Orvieto's Cathedral

Founded in 1290 and probably designed by Arnolfo Di Cambio, it is one of the most famous monuments of the Romanesque-Gothic Europe, offering a comprehensive overview of Italian art. Both outside and inside this church, you can track interventions and works by Lorenzo Maitani, Andrea Pisano, Luca Signorelli, Beato Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

The construction of the church was begun in 1290 by Pope Nicholas IV, to give place to the worthy corporal of the miracle of Bolsena. Designed in the Romanesque style by an unknown artist (possibly by Arnolfo di Cambio), in principle, the direction of the work was entrusted to between Bevignate from Perugia, who was succeeded soon, before the end of the century, John Uguccione, who introduced the first Gothic. The early fourteenth-century Sienese sculptor and architect Lorenzo Maitani assumed the role of master builder work. He extended in the Gothic apse and transept and determined, despite not finishing it, the appearance of the facade that we see today. On the death of Maitani, which occurred in 1330, the work was far from completed. The role of the master builder was hired by various architects and sculptors who succeeded over the years, often for short periods. In 1350-1356, it was built the Chapel of the Corporal. In 1408-1444, it was built the Chapel of San Brizio, frescoed but only later (1447-1504). Even the work of the facade lasted over the years until it was completed only in the second half of 1500 from Scalza, who built three of four spires of the facade.

The facade

Begun in the late thirteenth century worked on it over 20 artists over the centuries and was completed only at the end of the sixteenth century, with the construction of the spiers of side by Scalza. Nevertheless, the facade of the cathedral of Orvieto looks harmonious and balanced, uniform in style, especially regarding the respect of the project and the original Gothic style. Four buttresses beam, each ending with a spire, divide the façade into three sectors. The vertical lines are well balanced by the horizontal lines of the base, which limits the frame pads and the loggia with trefoil arches. The three triangles of the gables are repeated by three triangles of the cusps, all six reasons to delimit the double square frame that encloses the rose window. The splays of the portals, the bas-reliefs at their sides, the loggia, the rose window, small temples, statues, beams of the pillars, and finally the spiers create relief motifs that contrast well with the flat surface and glittering mosaics. Overall, the facade is harmonious, balanced and with a compositional unity.

The LOWER Zone

The facade was begun simultaneously with the body of the building, from the late thirteenth century. The first architect-sculptor who worked on is unknown, but it probably was not Lorenzo Maitani, who took over as foreperson only to the early 1300s and worked there until his death in 1330. These inserted Gothic elements, all decorated in relief the lower part of the facade, the project changed from mono cuspidate to tri cuspidate and gave the facade the appearance we see today, almost respected by many master builders who succeeded him in years. The bas-reliefs that decorate the four pillars of the lower part of the facade is one of the best examples of Gothic sculpture in Italy, if not Europe. They describe the destiny of man, from the Creation to the Last Judgement. On the four pylons have, from left and right:

- Stories of the Old Testament, with special reference to Genesis

- Stories of the Old Testament, with special reference to Messianic Events

- New Testament Stories

Judgement The first and the last of the bas-reliefs (external ones) were made just by Lorenzo Maitani, who replaced foreign workers unidentified probably had worked previously to internal reliefs. On the death of Maitaini (1330), work on the facade went through the intervention of many artists that followed, each for a short time, to the position of foreperson and whose individual contributions are difficult to trace. These still worked mainly to the parts between the top border around the bas-reliefs and the arched loggia trefoil. These include Nino Pisano (1347-1348) and Andrea Pisano (1349).

