnolfo's design for the latter is preserved in a drawing made by Bernardino Poccetti just before being demolished in 1587 (fig. 481). Only the bottom half of the decorations is shown in detail, but it provides us with a clear idea of what an Italian Gothic facade would have looked like, though it is not without later alterations. Arnolfo devised an ornate scheme of pilasters and niches with sculptures to articulate the surface, which was further embellished by mosaics. The over-all effect must have been a dazzling fusion of sculpture and architecture, classical severity, and Gothic splendor.

479. Plan of Florence Cathedral

480. Nave and choir, Florence Cathedral

481. BERNARDINO POCCETTI. Drawing of ARNOLFO DI CAMBlO's unfinished design for the facade of Florence Cathedral, ń. 1587.
Museo dell'Opera di S. Maria del Fiore, Florence


Florence Cathedral

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral church (Duomo) of Florence, Italy, begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival facade by Emilio De Fabris.

The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence, whose archbishop is currently Giuseppe Betori.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore was built on the site of an earlier cathedral dedicated to Santa Reparata. The ancient building, founded in the early 5th century, and having undergone many repairs, was crumbling with age as attested in the 14th century Nuova Cronica of Giovanni Villani, and was no longer large enough to serve the growing population of the city. Other major Tuscan cities had undertaken ambitious reconstructions of their cathedrals during the Late Medieval period, as seen at Pisa and particularly Siena where the enormous proposed extensions were never completed.

The new church was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and approved by city council in 1294. Arnolfo di Cambio was also architect of the church of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio. He designed three wide naves ending under the octagonal dome, with the middle nave covering the area of Santa Reparata. The first stone was laid on September 9, 1296 by Cardinal Valeriana, the first papal legate ever sent to Florence. The building of this vast project was to last 170 years, the collective efforts of several generations and Arnolfo's plan for the eastern end, although maintained in concept, was greatly expanded in size.

After Arnolfo died in 1302, work on the cathedral slowed for the following thirty years. The project obtained new impetus, when the relics of San Zenobius were discovered in 1330 in Santa Reparata. In 1331, the Arte della Lana (Guild of Wool Merchants) took over exclusive patronage for the construction of the cathedral and in 1334 appointed Giotto to oversee the work. Assisted by Andrea Pisano, Giotto continued along di Cambio's design. His major accomplishment was the building of the campanile. When Giotto died in 1337, Andrea Pisano continued the building until work was again halted due to the Black Plague in 1348.

In 1349 work resumed on the cathedral under a series of architects, commencing with Francesco Talenti, who finished the campanile and enlarged the overall project to include the apse and the side chapels. In 1359 Talenti was succeeded by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini (1360–1369) who divided the center nave in four square bays. Other architects were Alberto Arnoldi, Giovanni d'Ambrogio, Neri di Fioravante and Orcagna. By 1375 the old church Santa Reparata was pulled down. The nave was finished by 1380, and by 1418 only the dome remained incomplete.

In 1419, the Arte della Lana held a structural design competition for the dome. The two main competitors were Lorenzo Ghiberti (famous for his work on the "Gates of Paradise" doors at the Baptistery) and Filippo Brunelleschi who was supported by Cosimo de Medici, with Brunelleschi winning and receiving the commission.

Ghiberti, appointed coadjutator, was drawing a salary equal to Brunelleschi's and would potentially earn equal credit, while spending most of his time on other projects. When Brunelleschi became ill, or feigned illness, the project was briefly in the hands of Ghiberti. But Ghiberti soon had to admit that the whole project was beyond him. In 1423 Brunelleschi was back in charge and took over sole responsibility.

Work started on the dome in 1420 and was completed in 1436. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on March 25, 1436 (the first day of the year according to the Florentine calendar). It was the first 'octagonal' dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame (The Roman Pantheon, a circular dome, was built in 117–128 A.D. with support structures). It was one of the most impressive projects of the Renaissance. During the consecration service in 1436, Guillaume Dufay's similarly unique motet Nuper rosarum flores was performed. The structure of this motet was strongly influenced by the structure of the dome.

