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Perfection lies in the details

The Archive reveals the story of the Duomo’s statues

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14 June Jun 2019 1648 14 June 2019

As with many religious buildings, at the Duomo too art is a teaching medium to communicate the messages contained in the sacred texts to the faithful, and the decorative sculptures, comprising 3,400 statues and more than 700 figures, inserted in the marble high reliefs, are no exception.

The statues at the Duomo have been produced for centuries without interruption. Browsing through documents preserved in the Archive of Veneranda Fabbrica, one notices the underlying intention of every historical period to further enrich the Cathedral. Moreover, over the past centuries, statues have often been made to replace the ones damaged by time.

The extreme attention paid to the details of every statue is impressive, even the smallest ones or those whose position makes them scarcely visible to the faithful, as we read in documents in the Archive.

The creation of an artistic work was studied to the last detail by Veneranda Fabbrica, which provided several indications for the sculptor, who could be chosen in several ways that changed through the centuries.

For instance, between the 1800s and the 1900s either the Prefect’s Regent of Veneranda Fabbrica contacted a renowned artist, or the artist was chosen with a public competition. In both cases, the sketches of the works had to be evaluated by an artistic committee, often made up of members of the Academy of Fine Arts of Milan. This commission expressed very detailed opinions that even contested the sculptor’s artistic choices.

The document photographed contains the comments of the Artistic Committee regarding the sketches, produced in 1936, for 32 sculptures intended to decorate the capitals of some internal pillars, precisely the large weight bearing pillars. A particularly unusual comment concerns the sketch for the statue of Aurelio Bossi, portraying Cardinal Federico Borromeo; it advises the sculptor to read “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni to better define the subject and gain inspiration.

Text by Elena Milani e Claudia Pasquini from the A. Banfi Senior High School for Humanities, Vimercate, relative to the School-Work Alternation period at the Archive of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano.