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The shutters of the Duomo's organs and pictorial art in the Cathedral

The masterpieces of Meda, Figino, and Procaccini

1B.Ante Organo
27 February Feb 2019 1016 27 February 2019

Upon entering the Duomo and looking towards the Main Altar, one cannot help but be impressed by the grandeur of its majestic organs' shutters: an arrangement of figures and colours that weave together with the magnificence of the Cathedral and with the sunlight as it filters in through the stained glass windows.

The pictorial decorations of the shutters on each side of the two 16th century organs, made up of 16 large tapestries featuring images from the Old and New Testaments, were begun by the Veneranda Fabbrica in 1556. The greatest artists of the time were considered for this project, including Aurelio Luini and Francesco Terzi.

The job of decorating the northern organ (the one on the left) was finally assigned to Milanese painter and architect Giuseppe Meda who, in 1565 and following the orders of Archbishop Carlo Borromeo, future saint, undertook to paint the Nativity, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, the transport of the Holy Cross, and David playing the harp. The project was extremely challenging and was finally completed in 1581.

Meanwhile, the painting of the southern organ (the one on the right) was assigned to Milanese artist Ambrogio Figino, who, between 1590 and 1595, painted the Crossing of the Red Sea on the closed shutters and the Nativity and the Ascension of Jesus on those to be opened. Unfortunately, two of the compositions by Figino, the Ascension and the left portion of the Crossing of the Red Sea, were lost during WWII when the laboratory where they had been transferred was bombed.

For the southern organ, on the side near the sacristy, Camillo Procaccini was commissioned as well and painted the two shutters depicting the Triumph of David and those on the reverse side of the Resurrection and the Transfiguration. Between 1600 and 1602, Procaccini completed the project by painting the side of the northern organ facing the sacristy with several images indicated by Archbishop Federico Borromeo: the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Wrath of Saul placated by David with the sound of the harp.

A testament to the great artistic production of which the Duomo was a central figure during the Borromeo era, in particular under the leadership of Saint Charles, the organs' shutters are a valuable symbol of the Cathedral's pictorial art, the less representative of the figurative art to be certain, but nevertheless an important element in the Monument's infinite beauty.