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Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano; Milanese: Domm de Milan) is the cathedral church of Milan in Lombardy, northern Italy. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, currently Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi.

History

Milan's layout, with streets either radiating from the Duomo or circling it, reveals that the Duomo occupies 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 rebuilt as the Duomo.

The beginning

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 which had been suppressed by 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 1500-1510, under Lodovico Sforza, the octagonal cupola was completed, and decorated in the interior with four series of fifteen 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.

Carlo Borromeo

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 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 Pellegrino 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 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 choirstalls 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).

17th century

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. It was designed by Francesco Croce and sports at the top a famous polychrome statue of the Madonna, 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.

Completion

On May 20, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte, about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered the façade to be finished. 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, Francesco Soave, 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.

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 facade is under renovation as of 2007; canvas-covered scaffolding obscures most of the facade.

Architecture and art

The cathedral of Milano is often described as one of the greatest churches in the world. The ground plan is of a nave with 5 aisles, crossed by a transept and then followed by choir and apsis. 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 that 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, sitting upon delicate flying buttresses.

The cathedral's five wide naves, divided by forty 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.

Main monuments and sights

The interior of the cathedral includes a huge quantity of monuments and artworks. These include:

  • The Archbishop Alberto da Intimiano's sarcophagus, which is overlooked by a Crucifix in copper laminae (a replica).
  • The sarcophagi of the archbishops Ottone Visconti and Giovanni Visconti, created by a Campionese master in the 14th century.
  • The sarcophagus of Marco Carelli, who donated 35,000 ducati to accelerate the construction of the cathedral.
  • The three magnificent altars by Pellegrino Pellegrini, which include the notable Federico Zuccari's Visit of St. Peter to St. Agatha jailed.
  • In the right transept, the monument to Gian Giacomo Medici di Marignano, called "Medeghino", by Leone Leoni, and the adjacent Renaissance marble altar, decorated with gilt bronze statues.
  • In front of the former mausoleum is the most renowned work of art of the cathedral, the St. Bartholomew statue by Marco D'Agrate.
  • The presbytery is a late Renaissance masterpiece composing a choir, a Temple by Pellegrini, two pulpits with giant telamones covered in copper and bronze, and two large organs. Around the choir the two sacristies' portals, some frescoes and a fifteenth-century statue of Martin V by Jacopino da Tradate) can be seen.
  • The transepts house the Trivulzio Candelabrum, which is in two pieces. The base (attributed to Nicolas of Verdun, 12th century), characterized by a fantastic ensemble of vines, vegetables and imaginary animals; and the stem, of the mid-16th century.
  • In the left aisle, the Arcimboldi monument by Alessi and Romanesque figures depicting the Apostles in red marble and the neo-Classic baptistry by Pellegrini.
  • A small red light bulb in the dome above the apse marks the spot where one of the nails from the Crucifixion of Christ has been placed.
  • In November-December, in the days surrounding the birthdate of the San Carlo Borromeo, a series of large canvases, the Quadroni are exhibited along the nave.

The Duomo in literature

The American writer and journalist Mark Twain visited Milan in the summer of 1867. He dedicated chapter 18 of Innocents Abroad to the Milan Cathedral, including many physical and historical details, and a now uncommon visit to the roof. He describes the Duomo as follows:
What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems ...a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!... The central one of its five great doors is bordered with a bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which have been so ingeniously carved out of the marble that they seem like living creatures-- and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex, that one might study it a week without exhausting its interest...everywhere that a niche or a perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base, there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself...Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. ... (Up on) the roof...springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance...We could see, now, that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street... They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter's at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.

The Duomo in popular culture

The 1934 song "O mia bela Madonina" by Giovanni d'Anzi about the golden Madonna statue on the spire can be considered today an unofficial "city anthem" of Milan.

Luchino Visconti's 1960 film Rocco e i suoi fratelli, set in Milan, has a scene where the Duomo rooftop serves as a backdrop.

Mainly Milanese dialect speaking people, due to the centuries needed to complete the Duomo, use the "Fabbrica del Duomo" ("Fabrica del Dom" in the dialect) as an adjective (sometimes in a humoristic way sometimes not) to describe an extremely long, too complex task, maybe even impossible to complete.

The Italian phrase "mangiare a ufo", stemming from the milanese phrase "mangià a uf" meaning "being paid for a job not done", comes from the fact that the goods used to build the Duomo wore the inscription "A.U.F.", shorthand for Latin "Ad Usum Fabricae" (to be used for the construction).

See also

References

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