The façade of the Cathedral in Orvieto – A picture book in stone

The work on the Cathedral began in 1290 and went on for 150 years. While this was completed in 1444 the work on the façade spanned a period of 300 years and is a blend of several styles. The façade can be well described as a wonderful picture book and set up at a time when most people could not read or write.

In the bottom panel are four large relief panels in marble. From left to right one can see the story of creation found in the book of Genesis followed by the Tree of Jesse which gives you the genealogy of Jesus. These two panels on the left are taken from the Old Testament. To the right one sees two panels from the New Testament. The one closest to the main door depicts the life of Jesus followed by the fourth panel which depicts the last judgment.

So detailed are these works that one can even see the teeth of persons depicted. In the panel of the last judgment, on the second line from the top, among ‘the blessed’ is a man carrying a set square which is how an architect was depicted. This is the Sienese sculptor and architect Lorenzo Maitani who was commissioned to work on the church and solve several issues concerning the load-bearing capabilities of the building, especially of the choir. He substantially changed the design and construction of the building, increasing the similarity of the building to Siena Cathedral. The architecture of both buildings sometimes is classified as a sub-style of Gothic architecture; Siennese Gothic style.

Above the four panels are the sculptures of the evangelist depicted in their symbolic forms; a man, a lion, an eagle and an ox. Above the marble reliefs on the right hand side, captured in mosaics, are events from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary in whose honour (the assumption) the cathedral is named. The mosaic depicts the birth of Mary and is flanked by mosaics of her parents, Joaquim and Anna. Just above this scene is the presentation of Mary in the temple. On the left hand side, to the top is the marriage between Mary and Joseph. Below this scene, on the left is the annunciation with Mary and the angel which flanks the triangle that depicts the baptism of Jesus.

Orvieto, Exterior of the Duomo: The Birth of Mary
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