The decoration of the exterior of the cathedral, begun in the 14th century, was not completed until 1887 when the polychrome marble facade was completed to the design of Emilio De Fabris. The floor of the church was laid in marble tiles in the 16th century.

The exterior walls are faced in alternate vertical and horizontal bands of polychrome marble from Carrara (white), Prato (green), Siena (red), Lavenza and a few other places. These marble bands had to repeat the already existing bands on the walls of the earlier adjacent baptistery the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto's Bell Tower. There are two lateral doors, the Doors of the Canonici (south side) and the Door of the Mandorla (north side) with works of art of Nanni di Banco, Donatello, and Jacopo della Quercia. The six lateral windows, notable for their delicate tracery and ornaments, are separated by pilasters. Only the four windows closest to the transept admit light; the other two are merely ornamental. The clerestory windows are round, a common feature in Italian Gothic.

During its long history, this cathedral has been the seat of the Council of Florence (1439), heard the preachings of Girolamo Savonarola and witnessed the murder of Giuliano di Piero de' Medici on Sunday, 26 April 1478 (with Lorenzo Il Magnifico barely escaping death) in the Pazzi conspiracy.

Plan and structure
The Cathedral of Florence is built as a basilica, having a wide central nave of four square bays, with an aisle on either side. The chancel and transepts are of identical polygonal plan, separated by two smaller polygonal chapels. The whole plan forms a Latin cross. The nave and aisles are separated by wide pointed Gothic arches resting on composite piers.

The dimensions of the building are enormous: length 153 metres (502 ft), width 38 metres (124 ft), width at the crossing 90 metres (295 ft). The height of the arches in the aisles is 23 metres (75 ft). The height from pavement to the opening of the lantern in the dome is also 90 metres (295 ft).

By the beginning of the fifteenth century, after a hundred years of construction, the structure was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. His brick model, 4.6 metres (15 ft) high 9.2 metres (30 ft) long, was standing in a side isle of the unfinished building, and had long ago become sacrosanct. It called for an octagonal dome higher and wider than any that had ever been built, with no external buttresses to keep it from spreading and falling under its own weight.

The commitment to reject traditional Gothic buttresses had been made when Neri di Fioravante's model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini. That architectural choice, in 1367, was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance, marking a break with the Medieval Gothic style and a return to the classic Mediterranean dome. Italian architects regarded Gothic flying buttresses as ugly makeshifts, in addition to being a style favored by central Italy's traditional enemies to the north. Neri's model depicted a massive inner dome, open at the top to admit light, like Rome's Pantheon, but enclosed in a thinner outer shell, partly supported by the inner dome, to keep out the weather. It was to stand on an unbuttressed octagonal drum. Neri's dome would need an internal defense against spreading (hoop stress), but none had yet been designed.

The building of such a masonry dome posed many technical problems. Brunelleschi looked to the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome for solutions. The dome of the Pantheon is a single shell of concrete, the formula for which had long since been forgotten. A wooden form had held the Pantheon dome aloft while its concrete set, but for the height and breadth of the dome designed by Neri, starting 52 metres (171 ft) above the floor and spanning 44 metres (144 ft), there was not enough timber in Tuscany to build the scaffolding and forms. Brunelleschi chose to follow such design and employed a double shell, made of sandstone and marble. Brunelleschi would have to build the dome out of bricks, due to its light weight compared to stone and easier to form, and with nothing under it during construction. To illustrate his proposed structural plan, he constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco and still displayed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. The model served as a guide for the craftsmen, but was intentionally incomplete, so as to ensure Brunelleschi's control over the construction.

Brunelleschi's solutions were ingenious. The spreading problem was solved by a set of four internal horizontal stone and iron chains, serving as barrel hoops, embedded within the inner dome: one each at the top and bottom, with the remaining two evenly spaced between them. A fifth chain, made of wood, was placed between the first and second of the stone chains. Since the dome was octagonal rather than round, a simple chain, squeezing the dome like a barrel hoop, would have put all its pressure on the eight corners of the dome. The chains needed to be rigid octagons, stiff enough to hold their shape, so as not to deform the dome as they held it together.

