In the Cathedral of Todi, New Discoveries
Rising proudly at the end of Piazza del Popolo, the origins of Todi’s Duomo (cathedral), Santa Maria Annunziata, are uncertain.
Construction probably started at the end of the 12th-century on site of a pre-existing Roman edifice after almost total destruction by a fire in 1190 of a previous church.
The facade dates to the 13th-century but was modified various times up until the beginning of the 16th-century. The fine rose window with elegant stone tracery dates to 1515:
The side portals, too, are crowned with rosoni:
The central portal was richly sculpted in the early 16th-century by Antonio di Bencivenga da Mercatello – perhaps influenced by decoration of the facade of the cathedral of Orvieto – but only four panels (and the only ones sculpted in walnut) remain due to a lightning bolt in 1533 and additional destruction in a violent, ravaging storm in 1623.
The door is generally open and visible are the four panels of Bencivenga in the upper level, sculpted in walnut – and the carvings flanking the door are to be noted as well:
The facade was renovated in the 16th-century at will of Angelo Cesi, powerful and influential Todi bishop whose chapel, Cappella Cesi, is on the left of the presbytery inside.
The coat-of-arms of Angelo Cesi, bishop from 1566-1606, takes center stage above the door, his coat-of- arms reigning above the Cristo benedicente (Christ in blessing):
Two coats-of-arms flank the door: on the left, that of a 17th-century bishop and on the right, that of the Chapter of the Cathedral)
At the base of the steps leading up to the Duomo, the coat-of-arms of the Farnese pope, Paul III, who visited Todi in 1543. On the left, it the coat-of-arms of Gregorio XIV and a smaller one of the Cesi family below it. (Those Cesi ever-present in Todi!
The church is built on a Latin cross plan, originally with three naves – with a fourth one added at a later date.The apse had been built first and then a main transept, followed by the naves in the 13th-century.
The central nave is separated from the side aisles by two rows of finely-sculpted pilasters alternating with columns crowned with Corinthian-style capitals:
A masterpiece crowns the altar: a 13th-century crucifix of tempera on wood by the Umbrian master known as “Maestro del Crocefisso Blu,” for his penchant for the color blue.
(A crucifix of this artist once hung in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi – but now lost).
As noted art historian Adolfo Venturi maintained, the columns and pilasters of immeasurable artistic value are so finely-done that each merits a full description on its own.
St. Peter (with his iconographical symbol, the keys) and Paul (with his sword, symbol of his martyrdom) both figure on pilasters…
…as do the archangels, Michael, slaying the dragon and Gabriel, in the act of blessing:
St. John the Evangelist is depicted in the act of writing his Gospel, the eagle (his iconographical symbol) seeming to whisper in is ear. Delicate vegetative decoration flanks this image and figures on all the pilasters:
The wooden ceiling a capriata (trussed) – redone in 1958 – imitates piu o meno (more or less) the original medieval one.
The pink and white limestone from Mt. Subasio, backdropping Assisi, was used for the mid-19th-century floor
Over the door and encircling the rose window, the great fresco Giudizio Universale (Last Judgement), was painted by Ferau’ Fenzoni (“il Faenzone”) prior to 1596 as indicated by a small inscription denoting the patron of the work as well: who else but Bishop Cesi?
The artist from Faenza was clearly inspired for this work by Michelangelo’s Giudizio Universale in the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512) and many of the depictions are nearly exact replicas of the Michelangelo scenes;
Little else remains in the Duomo of the 16th-century transformation mandated by Bishop Angelo Cesi. There were at seven altars on the left side of the church but the 1958 restoration canceled them. On the right side, the right nave is flanked by a fourth one called traditionally “la Navatina” (“the little nave”).
At the head of the nave, a fine tempera-on-wood painting of Giannicola di Paola (1460-1544) depicting the Madonna and Child between Santa Caterina d’Alessandria and San Rocco is placed above the altar backdropping a 17th-century processional cross (once carried in procession on Good Friday).
Steps away is an early 16th-century baptismal font sculpted by Pietro da Lugano, backdropped by one of stained glass window depicting the Baptism of Christ:
A fragment of an early 16th-century fresco depicting the Trinity by lo Spagna, apprentice of Perugino, is one of the masterpieces of the Duomo and has miraculously survived detachment from the wall twice – once in the 19th-century and again in the 20th-century (for transfers to other locations):
As I passed the fresco to head out the door, I noted the massive bronze bell in a back corner. Drawing closer to the bell, I noted extraordinary detail all around it…….as well as on top:
I’d been in and out of the Duomo various times the past couple weeks.
Each visit unveils new discoveries.