June 11 - 17, 2017: Issue 316


 Mosaic at the top of the cathedral depicting The Coronation of the Virgin.


By George Repin

Professor William R Cook, an expert in cathedrals and cathedral architecture, says that the cathedral of Orvieto is regarded by many as “the prettiest Gothic cathedral in Italy”.  However its interior is “lackluster”.  The exterior is striped in white travertine and greenish-black basalt in narrow bands, somewhat similar to the cathedral in Sienna.

Side wall of the cathedral showing the striping of bands of white travertine and greenish-black basalt.

The impressive façade of the cathedral.

 The Rose Window in the façade.

Orvieto, in southwestern Umbria, is perched on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff.  It rises dramatically above almost vertical tuff cliffs which made the city almost impregnable.  It was, however, annexed by Rome in the 3rd Century BCE. With the collapse of the Roman Empire it gained new importance and the episcopal seat was moved from Bolsena. Even when a self-governing commune was established in the 10th Century a close relationship to the papacy continued. Thomas Aquinas taught in Orvieto until called to Rome in 1265.

On 15 November 1290 Pope Nicholas IV laid the cornerstone for the “Duomo” dedicating it to the Assumption of the Virgin.  The start of the construction coincided with a time when the city was at the height of its political-institutional development and splendour. Work proceeded quickly so that in ten years the workers “had built the structure up to the impost of the roof, part of the façade with its marble decoration, the sides that formed a single body with the transept - six small projecting chapels and a semicircular apse”.  A sudden interruption to the construction in the early fourteenth century, generally believed to be because of structural problems, led to Lorenzo Maitani being called to the job. A profound change in the general plans occurred as a result of a “generational crisis” and a change in taste.  By the time Maitani died in 1330 the definitive plan had been established and building continued under a succession of capomastri.  During the three centuries that it took to build the cathedral a succession of famous sculptors were invited to direct the work.

One of several mosaic panels between towers on the façade.

The façade is notable for four large panel bas relief sculptures at its base, created by a Sienese sculptor in the 13th/14th Centuries. From left to right they depict stories about Creation, Old Testament prefigurations of Christ, Episodes from the life of Jesus and the Last Judgment on the far right.  The sculptures are in high relief and the figures are exquisitely detailed and naturalistic. Bronze doors by Emilio Greco (1964-1970) are a modern addition.

Carved bas-relief panel depicting The Creation.

Carved bas-relief panel depicting Old Testament Prefiguration of the Christ.

Carved bas-relief panel depicting Episodes from the Life of Jesus.

Carved bas-relief panel depicting The Last Judgement.

There are many colourful mosaics adorning the façade – most notably one at the very top depicting The Coronation of the Virgin. Elaborate bronze sculptures representing symbols of the Evangelists are set at various positions on the façade – including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Archangel Michael and the Archangel Gabriel.

An example of the bronze sculptures on the façade – this one depicting the Lion image of St. Mark.

Several hours can usefully be spent studying features of the façade – identifying the biblical events depicted in the many mosaics, and the individual and grouped sculptures. 

Photographs by George Repin at Orvieto, Italy in 2014.

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant  Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia   Tavistock Square and the BMA  Orthodox Easter  Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images Gardens Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist  Kraków  Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge  Gingerbread Houses   Cape Sounion   Delos  Wroclaw  Colonial Williamsburg  Gruyères   Strasbourg  Coventry Cathedral  The Roman Theatre at Aspendos  Turkish Carpets 

Copyright George Repin 2017. All Rights Reserved.