Each of Brunelleschi's stone chains was built like an octagonal railroad track with parallel rails and cross ties, all made of sandstone beams 43 centimetres (17 in) in diameter and no more than 2.3 metres (7.5 ft) long. The rails were connected end-to-end with lead-glazed iron splices. The cross ties and rails were notched together and then covered with the bricks and mortar of the inner dome. The cross ties of the bottom chain can be seen protruding from the drum at the base of the dome. The others are hidden. Each stone chain was supposed to be reinforced with a standard iron chain made of interlocking links, but a magnetic survey conducted in the 1970s failed to detect any evidence of iron chains, which if they exist are deeply embedded in the thick masonry walls. He was also able to accomplish this by setting vertical "ribs" on the corners of the octagon curving towards the center point. The ribs had slits, where platforms could be erected out of and work could progressively continue as they worked up,a system for scaffolding.

A circular masonry dome, such as that of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul can be built without supports, called centering, because each course of bricks is a horizontal arch that resists compression. In Florence, the octagonal inner dome was thick enough for an imaginary circle to be embedded in it at each level, a feature that would hold the dome up eventually, but could not hold the bricks in place while the mortar was still wet. Brunelleschi used a herringbone brick pattern to transfer the weight of the freshly laid bricks to the nearest vertical ribs of the non-circular dome.

The outer dome was not thick enough to contain embedded horizontal circles, being only 60 centimetres (2 ft) thick at the base and 30 centimetres (1 ft) thick at the top. To create such circles, Brunelleschi thickened the outer dome at the inside of its corners at nine different elevations, creating nine masonry rings, which can be observed today from the space between the two domes. To counteract hoop stress, the outer dome relies entirely on its attachment to the inner dome at its base; it has no embedded chains.

A modern understanding of physical laws and the mathematical tools for calculating stresses was centuries into the future. Brunelleschi, like all cathedral builders, had to rely on intuition and whatever he could learn from the large scale models he built. To lift 37,000 tons of material, including over 4 million bricks, he invented hoisting machines and lewissons for hoisting large stones. These specially designed machines and his structural innovations were Brunelleschi's chief contribution to architecture. Although he was executing an aesthetic plan made half a century earlier, it is his name, rather than Neri's, that is commonly associated with the dome.

Brunelleschi's ability to crown the dome with a lantern was questioned and he had to undergo another competition. He was declared the winner over his competitors Lorenzo Ghiberti and Antonio Ciaccheri. His design was for an octagonal lantern with eight radiating buttresses and eight high arched windows (now on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo). Construction of the lantern was begun a few months before his death in 1446. Then, for 15 years, little progress was possible, due to alterations by several architects. The lantern was finally completed by Brunelleschi's friend Michelozzo in 1461. The conical roof was crowned with a gilt copper ball and cross, containing holy relics, by Verrocchio in 1469. This brings the total height of the dome and lantern to 114.5 metres (375 ft). This copper ball was struck by lightning on 17 July 1600 and fell down. It was replaced by an even larger one two years later.

The commission for this bronze ball [atop the lantern] went to the sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio, in whose workshop there was at this time a young apprentice named Leonardo da Vinci. Fascinated by Filippo's [Brunelleschi's] machines, which Verrocchio used to hoist the ball, Leonardo made a series of sketches of them and, as a result, is often given credit for their invention.

Leonardo might have also participated in the design of the bronze ball, as stated in the G manuscript of Paris "Remember the way we soldered the ball of Santa Maria del Fiore".

The decorations of the drum gallery by Baccio d'Agnolo were never finished after being disapproved by no one less than Michelangelo.

A huge statue of Brunelleschi now sits outside the Palazzo dei Canonici in the Piazza del Duomo, looking thoughtfully up towards his greatest achievement, the dome that would forever dominate the panorama of Florence. It is still the largest masonry dome in the world.

The building of the cathedral had started in 1296 with the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was completed in 1469 with the placing of Verrochio's copper ball atop the lantern. But the façade was still unfinished and would remain so until the nineteenth century.

The original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and usually attributed to Giotto, was actually begun twenty years after Giotto's death. A mid-15th century pen-and-ink drawing of this so-called Giotto's façade is visible in the Codex Rustici, and in the drawing of Bernardino Poccetti in 1587, both on display in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. This façade was the collective work of several artists, among them Andrea Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi. This original façade was only completed in its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587-1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti, ordered by Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici, as it appeared totally outmoded in Renaissance times. Some of the original sculptures are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo, behind the cathedral. Others are now in the Berlin Museum and in the Louvre. The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal. The wooden model for the façade of Buontalenti is on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. A few new designs had been proposed in later years but the models (of Giovanni Antonio Dosio, Giovanni de' Medici with Alessandro Pieroni and Giambologna) were not accepted. The façade was then left bare until the 19th century.



482. Milan Cathedral. Begun 1386. Milan Cathedral from Piazza del Duomo

Work on Italian Gothic churches often continued for hundreds of years. Such was the case with Milan Cathedral, by far the largest Gothic church on Italian soil as well as the one most nearly comparable to Northern structures. Begun in 1386, it was completed only in 1910. Its structural design was the subject of a famous dispute between the local architects and consulting experts from France and Germany. Only the apse, begun first, retains the original flavor of the building, which belongs to the late, Flamboyant phase of Gothic architecture (fig. 482). Otherwise the decoration strikes us as an overly elaborate piling up of detail applied in mechanical fashion over the centuries without any unity of feeling.


Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano; Milanese: Domm de Milan) is the cathedral church of Milan in Lombardy, northern Italy. Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent), it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, currently Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi.

The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world.

Milan's layout, with streets either radiating from the Duomo or circling it, reveals that the Duomo occupies what was the most central site in Roman Mediolanum, that of the public basilica facing the forum. Saint Ambrose's 'New Basilica' was built on this site at the beginning of the 5th century, with an adjoining basilica added in 836. When a fire damaged both buildings in 1075, they were later rebuilt as the Duomo.

In 1386, Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo began construction in a rayonnant Late Gothic style more typically French than Italian. Construction coincided with the accession to power in Milan of the archbishop's cousin Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and was meant as a reward to the noble and working classes, who had suffered under his tyrannical Visconti predecessor Barnabò. Before actual work began, three main buildings were demolished: the palace of the Archbishop, the Ordinari Palace and the Baptistry of St. Stephen at the Spring, while the old church of Sta. Maria Maggiore was exploited as a stone quarry. Enthusiasm for the immense new building soon spread among the population, and the shrewd Gian Galeazzo, together with his cousin the archbishop, collected large donations for the work-in-progress. The construction program was strictly regulated under the "Fabbrica del Duomo", which had 300 employees led by first chief engineer Simone da Orsenigo. Galeazzo gave the Fabbrica exclusive use of the marble from the Candoglia quarry and exempted it from taxes.

In 1389, a French chief engineer, Nicolas de Bonaventure, was appointed, adding to the church its strong Gothic imprint. Ten years later another French architect, Jean Mignot, was called from Paris to judge and improve upon the work done, as the masons needed new technical aid to lift stones to an unprecedented height. Mignot declared all the work done up till then as in pericolo di ruina ("peril of ruin"), as it had been done sine scienzia ("without science"). In the following years Mignot's forecasts proved untrue, but anyway they spurred Galeazzo's engineers to improve their instruments and techniques. Work proceeded quickly, and at the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402, almost half the cathedral was complete. Construction, however, stalled almost totally until 1480, due to lack of money and ideas: the most notable works of this period were the tombs of Marco Carelli and Pope Martin V (1424) and the windows of the apse (1470s), of which those extant portray St. John the Evangelist, by Cristoforo de' Mottis, and Saint Eligius and San John of Damascus, both by Niccolò da Varallo. In 1452, under Francesco Sforza, the nave and the aisles were completed up to the sixth bay.

In 1500 to 1510, under Ludovico Sforza, the octagonal cupola was completed, and decorated in the interior with four series of 15 statues each, portraying saints, prophets, sibyls and other characters of the Bible. The exterior long remained without any decoration, except for the Guglietto dell'Amadeo ("Amadeo's Little Spire"), constructed 1507-1510. This is a Renaissance masterwork which nevertheless harmonized well with the general Gothic appearance of the church.

Milan Cathedral.

