Lux Fuit

The stained-glass window art of Milan Cathedral

Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

View of the choir exterior from the southern sideVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Light as an expression of the divine

The stained-glass window art of Milan Cathedral reflects the complex construction events with which the cathedral worksite has been involved. The first evidence of it dates back to 1403, when a decision was taken to provide the cathedral with storied windows, which were of great importance within Gothic architecture, and fulfilled a very important didactic and spiritual function. The language of sacred architecture finds a unique form of expression in stained-glass windows.

Stained-glass window of the Apocalypse (1416-1482; 1834-1838) by Stefano da Pandino, Maffiolo da Cremona, Franceschino Zavattari, Giovanni Recalcado, Cristoforo de’ Mottis, Michelino da Besozzo (?), Niccolò da Varallo, Stefano da Marliano, Battista da Legnano, Stefano Bergognone dal Furno, Giorgio d’Anversa, Giovanni Battista BertiniVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The term storied refers to the structure of the stained-glass window, consisting of numerous sections called panels, arranged so as to illustrate biblical and Gospel stories and the lives of the Saints in successive episodes.

In this way, even those who were unable to read could gain access to knowledge of sacred events. For this reason, the stained-glass windows are referred to as Biblia Pauperum: the Bible of the Poor.

Visitation (1419/1420) by Giovanni Recalcati su Cartone di Maestro LombardoVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The cathedral's glassmaking worksite was very active right from the start. Some evidence of the 15th-century stained-glass windows remains, repositioned in recent times mainly within the windows of the side naves.

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

Stories from the New Testament (last quarter of the 15th century-first half of the 16th century) by Niccolò da Varallo, Antonio da Pandino, Cristoforo De Mottis, Agostino De Mottis, Vincenzo Foppa, Pietro da VelateVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The construction of a stained-glass window involved a laborious technique. First, a sketch was created of the composition, and reproduced as an actual-size cartoon. The sketch and the cartoon were normally produced by an artist.

The Penitent Thief (1540/1559) by Corrado de MochisVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The master glassmaker would then cut the colored pieces of glass, following the design on the cartoon created by the artist.

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

He then proceeded to paint facial features, folds in clothing, and architectural details directly onto the glass with grisaille—a mixture consisting of metal oxides, glass powder, and water-based binder.

Saint John the Evangelist receives orders to write the text of the Apocalypse (1481/1482) by Cristoforo de MottisVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Silver stain was also applied, required for defining haloes, decorations, and clothing, and for creating all shades ranging from pale yellow to gold, to orange.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria scourged (1974) by Corrado de MochisVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The presence of foreign master glassmakers during the 16th century is attested to, who left sublime testimonies to their art. Corrado de Mochis from Cologne, Biagio, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

The Life of Saint Joseph (1576/1657) by Valerio Profondavalle (1533 - c. 1600), Giovanni Battista Lampugnani (XVII secolo)Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

Valerio Perfundavalle

Detail from the counter-façade of the DuomoVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

In the 19th century, the cathedral's glazed art underwent a general reinterpretation: the involvement of the Bertini family came about as a result of the renovation of most of the oldest panels.

Mary's Assumption to Heaven (1854) by Giovanni Battista BertiniVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The technique of enameling was introduced into the cathedral proper during this phase, by the Bertini workshop.

The Blessed Cardinals Ferrari and Schuster (1988) by Giovanni HajnalVeneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano

The last stained-glass window to be created within the cathedral is a 1988 work by Giovanni Hajnal and it is dedicated to Cardinals Schuster and Ferrari.

Read more on Milan Cathedral Remixed.

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