The area above

The magnificent rose window is the work of Andrea di Cione, known as Orcagna (1354-1380), who also designed the two side cusps that are at the same height. The mosaics in the segments of the rosette are by Piero di Puccio (1388), although much restored, and depict four Doctors of the Church: St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Jerome and St. Ambrose. The 12 kiosks along the side of the rose window (six on each side) are to Petruchio Benedict from Orvieto (1372-1388), while the corresponding statues placed inside them and representing 12 prophets are various artists the late fourteenth and fifteenth century. After the realization of the rose window and its accessories, the work underwent then a long break until another Sienese artist, Antonio Federighi, did not realize the 12 newsstands above the canopy (1451-1456). While respecting the setting of origin of the facade, the Federighi did not hesitate to enter Renaissance elements in his works, such as the arches of the newsstands. Later there were placed inside them the  12 apostles statue, the work of various artists sixteenth. The top of the 12 kiosks of Federighi was made by Michele Sanmicheli. These built the central cusp and two spiers on the sides of the same cusp (from 1513). However, the work did not end even with the intervention of San Micheli, having these left unfinished his work and not having worked at all to the two remaining spiers side. The central spire was completed by an unidentified artist (1532). Instead, it was Antonio da Sangallo the Younger to complete the spire Right (1547), while Scalza ended the Left (1569) and scored the other two sides (1571-1591), not renouncing enter the loggias of Mannerist style. At the end of the sixteenth century, the façade was finally over. Starting from 1795 underwent major restoration due to damage caused by lightning strikes, interventions that continued into the next century.


The mosaics on the façade, made by various authors mainly in the fourteenth century (since 1321), but also in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, were in the following centuries heavily restored and rebuilt, losing the forms and original style. The only survivor is the mosaic with the Nativity of Mary, since 1891 in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In the gables above the portals we are, from left to right:

- The Baptism of Christ

- The Assumption of Mary in glory

- The Nativity of Mary

In the segments on either side of the gables we are, from left:

- The Annunciation

- The Apostles in ecstasy for the assumption of the Virgin Mary

- Joachim and Anna

Finally, in the cusps at the top we see:

- The Marriage of the Virgin

- The Coronation of the Virgin

- The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

The segments of the rosette show 4 prophets.

The bronze statues

The four statues on the cornice of the pillars flanking the portals are by Lorenzo Maitani and his son Vitale (1325-1330). They depict the symbols of the four evangelists, and more specifically, from left to right, the angel (St Matthew), the Lion (San Marco), Aquila (St. John) and the Bull (St. Luke). The complex of the bezel of the central portal, depicting two angels bronze opening the curtains to show the marble statue of the Virgin and Child, are also of the same artists and the same period. These were relocated on the spot after a long restoration and did not appear in many of the pictures of the Dome. The Agnus of which stands on top of the central gable is instead of Matthew of Ugolino da Bologna (1352). The central portal, framed as the two side by a deep conch, is lined with bronze plates of modern sculptor Emilio Greek, telling works of mercy (1965 to 1970).


The interior dates back to the thirteenth and fourteenth century and is a basilica. The body consists of three longitudinal aisles wide and bright, covered by a ceiling with wooden trusses. Ten big and tall pillars circular or octagonal (five on each side) and round arches divided the space into six bays. Overall the longitudinal body is harmonious and can see from every point all the parties, including the ceiling of the aisles. The transect consists of only three spans covered by cross vaults and is not projecting: that is, its ends are at the level of the side walls of the longitudinal body. From both, left and right ends are opened, respectively, the major shrines of San Brizio and the Corporal. The plant is completed by a presbytery to plant nearly square, beyond the central span of the transept. The walls of the nave and its pillars are characterized by alternating bands of basalt and travertine matrix Siena, repeating the decoration outer side. The outer walls of the side aisles were left empty in origin, then covered with frescoes, finally painted in the nineteenth century with the current white and green striped dark depicting motifs of the nave. Even the side chapels open over the outer walls of the nave date from the same period, as well as the beamed ceiling that covers all three of the three aisles and replacing trusses pIù¹ oldest dating back to the first period of construction of the church. The only ancient glass window is the apse, made by Giovanni di Bonino in 1328-1334 while the longitudinal body are modern neo-Gothic (1886-1891); the latter are veiled, in the lower part, with blades of alabaster.