During the subsequent Spanish domination, the new church proved usable, even though the interior remained largely unfinished, and some bays of the nave and the transepts were still missing. In 1552 Giacomo Antegnati was commissioned to build a large organ for the north side of the choir, and Giuseppe Meda provided four of the sixteen pales which were to decorate the altar area (the program was completed by Federico Borromeo). In 1562, Marco d' Lopez's St. Bartholomew and the famous Trivulzio candelabrum (12th century) were added.

After the accession of the ambitious Carlo Borromeo to the archbishop's throne, all lay monuments were removed from the Duomo. These included the tombs of Giovanni, Barnabò and Filippo Maria Visconti, Francesco I and his wife Bianca, Galeazzo Maria and Lodovico Sforza, which were brought to unknown destinations. However, Borromeo's main intervention was the appointment, in 1571, of Pellegrino Pellegrini as chief engineer— a contentious move, since to appoint Pellegrino, who was not a lay brother of the duomo, required a revision of the Fabbrica's statutes.

Borromeo and Pellegrini strove for a new, Renaissance appearance for the cathedral, that would emphasise its Roman / Italian nature, and subdue the Gothic style, which was now seen as foreign. As the façade still was largely incomplete, Pellegrini designed a "Roman" style one, with columns, obelisks and a large tympanum. When Pellegrini's design was revealed, a competition for the design of the facade was announced, and this elicited nearly a dozen entries, including one by Antonio Barca.

This design was never carried out, but the interior decoration continued: in 1575-1585 the presbytery was rebuilt, while new altars and the baptistry were added in the nave.

Wooden choir stalls were constructed by 1614 for the main altar by Francesco Brambilla.

In 1577 Borromeo finally consecrated the whole edifice as a new church, distinct from the old Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Tecla (which had been unified in 1549 after heavy disputes).

The plan consists of a nave with four side-aisles, crossed by a transept and then followed by choir and apse. The height of the nave is about 45 meters, the highest Gothic vaults of a complete church (less than the 48 meters of Beauvais Cathedral, which was never completed).

The roof is open to tourists (for a fee), which allows many a close-up view of some spectacular sculpture that would otherwise be unappreciated. The roof of the cathedral is renowned for the forest of openwork pinnacles and spires, set upon delicate flying buttresses.

The cathedral's five broad naves, divided by 40 pillars, are reflected in the hierarchic openings of the facade. Even the transepts have aisles. The nave columns are 24.5 metres (80 ft) high, and the apsidal windows are 20.7 x 8.5 metres (68 x 28 feet). The huge building is of brick construction, faced with marble from the quarries which Gian Galeazzo Visconti donated in perpetuity to the cathedral chapter. Its maintenance and repairs are very complicated.


Milan Cathedral. Interior


The secular buildings of Gothic Italy convey as distinct a local flavor as the churches. There is nothing in the cities of Northern Europe to match the impressive grimness of the Palazzo Vecchio (fig. 483), the town hall of Florence. Fortresslike structures such as this reflect the factional strife among political parties, social classes, and prominent families so characteristic of life within the Italian city-states. The wealthy man's home (or palazzo, a term denoting any large urban house) was quite literally his castle, designed both to withstand armed assault and to proclaim the owner's importance. The Palazzo Vecchio, while larger and more elaborate than any private house, follows the same pattern. Behind its battlemented walls, the city government could feel well protected from the wrath of angry crowds. The tall tower not only symbolizes civic pride but has an eminently practical purpose: dominating the city as well as the surrounding countryside, it served as a lookout against enemies from without or within.

Among Italian cities Venice alone was ruled by a merchant aristocracy so firmly established that internal disturbances were the exception rather than the rule. As a consequence, Venetian palazzi, unhampered by defensive requirements, developed into graceful, ornate structures such as the Ca' d'Oro (fig. 484). There is more than a touch of the Orient in the delicate latticework effect of this facade, even though most of the decorative vocabulary derives from the Late Gothic of Northern Europe. Its rippling patterns, ideally designed to be seen against their own reflection in the water of the Grand Canal, have the same fairy-tale quality we recall from the exterior of St. Mark's (see fig. 336).

483. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Begun 1298

484. Ca' d'Oro, Venice. 1422-c. 1440


Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy