Constructed in white travertine and black balsamic rock – for Orvieto was built on a volcanic plateau – the glorious Duomo (cathedral) dominates this Umbrian medieval hill town:
And the splendor of the Cathedral is not simply on the exterior, as you’ll realize upon entry:
Just to the left of the main altar, the Cappella del Corporale holds a venerated treasure. Just to the right of the altar, the Cappella San Brizio (Chapel of Saint Brizio) is a magnificent showcase for the splendid fresco cycle of Luca Signorelli, created by the maestro from Cortona between 1499 and 1503:
After you view the “Preaching of the Antichrist” – just to your left as you enter the chapel – look right to view Signorelli’s “Condemnation of the Damned.”
For the viewer gazing on these frescoes just after they were finished in the early 16th-century, the presentation of the dogmatic truths related to the end of the world must have been terrifying, particularly in those turbulent years rife with local conflicts.
When the faithful stepped into the Chapel to murmur a prayer, a horrible scene unfolded before them: screaming, gyrating naked men and women, tortured by gleeful devils of garish colors.
Signorelli was certainly influenced by the Cathedral facade low-relief scenes sculpted in marble in the early 14th-century on pilasters flanking the massive doors, for on the last pilaster on the right, scenes of the Last Judgement, interlinked with twisting vines, are depicted.
In this close-up, one can almost hear the screams of terror and desperation of those condemned to Hell…
Terrified, screaming faces are included by Signorelli, too, in his fresco inside the Cathedral. On the left side of his “Condemnation of the Damned,” you’ll see screaming frightened souls near the fragmented bodies of the condemned, visible through rising clouds of black smoke. Others headed to Hell tumble through the sky above.
That buxom blond appears twice more in the fresco cycle: once in the arms of the devil, Luca Signorelli himself, depicted in lurid colors, a horn sprouting from his head, an angry look on his face. In Italian, “mettere le corna” (“to put/to make the horns”) signifies the act of betraying someone you love by taking another lover. If Signorelli is cornuto (cuckolded), the woman he loves has betrayed him with another man. Which woman has cuckolded him: his wife at home in Cortona or the woman in his arms in the fresco?
…..and although we know who the Devil is, who was the woman?
Read about the Duomo‘s treasured Holy Corporal linked to a 13th-c miracle
Read about – and see! – the splendid Signorelli fresco of “The Preaching of the Antichrist”