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
ABBEY CHURCH, FOSSANOVA. 60
miles south of Rome, was consecrated in
475). Without knowing its location, we would be
hard put to decide where to place it on a map—it
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.
Abbey Church of Fossanova
One of the finest buildings, at Fossanova,
474. Nave and choir, Abbey Church of
Fossanova. Consecrated 1208
475. Plan of the Abbey Church of
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.
STA. CROCE, FLORENCE.
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
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 Franciscan—and
monumental simplicity of the means by which this impact has been
476.Nave and choir,
Sta. Croce, Florence. Begun ń.
477. 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
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.
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.
Battistero di San Giovanni Church in Florence, Italy
The altar, Inside view of Battistero di San Giovanni Church in Florence,
478. Florence Cathedral (S. Maria
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.
Florence Cathedral (S. Maria
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
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
479. Plan of Florence Cathedral
480. Nave and choir, Florence
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
From Wikipedia, the free
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
483. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
484. Ca' d'Oro, Venice. 1422-c.