Celebrating the 500thanniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death offers Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo an opportunity to tell the city and the world about such an important and fascinating episode in its history. Indeed, the late 15thcentury was both a critical and highly dynamic moment for the institution that, since 1387, had been attending to the construction of a new Cathedral for the city of Milan: the construction site was seeking a solution for the challenge of designing the dome and the lantern, and the Music Chapel established by Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo in 1402, experienced a moment of great artistic splendour.
Maestro of the Cappella del Duomo from 1484 until his death in 1522, Franchino Gaffurio was renowned for his compositions and also for redefining the training pathway of the pueri cantores. He authored important works of theoretical speculation.
Of this remarkable protagonist of the Milanese cultural scene in the late 1400s, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo has treasured, for centuries, the four large music manuscripts called Libroni, in which Gaffurio collected with editorial expertise a rich anthology of works composed by him and others of the same period or before him.
The unitary nature of the large manuscripts, always considered one of the Archive’s most precious treasures, dramatically suffered the effects of the fatal fire of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo’s pavilion at the International Exposition of 1906. The fourth book was almost entirely lost, and only a few burnt fragments have survived.
The first of Gaffurio’s Libroni is perhaps the most famous as it is one of the three which survived and that opens with a very significant illumination for Veneranda Fabbrica, precisely the institution’s emblem, the Blessed Virgin Mary covering the Cathedral’s façade with her cloak. At the time, the Duomo was still portrayed with the architecture of Santa Maria Maggiore, the basilica which existed before the Duomo.
In the 1950s, Librone 1, like the other large music manuscripts and many of the hundreds of books preserved at the Archive, was subjected to extensive and, according to current day opinion, questionable restoration of the bindings. The original colourful cover pages were replaced by covers that were all similar and decorated with metal studs, which wrought considerable damage to the large books in the course of time. The weight of the new bindings combined with scarce and fine cotton tape caused several issues very soon.
Initial signs of degradation were noticed a few decades after that intervention: loosened stacks of pages, small tears in some cases, and even a dramatic situation.
The ongoing study on Gaffurio’s manuscripts, whose early results were published in the book Codici per cantare: I Libroni del Duomo nella Milano sforzesca, edited by Daniele V. Filippi and Agnese Pavanello (ed. Libreria Musicale Italiana), brought these precious witnesses of Milanese Renaissance music back into the limelight. Moreover, as part of its extensive activity focused on constantly enhancing the value of its cultural heritage, Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo carried out an important restoration. They started with Librone I with the intention of restoring it to its primary calling of being sung at the Duomo.
The restoration process, entrusted to the laboratory Volumina, concerned various aspects: from cleaning the pages to removing the reinforcing inserts placed by the previous restoration and replacing them with more appropriate materials and, finally, reconstructing the binding with the original criteria to allow the manuscript to be placed once again on a lectern for the notes entered therein by FranchinoGaffurio to resound under the vaults of the Duomo, as of old.
All this will take place with an exceptional concert of the “Month of Music” at the Duomo on 29 October at 8.00 pm preceded by a meeting – preview at 6.30 pm at the Weekday Chapel, where some images of the restoration will be projected, carrying us back to the atmosphere of the Duomo experienced by Leonardo da Vinci. Gaffurio’sLibrone will thus return after five centuries to the Duomo with the singers of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis who will perform, amidst the majestic aisles of the Cathedral, the same notes and melodies that Leonardo da Vinci listened to when he partnered leading architects of the time in designing the dome and the lantern during his Milanese period.
This and other links between Gaffurio’s music and Leonardo’s genius will, finally, lead to the Librone being displayed, from late November, at the exhibition “The Duomo in Leonardo’s time”scheduled to be held at the Grande Museo del Duomo.