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Italian Gothic - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )

Milan Cathedral (A.D. 1385–1485) (pp. 304 L, 501, 496, 502), erected by the first Duke of Milan, is, with the exception of Seville, the largest Mediaeval cathedral, and is somewhat German in character, as many of the fifty architects employed on it were from north of the Alps. The choir and transepts were finished about A.D. 1450, and the nave and aisles were commenced A.D. 1452. In plan (p. 501 c) it consists of a nave, 50 ft. wide between the piers, lofty double aisles and transepts terminated with a circlet of columns in the French manner, but enclosed in a German polygonal apse, while there is an absence of lateral chapels. The interior (pp. 501 D, 496 B) is vast, lofty, and imposing, with fine perspective views, rendered all the more impressive by the dimness and mystery which result from lack of light. It has huge piers, 6o ft. high, surrounded by engaged shafts and surmounted by enormous capitals, containing canopied niches with statues 20 ft. in height, from which spring the nave arches supporting the vault 145 ft. above the ground. It resembles S. Petronio, Bologna, and owing to the excessive height of the aisles there is no triforium and the clear-story is small, in striking contrast with French and English Gothic cathedrals. The exterior is a gleaming mass of white marble with lofty traceried windows, panelled buttresses, flying buttresses, and pinnacles crowned with statues (pp. 496 A, 502), all wrought into a soaring design of lace-like intricacy. The three magnificent traceried windows of the apse, 68 ft. by 28 ft., are the finest of their type in Italy (p. 502 B). The flat-pitched roofs are constructed of massive marble slabs laid on the vaulting (p. 502 C), and over the crossing is a domical vault, 215 ft. above the ground, designed by Brunelleschi (A.D. 1440), finishing in a lantern to which in A.D. 1750 an open-work spire was added, rising 350 ft. above the ground (pp. 501 A, 502 c). The later facade (p. 496 A), which has the wide-spreading gable lines of Romanesque churches, such as S. Michele, Pavia (p. 260 F), remained long unfinished, and was partly built between A.D. 1550 and A.D. 1600, but only completed by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This miracle of Italian Gothic has been apostrophised by Tennyson :

"0 Milan, 0, the chanting quires ;
The giant windows' blazon'd fires ;
The height, the space, the gloom, the glory,
A mount of marble, a hundred spires."

The Certosa, Pavia (A.D. 1396–1481) (p. 514 D, E, F), a famous Carthusian monastery, was commenced by Giovanni Galeazzo Visconti, and forms a splendid memorial of the Milan dynasties. In plan (p. 514 D) it is a Latin cross and similar to many German churches in the triapsal terminations to sanctuary and transepts, but the nave is in square, and the aisles in oblong bays, in the Italian manner. On the south are the two cloisters, richly wrought in terra-cotta. The exterior (p. 514 F) is a fascinating and perplexing compound of styles with arcading and terra-cotta ornament ; while the monumental facade and storeyed central tower were added in the Renaissance period (pp. 573, 564 A).

S. Antonio, Padua (A.D. 1237–1307), is a remarkable pilgrimage church resembling S. Mark, Venice (p. 235), in general conception. The nave is in square bays covered with domes on pendentives, which are also placed over the crossing, transepts, and choir, beyond which is an apse and chevet with nine radiating chapels similar to contemporary churches in France. The interior also was obviously influenced by the Venetian church, but falls far short of the original, as it lacks the glamour of coloured mosaic decoration. The exterior has an arcade of pointed arches and an upper arcaded gallery, like those in Lombardy, while the domes and minaret-like turrets give it a curious Eastern aspect.

S. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice (A.D. 1234–1600), is a Dominican church of imposing proportions and of historic importance, as it contains the tombs of the Doges. The Latin cross of the plan is elaborated by pronounced transepts with eastern chapels, and by a polygonal apse to the choir. The interior is essentially Italian in the wide spacing of piers, the square bays of the nave vaulting, and the oblong bays of the aisles, and internal wooden ties take the place of external flying buttresses. The exterior is of beautiful brickwork with pointed traceried windows and moulded cornices, and the clear-story is loftier than usual in Italy, while a dome of later date crowns the crossing.

S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice (A.D. 1250–80) (p. 505 E, F, G), is a Franciscan church, designed by Niccolo Pisano, in which there are six eastern transept chapels. The interior (p. 5o5 F) has lofty stone columns tied together by wooden beams, supporting an arcade of pointed arches and brick vaulting in square bays with massive ribs resting on shafts rising from the capitals of the nave columns. The exterior (p. 505 G) is in fine coloured brickwork, the plain west facade is set off by the sculptured central doorway and circular window above, and by small lateral windows, while along the aisles are pointed windows. The square campanile has vertical panels and a belfry of open arches, and is crowned with an octagonal lantern. The apse (p. 505 E), with its double tiers of pointed tracery windows, flanked by the eastern transept chapels, is the great glory of the church.

S. Anastasia, Verona (A.D. 1261), with its delightful entrance portal in coloured marbles, is a beautiful expression of Italian Gothic, and S. Andrea, Vercelli (A.D. 1219), has a character of its own derived from its two western towers and English type of plan.

S. Petronio, Bologna (A.D. 1390–1437), was designed for this famous university city by Antonio Vincenzi to eclipse the Cathedral at Florence. It was to have consisted of nave, aisles, outer chapels, transepts, chancel, and chevet, and if completed would have been one of the largest churches in Italy, but the eastern part was never built. The interior resembles Milan in having nave and aisles in diminishing heights, and the nave, with little ornamental detail, has widely spaced piers, resembling those of Florence. The chief feature of the entrance facade is the great doorway with its sculptured ornament designed by della Quercia (A.D. 1425). The exterior was never finished, although a competition was held in A.D. 1535 in which Palladio, Vignola, and other Renaissance architects took part,

There are churches at Bologna, Vicenza, Padua, Cremona, and Venice which are examples of the influence of brick and terra-cotta material on architectural treatment.

The Doge's Palace, Venice (p. 506), the facades of which date from A.D. 1309-1424, and are from designs by Giov. and Bart. Buon, is the grandest effort in civic architecture of the period, and is material evidence of the proud position of Venice as a great trading community, whose commerce was protected by the supremacy of her navy. The palace had been started at the beginning of the ninth century, and was several times rebuilt, and it forms part of that great scheme of town-planning which was so magnificently carried out through successive centuries (p. 506 D). The facades, with a total length of nearly 500 ft., have open arcades in the two lower storeys, and the third storey was rebuilt after a fire in the sixteenth century, so as to extend over the arcades (p. 506 B). This upper storey is faced with white and rose-coloured marble walls, resembling patterned brickwork, pierced by a few large and ornate windows (p. 505 B) and finished with a lace-like parapet of oriental cresting. The arcade columns (p. 5o6 E), which originally stood on a stylobate of three steps, now rise from the ground without bases, and the sturdy continuous tracery of the second tier of arcades lends an appearance of strength to the open arches, so heavily loaded by the solid walls above. The capitals of the columns, particularly the angle capital (p. 520 J) eulogised by Ruskin in the " Stones of Venice," are celebrated for the delicate carving in low relief, which was made possible by the use of fine-grained marble. The whole scheme of columned and pointed arcades, with its combination of carved capitals and long horizontal lines of open tracery, is of that unique design which can only be termed Venetian Gothic.

The Palazzo del Comune, Verona (A.D. 1206-45), the Palazzo Pubblico, Piacenza (A.D. 1281), and the Palazzo della Mercanzia, Bologna (A.D. 1290), are similar in having pointed arcades with an upper storey, often with a projecting " ringhiera " or tribune, and there are the familiar forked battlements to the roofs.

The Ca d'Oro Palace, Venice (A.D. 1430) (p. 509 C), is another fine design by the architects of the Doge's Palace for one of those palatial homes of merchant princes with which the sea-city abounds. The windows are grouped together in the usual Venetian manner to form a centre for the facade which, however, has remained unfinished. The arcaded entrance of five arches, lighting the deep central hall, is surmounted by an arcade divided into six openings, filled with characteristically Venetian tracery, and flanked by wider arches with projecting balconies, above which is another storey lighter in treatment, and there is a curious roof cresting of Saracenic design. The finished wing of the facade is of solid masonry, which sets off the intricate tracery of the centre.

The Palazzi Foscari (fifteenth century), Contarini-Fasan, Cavalli, and Pisani (fifteenth century) (p. 509 B) are famous Gothic palaces on the Grand Canal. They display the concentration of traceried openings in the centre to light the hall, and have solid unbroken wings, which produce a reposeful reflection in the water below.

The Ponte del Castello Vecchio, Verona (A.D. 1335), is one of many bridges which were of such importance as means of intercommunication, that they were even considered sacred. It is a fortified bridge across the Adige, with a tower on either bank, and has segmental arches, a low octagonal tower at every pier, and forked Ghibelline battlements along its whole length.

The Torre del Comune, Verona (A.D. 1172) (p. 505 D), is one of the communal towers which sprang up as a result of Mediaeval civic life ; for they served as bell towers to summon the citizens and as watch towers against fire and enemies. The square shaft of striped stone and brick-work has a belfry of three lights on each face ; the crowning octagonal turret, in two stages, rises to a height of 272 ft., and was added in A.D. 1372, when the tower came into the possession of the citizens.

The Toraccio, Cremona (A.D. 1261), the highest in Italy, and the celebrated Campanile of S. Mark, Venice (p. 5o6 A), rebuilt since its collapse in A.D. 1905, add to the world-fame of Italian towers.

The Ospedale Maggiore, Milan (A.D. 1457), is a late Gothic structure, added to in the Renaissance period (p. 572). It is built of brick and terra-cotta, the use of which has resulted in delicacy of modelling in the broad frieze between the storeys and in the ornamental bands round the windows.


Florence Cathedral (A.D. 1296-1462) (pp. 510, 513), also known as S. Maria del Fiore, was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, and is essentially Italian in character without the vertical features of northern Gothic. It was built around the old church of S. Reparata when, in A.D. 1296, the city council decided to erect a new Cathedral worthy of the prosperity of the citizens. It forms the centre of the group which emphasises the importance of Florence and the ambition of her sons during the Middle Ages. On Arnolfo's death in A.D. 1301 the building was stopped till A.D. 1334, when Giotto was appointed master of the works, and he was followed by Andrea Pisano and Talenti, who in A.D. 1350 enlarged Arnolfo's plan, while in A.D. 1366 a commission of architects laid out the choir and transepts. The three apses were completed in A.D. 1421, the dome was added by Brunelleschi (A.D. 1420-37) as the result of a competition (p. 571), and the lantern was placed over it in A.D. 1462. The plan (p. 510 F) is a peculiar type of Latin cross, and remarkable for the large central nave, 270 ft. long, and wide spacing of nave arcades, for there are only four square bays of 6o ft. This vast nave forms an impressive though sombre approach to the majestic octagon (p. 510 G), 138 ft. 6 ins. in diameter, off which are the three immense apses with fifteen radiating chapels. The piers have attached pilasters and unmoulded pointed arches ; there is no triforium, but a small clear-story of circular windows below the vaulted roof. The exterior (pp. 510 A, 513 A) is notable for its coloured marble panelling, small traceried windows, absence of buttresses and pinnacles, and for the horizontal lines of the design, the unique semi-octagonal apses, and the pointed dome. The marble facing of the west facade, which was begun in the thirteenth century (p. 510 E), remained incomplete till the whole front was recommenced in A.D. 1875 (p. 510 A), with its panels of coloured marble, sculptures, and mosaics, but it was not completed till A.D. 1887.

The Campanile, Florence (A.D. 1334-87) (pp. 510 A, 513 A), which stands at the side of the Cathedral, is 45 ft. square and 275 ft. high, and was designed by Giotto on traditional Italian lines. It rises sheer from the pavement without supporting buttresses, and all its four sides are panelled in coloured marble and embellished wit' sculptured friezes and marble inlay. It is divided into four principal stages, of which the topmost is the belfry, crowned by an arched corbel table, instead of the intended spire.

The Baptistery, Florence (A.D. 1290) (p. 513 A), although dating from the Romanesque period, was altered by Arnolfo di Cambio and, standing to the west of the Cathedral, forms part of this world-famous group. The octagon is 90 ft. in diameter, covered with an internal dome, 103 ft. high, probably modelled on that of the Pantheon. The facades are in three stages of black and white marble, crowned with a low roof and lantern. The Baptistery is noted for the marvellous workmanship of its famous bronze doors, which were added in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti (p. 566).

Siena Cathedral (A.D. 1245-1380) (pp. 513 B, 514 A, B, c), one of the most stupendous undertakings since the building of Pisa Cathedral, was largely the outcome of civic pride, and all the artists of Siena contributed their works to its building and adornment. The plan, which is only a part of the whole extended scheme, is cruciform, with an unusual irregular hexagon at the crossing, 58 ft. in diameter (p. 514 c), covered by a dome and lantern ; while the sanctuary, owing to the slope of the ground, is built over the Baptistery of S. Giovanni, which thus forms a crypt, and is entered from the lower level. The interior is striking in its combination of unusual features (pp. 513 B, 514 B). The zebra marble striping on wall and pier, the squinch-arches of the strange hexagon, and the incised marble floor, by the famous pavement-artists of Siena, form suitable surroundings for the famous sculptured pulpit by Niccolo Pisano. The building stands on a stepped platform (p. 514 A) which gives dignity to the composition, and it has an elaborately sculptured western facade (A.D. 1370–80) which is merely a frontispiece faced with marble in black and white stripes and with three highly ornate recessed doorways. The shaft-like campanile, also in striped marble, has six stages of windows which increase in size, and, rising from the south transept, it forms the central feature of the group.

The Campo Santo, Pisa (A.D. 1278–83) (pp. 257 A, 258 B), by Giovanni Pisano, consists of an open rectangle surrounded by a covered cloister with round-arched openings, filled with beautiful open tracery not added till three hundred years afterwards.

S. Maria della Spina, Pisa (A.D. 1323), by Giovanni Pisano, is a miniature church on the banks of the Arno with shrine-like facade of crocketed gables and pinnacled canopies.

Orvieto Cathedral (A.D. 1290–1310), another building by Arnolfo di Cambio, stands on an eminence in this isolated hill-city. Its plan is a Latin cross with nave, aisles, and projecting semicircular chapels. The interior (p. 5o5 c) shows basilican influence, with its lofty cylindrical pillars in black and white marble, which support semicircular arches surmounted by a striped clear-story and pointed windows, all crowned by a timber roof of basilican type. The exterior also is of striped marble carried round the aisle chapels, the windows of which are partly filled with alabaster. The facade (A.D. 1310) resembles Siena with its three porches, gables, and rose window, and is a glowing mass of symbolism carried out in coloured mosaic, carving, and sculpture of great beauty.

S. Maria Novella, Florence (A.D. 1278–1350), was designed by two Dominican monks as a Latin cross of great size with transepts, chapels, and beautiful cloisters. The nave has no triforium, but a low clear-story with circular windows and a ribbed vault. The original design of the unfinished exterior is indicated by some blind arcading on the entrance facade.

S. Croce, Florence (A.D. 1294–1442), one of the largest churches in Europe, was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, and contains numerous monuments to celebrated Italians ; hence it is called the Westminster Abbey of Florence. It is a Gothic version of a basilican church, with widely spaced columns and open timber roof. The western facade of later date is similar in character to that of Siena Cathedral.

Or San Michele, Florence (A.D. 1336--1404), was designed by Taddeo Gaddi, and was originally called " S. Michele in Orto," from its garden site. It has a rectangular ground storey now used as a church, which has fine three-light windows with slender columns and elaborate tracery enclosed in semicircular arches. Externally, between the windows, are niches filled with statues by celebrated sculptors, such as Donatello and Ghiberti, as offerings from the twelve great trade guilds of Florence between A.D. 1428 and 1550. In the interior is a beautiful tabernacle and High Altar by Andrea Orcagna (A.D. 1359). There are two upper storeys over the church which have two-light windows and are now used for State archives.

S. Francesco, Assisi (A.D. 1228–53), the great pilgrimage church on the crest of the hill above the historic plain below, owes much of its imposing character to its lofty position, while the hill-slope facilitated the erection of an upper and lower church. The vast monastic buildings on their massive masonry substructures testify to the magnetic influence of the great Italian saint and founder. Both churches are vaulted, and the dim mystery of the aisleless interiors, terminated by a polygonal apse, gives a sense of solemnity to the brilliant frescoes of Cimabue and Giotto, representing scenes from the life of S. Francis and incidents in the history of the Franciscan Order. These frescoes form a complete and consistent scheme of decoration, thoroughly in harmony with Italian tradition ; they make one of the most glowing church interiors in all Italy, and are a fitting memorial-shrine of one who trod the path of self-abnegation. The doorways of both upper and lower church, the circular window of the nave, and the turret-shaped buttresses, with low flying arches, are the main features of the exterior. A sturdy campanile, which retains the Lombard Romanesque character, crowns this famous group.

S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome (A.D. 1280), is the only Gothic church in Rome, and this is itself an evidence of the impregnable fortress which the citadel of Classic Rome presented to the advance of Gothic art ; besides which the city had been well supplied with churches during the Early Christian period.

The Palazzo del Podesta, Florence (A.D. 1255), the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence (A.D. 1298), the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (A.D. 1289) (p. 509 D), the Palazzo del Municipio, Perugia (A.D. 1281), and the Palazzo Pubblico, Montepulciano (p. 509 H), represent the municipal life and enterprise of these Mediaeval cities, and still stand, grave and severe, amidst the bustle of modern life, with their lofty watch towers and fortified facades, often finished with machicolations and battlements.

The Palazzo dei Priori, Volterra (A.D. 1208–57) (p. 509 F), is in four storeys with two-light windows, now irregularly placed. It is crowned with heavy battlements and the square tower rising above the front wall is capped with a belfry.

The Broletto, Monza, dating from earlier times, possesses, like many another, a ringhiera or balcony (p. 267 D) on a level with the floor of the great hall, from which the magistrates were wont to address the citizens.

The Castle, Volterra (A.D. 1343), high on its rocky site, is a typical Mediaeval stronghold with massive walls, small windows, round towers, and machicolations.

The Bigallo, Florence (A.D. 1352–58) (p. 509 A), is a delicately arcaded little loggia, designed to shelter foundlings who were there displayed by the Capitane of S. Maria to appeal to the charity of the public.

The Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence (A.D. 1376), with its three bold semi-circular arches and compound piers, forms a part only of a great town-planning scheme which would have made the piazza the most magnificent arcaded square in Italy.

The Loggia dei Mercanti, Bologna (A.D. 1290) (p. 516 G), is an ornate commercial building, with lower storey of pointed arches and upper storey of two-light traceried windows, between which is the ringhiera with its Gothic canopy (A.D. 1439), while on the parapet are the forked battlements of 'the Ghibellines.

The Mediaeval House, Viterbo (p. 509 G), with its arcaded ground storey and traceried windows, is interesting among many such houses as evidence of a phase of civilisation which has passed away.

S. Gimignano on its hill-top still retains thirteen towers built by rival local families—adherents of the Ghibellines and Guelphs—which vividly suggest the condition of the times when, as we are told, the municipality had to make building regulations to limit the height of the towers of these fortress-houses, which still give a strangely Mediaeval aspect to this picturesque hill-city.

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence (A.D. 1345), has a quaint character all its own, with its three segmental arches springing boldly from massive piers to withstand the waters of the Arno when swollen with melting Alpine snows, while along both sides of its roadway are the miniature shops of the goldsmiths' quarter.


Messina Cathedral (A.D. 1098), frequently altered after damage by fire and earthquakes until it was practically destroyed by the earthquake of A.D. 1909, was basilican in plan and the nave had an elaborate timber roof in Saracenic honeycomb work.

Palermo Cathedral (A.D. 1170–85) (p. 515 A), on the site of an earlier Saracenic mosque, is also basilican in plan and was commenced by King William the Good of Sicily. The open porch (A.D. 1480), with slender columns supporting stilted pointed arches of Saracenic type, is reminiscent of the Alhambra, Granada ; while the roof battlements recall those of the Doge's Palace. At the west end the Cathedral, which is Saracenic in character, is connected across the street by two pointed arches to the tower of the Archbishop's Palace. Two slender minaret towers on either side resemble those at the east end, and in its vigour of skyline the whole group suggests Northern Gothic. The external decoration is in stone of two colours, and the apses are particularly fine in treatment with poly-chrome interlaced blind arcading.

The Castello Nuovo, Naples (A.D. 1279-83), built by Charles I of Anjou, is a lofty, rectangular structure, with three machicolated round towers and curtain walls, now pierced with Renaissance windows.

The Palazzo Stefano, Taormina (A.D. 1396) (p. 515 B)—one of many palaces in that ancient precipice-city which have pointed two-light windows with trefoil heads and crowning machicolated cornices—and the Archbishop's Palace, Palermo, designed with flamboyant tracery windows (p. 515 c)—now mostly blocked up to keep out the southern sun—are typical secular buildings of the Medieval period.

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