Il Duomo di Milano

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Il Duomo di Milano

Milan
Italy

Il Duomo di Milano is the cathedral of Milan in Lombardy, Italy. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, currently His Eminence Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi. The cathedral is famous throughout the world for its significance in the promulgation of the Christian faith, for its role in the establishment of Catholic traditions of worship, its outstanding musical heritage and the splendour of its Gothic architecture.

Built from the late 14th to the early 16th century, the Duomo di Milano is one of the world's largest churches, being second in size within Italy only to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, and being the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world, after the Cathedral of Seville in Spain. The interior height of its central nave is surpassed only by the remaining choir of Beauvais Cathedral in France.

The roof is open to tourists (for a fee), which allows many a close-up view of some really spectacular sculpture that would otherwise be unappreciated.

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 roofline dissolves into openwork pinnacles that are punctuated by a grove of spires. 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.

The plan of Milan, with streets either radiating from the Duomo or circling it, reveals the Duomo occupies the most center 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 fire damaged both buildings in 1075, they were rebuilt as the Duomo.

In 1386 the 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'Agrate's St. Bartholomew and the famous Trivulzio candelabrum (12th century) were added.

The famous "Madunina" atop the main spire of the cathedral, it is the most venerated figure of Milan's people.
The Napoleonic facade with its striking white marble revetment.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 Sforza and his wife Bianca, Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Lodovico, 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, as it necessitated a revision of the Fabbrica's statutes, as Pellegrino was not a lay brother of the duomo. 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. 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 for the main altar by Francesco Brambilla, a work completed in 1614.

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. It was designed by Francesco Croce and sports at the top a famous polychrome statue of the Madonna, that befits the very original stature of the cathedral.

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 2006; canvas-covered scaffolding obscures most of the facade.

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