Thursday, February 15, 2024

Artistic Treasures from Milan Cathedral

For the time being, this post will be the last set of Nicola de Grandi’s photos from the cathedral museum in Milan: see the previous posts from December and January. As always we are very grateful to him for sharing them with us; this time, the focus is on artworks rather than liturgical objects.

We begin with a wooden model of the Duomo (recently restored), which was produced in four different stages, by Bernardino Zenale (1519-22), Vincenzo da Seregno (1536-48), Giuseppe Bellora (1841) e Giovanni Brambilla (1889-90). As has been the case for so many of Italy’s great churches, the cathedral of Milan took a very long time to complete, and for centuries, the church simply had no façade at all. The front of the church was not finished until the early 19th century, in a fashion quite different from what we see in the model.

A painting of the façade when it was still fairly new, made to celebrate the coronation of the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I as king of Lombardy and the Veneto in 1838.  
A tapestry of the Deposition from the Cross, made in Brussels 1505-10.
A very beautiful Flemish tapestry of the Passion of Christ, made in 1467-68, donated to the cathedral by the archbishop of Milan, Stefano Nardini, who is here depicted being presented to Christ by St Ambrose. 
A series of tapestries of episodes from the life of Moses, commissioned in 1550 by Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, a member of the ruling family of Mantua: designed by an Italian named Giovan Battista Bertani, the chief artist of the Gonzaga court, and woven by a Flemish artist named Nicholas Karcher. In 1563, they were given as a gift to the newly appointed archbishop of Milan and future Saint, Charles Borromeo, whose sister Camilla was married to a Gonzaga; St Charles in turn donated them to the cathedral.
The Crossing of the Red Sea.
Moses Receives the Tablets of the Law
The episode of the Bronze Serpent in Numbers 21.
Putti and garlands with the stem of the ruling house of Modena, the Gonzaga.
One of a series of paintings of miracles attributed to the intercession of St Charles, by Giovanni Battista Crespi, known as “il Cerano”: a shirt of St Charles is laid on the stomach of a woman whose child seemed to have died in utero, and the child is born safe and sound.
A series of five monochrome designs, also by Crespi, created to be used as models for terracotta sculptures that would have been mounted over various doors, but were never realized: the Creation of Eve.

Yael and Sisara
Judith and Holofernes
Esther and Assuerus
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Lastly, a painting of Christ among the Doctors, by the Venetian artist Jacopo Robusti (1518-94), usually known as “Tintoretto”. Originally in the collection of the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan Cesare Monti (1632-50), it remained in the archiepiscopal residence until the Second World War, when it moved for safe-keeping (and in the process, folded in four!) into the underground parts of the cathedral, and forgotten about, then rediscovered in 1954.

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