Stained-glass Window V25

Story of a restoration

Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Saint John of Damascus celebrates mass. The Saint (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The origin

Offered by the Guild of Apothecaries in 1478, Milan Cathedral stained-glass window V25 was designed to be positioned over the altar of Saint Praxedes.


The emperor returns the recovered Saint to his brothers, Niccolò da Varallo, 1478/1480, From the collection of: Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano
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It was originally located in the southern transept, on the opposite side from its present position. The removal from the original location had to take place probably in the 16th century.

Saint John tells his relatives of his vocation (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The birth and first bathing of Saint John of Damascus (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The first phase of construction took place between 1479 and 1486, thanks to the work by Niccolò da Varallo, a master glassmaker active in the Cathedral's worksite.

The monk Cosmo instructs Saint John of Damascus (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

With his mastery, Nicolò da Varallo worked on the stained-glass window V25 following cartoons designed by Vincenzo Foppa, one of the greatest Lombard artists at the time.

Saint John of Damascus celebrates mass. The Saint (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

St. John of Damascus

John Damascene was a figure of the first magnitude within the history of Byzantine theology, an eminent doctor within the history of the Universal Church. He was, above all, an eyewitness to the transition from Greek and Syriac Christian culture to the culture of Islam. He died at Mar Saba on December 4, 749, the day now dedicated to his liturgical commemoration. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him a doctor of the Universal Church in 1890. He is the patron of painters, the disabled (those missing limbs), and pharmacists.

Saint John of Damascus receives the prince's son (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The scenes from the life of the Saint are taken from the Speculum Historialis  by Vincent de Beauvais. Saint John of Damascus was the patron of Apothecaries (present-day pharmacists).

Saint John of Damascus praying before the Madonna (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

An important restoration was completed in 2019, which was necessary because of the subsidence of leadwork, a risk to the preservation of stained-glass window. Therefore 30 panels were dismantled.

A selection of six panels, representative of the artistic quality achieved by Maestro da Varallo, was the subject of an exhibition in the Cathedral's retrochoir between June 27–September 1, 2019.

The birth and first bathing of Saint John of Damascus (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Birth and first bath of St. John of Damascus

The panel provides an extraordinary portrait of typically 15th-century interiors, described with great precision and realism. The restoration of the window has made evident refined narrative details, has given new brilliance to the colors and the forms are now perfectly delineated.

The mother's bed, foreshortened on the left and partially enclosed by a curtain, is worthy of note...

... as is the step with the chest of drawers in the lower part of the panel.

The first bath scene emerges on the right side of the panel, with the chimney, the visibility of which has been fully recovered.

Together with female faces depicted with great naturalism, outlined in notable volume.

The monk Cosmo instructs Saint John of Damascus (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The monk Cosmas instructs Saint John of Damascus

The second panel tells us about a subsequent phase in the life of Saint John: he is represented as a young boy, with a halo, standing before the Sicilian monk Cosmas with a book in his hand.

The restoration has removed some leadwork that was making the faces not properly visible. The sublime realism of the figures and clothing is to be noted.

The beauty of the original grisaille and the pinkish color of the cheeks of the young children are striking.

The upper part of the architecture, towards the left, was modified by the Bertini workshop in the 19th century.

Saint John of Damascus praying before the Madonna (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Saint John of Damascus in prayer before the Madonna

The young Saint, not yet a monk, is represented here on his knees in prayer in front of an apparition of the Virgin Mary with Child. The restoration, cleaning, and removal of some leadwork have restored improved visibility of the image.

The architectural perspective in the background is worthy of note, as is the beautiful face of the Saint and his red garment.

The books to the side of the prie-dieu are described with realism and precision.

Saint John of Damascus retires to the convent (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Saint John of Damascus retires to the convent

The third panel depicts the Saint when he takes the decision to move to the Mar Saba monastery, or Lavra of Saint Sabbas, a few kilometers from Bethlehem, in the desert.

Saint John of Damascus is represented in a red habit with headgear, surrounded by monastic confreres. 

The cleaning has restored full depth to the scene.

The architectural perspective in the background is worthy of note.

Saint John of Damascus dresses in monk’s attire (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Saint John of Damascus dressed in a monk's habit

In this panel, Saint John is represented kneeling, surrounded by his fellow monks, stripped of his red robes and wearing instead a monk’s habit and tonsure, the haircut which represents the renunciation of the world by the devout who have taken their vows.

The deception of the forged letter (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The deception of the forged letter

In 726 CE, the Emperor Leo III decreed iconoclasm, i.e., the destruction of sacred images. However, Saint John was a great defender of the cult of images. The emperor decided to slander him with an untrue letter to the Caliph of Damascus, who fell into the trap and punished John by cutting off his right hand. The panel depicts the moment when the slanderous letter was written.

Thanks to the restoration, the legibility of the characters of the Rev[erend]us inscription in the hand of the young boy at the scene of the deception of the false letter has been fully recovered.

The hand of Saint John of Damascus is reattached through Saint Mary's intervention (1479/1489) by Niccolò da VaralloVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Credits: Story

Progetto di restauro
Restoration project
Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Restauro / Restoration project
Laura Morandotti

Coordinamento scientifico restauro
Scientific Coordination of Restoration
Laura Paola Gnaccolini
Soprintendenza Archeologia,
Belle Arti e Paesaggio per
la città metropolitana di Milano

Gianantonio Borgonovo
Arciprete

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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