The Chapel of San Brizio

On the right transept opens one of the Milestones of Italian Renaissance painting, the Chapel of San Brizio, dedicated to the patron saint bishop of Orvieto, San Brizio precisely. The chapel, also known under the name of New Chapel to distinguish it from the old Chapel of the Corporal, was built in the years 1408-1444 and painted in the years 1447-1504. The paintings began in 1447 by Fra Angelico with the help of Benozzo Gozzoli, which was responsible for the decoration of two of the eight sails of the two vaults, depicting Christ Judge between angels and The Choir of Prophets. The two artists soon interrupted the work, completed only in the years 1499- 1504 by Luca Signorelli. These painted the six sails remained empty with the Choir of the Apostles, The Symbols of the Passion and the Announcement of Judgment between angels, The Choir of the Doctors of the Church, The Choir of Martyrs, The Choir of the Virgin and The Choir of the Patriarchs. He also painted the grandiose apocalyptic scenes dedicated to the coming of the Antichrist, the end of the world, the resurrection of the flesh and the Last Judgment. The plinth of the walls contains a complex iconography, always Signorelli, dedicated to the great poets of antiquity (which is added Dante): each of them is dedicated a portrait, surrounded by round which reproduce in monochrome episodes from his work. In a purse Signorelli depicted a Lamentation that, according to the tradition handed down by Vasari, celerebbe in the face of Christ, a portrait of the son of Master of Cortona died a few years before the plague. At the center of the chapel, in a baroque altar by Bernardino Cametti 1715, is the famous Madonna di San Brizio, from which the entire chapel was named. According to legend, the painting was left by the bishop saint (San Brizio in fact) to the citizens of Orvieto he evangelized. The painting is a mediocre work of an anonymous master of late thirteenth century which was inspired by the teachings of Cimabue and has still remaking fourteenth century, such as the child's face.

The Chapel of the Corporal

On the left transept opens instead the Chapel of the Corporal, built between 1350 and 1356 to conserve the precious relic so the whole Orvieto Cathedral was born, flax or bloodied body used in the miraculous Mass at Bolsena (1263) and of macchiatosi blood bursting from the Host at Mass by the Bohemian priest Peter of Prague. The body is now preserved in a shrine built in 1358-1363 by Nicola da Siena and probably also by Orcagna. The chapel was frescoed in the years 1357-1364 by Ugolino di Prete Ilario and other employees who still are thought to have played a secondary role as Ugolino is the only one who signed the cycle. Consistent to the destination of the Chapel, the iconography of the cycle covers not only the episodes of the Mass of Bolsena, but in general the mystery of transubstantiation. In fact, over the miracle of Bolsena, they depict several other prodigies - mostly it's episodes by examples developed with didactic purpose - that would show the real presence of the body of Christ in the consecrated Host.

Complete the decoration of scenes from the Passion of Christ and, in particular, the depiction of the Last Supper, in fact, the institution of the Eucharist. However, the real jewel of the chapel is the most precious Reliquary of the Corporal, a masterpiece of the Gothic art Italian and European, made between 1337 and 1338 by the goldsmith Ugolino Vieri from Siena. The shrine, built before the chapel and of the tabernacle that currently includes the corporal, was also designed to collect the same Corporal. Here he remained there from 1338, the year of its completion, up to 1363, when it was transferred to the tent that gathers today. The reliquary reproduces the form of the tripartite facade of the cathedral with select scenes from the life of Christ and the miracle of Bolsena made of silver, gold and translucent enamel. In the same Chapel of the Corporal, it is also housed the Madonna of the Recommended (or Mercy) made by Lippo Memmi of Siena around 1320. Remarkable is the fresco depicting two angels holding the coat of arms of the Opera del Duomo and the baptismal font surmounted by a statue of St. John the Baptist.

The presbytery

The same Ugolino di Prete Ilario worked on the frescoes of the Chapel of the Corporal. And since 1370, the main chapel of the church (or presbytery). Frescos are showing Stories from the Life of the Virgin, where the entire cathedral is dedicated. It is one of the largest surviving cycles fourteenth in Italy and is a few years following that of the Chapel of the Corporal. The frescoes of the Annunciation and the Visitation of Mary are retouched in the late fifteenth century by Antonio del Massaro, called the Pasture. In the chapel, there is a large four-light window characterized by a remarkable stained glass, by Giovanni di Bonino (1328 to 1334). In pandant with the fresco decoration is the window dedicated to the Stories of Mary and Christ. The wooden crucifix that is placed in the center of the chapel behind the altar is the work of Lorenzo Maitani while the wooden choir is the work of various artists wood marquetry led by Giovanni Ammannati (since 1329).



Orvieto Piazza del Duomo
Biglietto d'ingresso: Duomo e Cappella di S. Brizio € 4,00;
Biglietto unico (Duomo, Tesoro della Cattedrale, Cappella di S. Brizio, Palazzi Papali, Chiesa S. Agostino) € 5,00;
Museo Modo (Palazzi Papali, Chiesa S. Agostino) € 4,00


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