Saturday, January 27, 2024

More Liturgical Treasures from Milan Cathedral

At the end of last month, we published some photos by Nicola de’ Grandi of an ivory diptych and a cover for a Gospel book, both preserved in the cathedral museum of Milan. Here are several more of items of liturgical interest from the museum: two more ivory diptychs, some very nice chalices and processional crosses, and a miter painstakingly decorated with hummingbird feathers. (Unfortunately, for several of these items, there is less information available than one would want.)

A pax brede donated by Pope Pius IV (1559-64), a member of the Milanese cadet branch of the Medici family, to his nephew St Charles Borromeo, whom he appointed the see of Milan in 1560; St Charles then donated it to the cathedral. The Cross is surmounted with thirteen set diamonds, and the scene of the Deposition from the Cross is figured in gold beneath it. In the lunette above, a group of angels, and the stem of the Medici.

The Ambrosian Church still to this day uses this form of cylindrical monstrance, which was very common in the late Middle Ages. The lower part, in the form of a tree-trunk, was made in the late 15th century, and is decorated with pearls and green enamel formed to look like leaves; it seems to have originally been a decorative cup created for a secular context, and later donated to the cathedral and reworked, with the upper section added in the 16th century. Two angels are delicately cut into the rock-crystal.

This object is known as “the chalice of the liberal arts”, since the seven liberal arts and the original Four Doctors of the Latin Church are depicted on the ivory cup, which was made in the 14th century. The piece to which the ivory is attached is contemporary, but the base was made about 50 years earlier. This was almost certainly not used as a chalice for the consecration of the Precious Blood, but as a kind of pyx.
This carved ivory bucket for holy water, or “situla”, was commissioned by another archbishop of Milan, Gotofredo (974-80), for the blessing of the Emperor Otto II (967-983), which was supposed to take place in the Basilica of Saint Ambrose. It was probably never used, since the archbishop died before the emperor’s arrival in Milan. An inscription on the upper edge reads “A gift of Gotofredo to thee, holy prophet Ambrose, a vessel to sprinkle blessed water on Caesar when he shall come.” The relief images along the outside are separated from each other by columns supporting arches. The silver handle is made in the form of two winged monsters with reptilian tails and front paws, large, open eyes and feline ears, who hold a small human head in their jaws.

Miter decorated with hummingbird feathers, ca. 1525-75.
A ivory diptych of Byzantine origin: on the left side, the Crucifixion, the women at the empty tomb, and two of the Lord’s appearances after the Resurrection: on the right, the Annunciation and Visitation, the Birth of Christ, His Baptism, and His Presentation.

Another with episodes of the Passion and Resurrection: on the left, the washing of the Disciples’ feet, Christ before Pilate, Peter and Judas, and the guards at the tomb: on the right, the angel with the women at the empty tomb, Christ meets the women, Christ appears to the Apostles, and the Noli me tangere.

This cross of gilded copper on wood was commissioned by an archbishop of Milan named Ariberto, who served from 1018 until his death in 1045; he is shown in the lower section with a square halo over his head, indicating that he was still alive when the cross was made, and offering a church to Christ.

Processional cross.

It was the commons custom (not just at Milan) for each group of the clergy (the members of a specific chapter or canonical church, of a monastery or religious house) to have a processional carried in front of their group. This cross was made for that purpose for the cathedral chapter in the 16th century, as is known as the Cross of St Charles.

Another pax brede, Milanese, last quarter of the 16th century.
A chalice made in Trapani in southern Italy in the late 16th century, decorated with coral, donated by a member of the noble family of the Airoldi in 1683.

This chalice made at the beginning of the 17th century is known as the chalice of Pius VI, since it was used by him at the very last Mass he celebrated (in Siena) before being deported to France.

A chalice of the mid-16th century, which belonged to St Charles.
Another of the mid-17th century.
Ambrosian monstrance, early 16th century.
Candlestick in rock crystal, made in the late 16th or early 17th century.
Silver candlesticks of the early 17th century.

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