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Dante and the Duomo: unexpected meetings among the Veneranda Fabbrica's documents

The financial records: the extraordinary guardians of infinite fragments of city life

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17 January Jan 2020 1820 17 January 2020

The history of the Veneranda Fabbrica dates back more than six centuries. Each day of these many years has, within it, a series of stories, preserved with extraordinary care throughout the centuries and today stored in the Archives of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo.

Testimonials of the city's participation in the construction of Milan's cathedral are infinite: monetary contributions, goods to be sold at auction, services offered. The entire city was involved, right from the very first years of construction, in a compendium of creativity, enterprise, and industriousness: the Veneranda Fabbrica orchestrated all of these initiatives, soon becoming a cultural and economic motor as well as a reference point for various municipal entities that were often at odds with civilian authority.

The financial records are the extraordinary guardians of infinite fragments of city life, embedded among the figures of lire, money, and funds entering and exiting, the minutiae of which were painstakingly recorded by the Fabbrica's officers. These fragments, pieced together like a mosaic, make it possible to imagine life in Milan at the time.

Bound in the middle of the 20th century, the registers' bindings are different from the original ones, but here too a careful reading allows us to reconstruct this distant reality.

The Liber Dati et Recepti of 1418 (AVFDMi, reg. 132) should have been, according to the notes in the incipit, a volume covered in green leather, with a fastening system comprised of a buckle and leather straps. To further strengthen it, there were also the so-called "contrafforti" [buttresses], which in codicology indicate several pieces of leather added to each extremity of the back cover. Inside are 128 pages measuring 40x29 cm that, divided by month, show income and expenses. At first the items vary quite a bit and, not far from each other, between f.5v and 6r, are recorded a gift of 125 lire by the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, and a gift of 1 lira by an anonymous donor who wished to contribute causa devotionis to the great project. Among the notes on these pages is one that is certainly original, which reads: Item quos die suprascripto recepit a civibus Mediolani qui audiunt lecturam Dantis super salla magna sita in Camposancto Fabrice, oblatos pro fatiendo fieri scalas et transversum super dicta salla.

This truly interesting attestation was discovered by Prof. Paolo Grillo during his lengthy study of the Archives and included in the volume Nascita di una cattedrale [The Birth of a Cathedral], recently published: a lectura Dantis organised in one of the spaces in the Camposanto apartment block near the apse, in which the offices and the site of the Fabbrica itself were being progressively expanded. The note says nothing else about this initiative, but just these few lines attest to the Fabbrica's creativity and its commitment to Milan's cultural landscape. Dante's great classic, the public reading of which was begun by Boccaccio in 1373, was presented before an audience in Milan as well, just meters from the Duomo, to support the activities of the Veneranda Fabbrica.