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Milan: a cathedral

23 Apr

After lunch, we just had a look at the entrance of the Royal Palace where usually several exhibitions are held, and we were astounded by the crowd lined up to get a ticket………no way we were able to visit the Klimt exhibition as we planned and get our train in time! A Plan B was needed. No problem, just in front of the Royal Palace, there’s the Duomo, Milan Cathedral, just coming out of a deep cleaning of its external marbles….(sorry some of the inside pics are a little too dark)

Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent), the Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the Italian state territory. 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. The old baptistery (Battistero Paleocristiano, constructed in 335) still can be visited under the Milan Cathedral, it is one of the oldest Christian buildings in Europe. When a fire damaged the cathedral and basilica in 1075, they were later rebuilt as the Duomo. In 1386, Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo began construction of the cathedral. Start of the 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. Orsenigo initially planned to build the cathedral from brick in Lombard Gothic style.

Visconti had ambitions to follow the newest trends in European architecture. In 1389, a French chief engineer, Nicolas de Bonaventure, was appointed, adding to the church its Rayonnant Gothic, a French style not typical for Italy. He decided that the brick structure should be panelled with marble. Galeazzo gave the Fabbrica del Duomo exclusive use of the marble from the Candoglia quarry and exempted it from taxes. 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, for lack of Dor Falah 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 in1507-1510. 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’ Agrate’s St. Bartholomew and the famous Trivulzio candelabrum (12th century) were added. After the accession of 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 façade 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. 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).

At the beginning of the 17th century Federico Borromeo had the foundations of the new façade laid by Francesco Maria Richini and Fabio Mangone. Work continued until 1638 with the construction of five portals and two middle windows. In 1649, however, the new chief architect Carlo Buzzi introduced a striking revolution: the façade was to revert to original Gothic style, including the already finished details within big Gothic pilasters and two giant belfries. Other designs were provided by, among others, Filippo Juvarra (1733) and Luigi Vanvitelli (1745), but all remained unapplied. In 1682 the façade of Santa Maria Maggiore was demolished and the cathedral’s roof covering completed. In 1762 one of the main features of the cathedral, the Madonnina’s spire, was erected at the dizzying height of 108.5 m. The spire was designed by Carlo Pellicani and sports at the top a famous polychrome Madonnina statue, designed by Giuseppe Perego that befits the original stature of the cathedral.Given Milan’s notoriously damp and foggy climate, the Milanese consider it a fair-weather day when the Madonnina is visible from a distance, as it is so often covered by mist. On May 20, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte, about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered the façade to be finished by Carlo Pellicani. In his enthusiasm, he assured that all expenses would fall to the French treasurer, who would reimburse the Fabbrica for the real estate it had to sell. Even though this reimbursement was never paid, it still meant that finally, within only seven years, the Cathedral had its façade completed. The new architect, Carlo Pellicani Junior, largely followed Buzzi’s project, adding some neo-Gothic details to the upper windows. As a form of thanksgiving, a statue of Napoleon was placed at the top of one of the spires. Napoleon was crowned King of Italy at the Duomo.

In the following years, most of the missing arches and spires were constructed. The statues on the southern wall were also finished, while in 1829-1858, new stained glass windows replaced the old ones, though with less aesthetically significant results. The last details of the cathedral were finished only in the 20th century: the last gate was inaugurated on January 6, 1965. This date is considered the very end of a process which had proceeded for generations, although even now, some uncarved blocks remain to be completed as statues. The Duomo’s main façade went under renovation from 2003 to early 2009: as of February 2009, it has been completely uncovered, showing again the colours of the Candoglia marble. In November 2012 officials announced a campaign to raise funds for the cathedral’s preservation by asking patrons to adopt the building’s gargoyles. The effects of pollution on the 14th-century building entail regular maintenance, and recent austerity cuts to Italy’s culture budget has left less money for upkeep of cultural institutions, including the cathedral. To help make up funds, Duomo management launched a campaign offering its 135 gargoyles up for “adoption.” Donors who contribute €100,000 (about $135,220US) or more will have their name engraved under one of the grotesque figures perched on the cathedral’s rooftop. The figures serve as drainage pipes.

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2 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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2 responses to “Milan: a cathedral

  1. Dee

    April 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I’m speechless except to say “wow!” Beautiful beyond words.

     

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