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The gate of the chapter sacristy: back to the Duomo’s origins

A marvellous piece of art dating from the end of the 14th century

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28 November Nov 2019 1047 28 November 2019

The gates of the Duomo di Milano’s sacristies were the first pieces to be sculpted within the architectural structure of the Cathedral.

Sculpted in marble and with complex and intricate designs, both were originally clad with gold plated, ultramarine, red, and brown decorations as well as gold metal and faux gem stones. It is easy to imagine the dazzling impression these made within the Duomo’s penumbra, set back slightly from the light of the large windows. To this day the gates of the sacristies, with their delicate and intricate inlay, never cease to enchant the millions of people who visit the Cathedral each year.

The gate of the chapter sacristy (on the South side), was started in 1391, and it is characteristic of Lombardian sculpture dating from the end of the 14th century. The heads of the prophets appear along the inferior lintel. Reminiscent of an old and valuable reliquary, the ogive door frame, positioned between two spires, is the work of Hans Fernach, of Campionese origin according to documentation, but who certainly trained for quite some time in the Lower Rhine region or who is a descendent of Campionese ancestors originally from there, but who long since assumed a local surname that was well-known in Cologne, since it was to this city that he was sent by the Veneranda Fabbrica in 1391 to find an expert engineer.

Resting on the sculpted cornice with the wise virgins and the fool virgins, the ogive is vertically divided in three according to scenes (from the bottom): the Lamentation, the Madonna with Child and Two Saints, and the Madonna in Glory, depicted among clergy and commoners. Along the two rounded lintels of the arch, six episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary are sculpted in strong relief (from the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents). Meanwhile, the upper crown depicts ornamental motifs typical of the Duomo’s sculpture: from the Gothic leaves (or “gattoni”) blooms the Gothic flower (or “fiocco”), which in turn supports the Christ on the Cross with Angels. A strongly nordic influence can be seen in the iconographic composition of this last piece.

An extraordinary masterpiece of faith and art, a product of the passion and ingenuity of the Cathedral’s first construction site which was a true laboratory and meeting point for workers from all across Europe.