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Bill Thayer

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The Fourteenth Century Discovers Classical Rome

[image ALT: A stone carving of an angel in flight. It is part of the reliefs by Lorenzo Maitani and assistants on the façade of the cathedral of Orvieto, Umbria (central Italy).]

A detail of the third pier: an angel looks down on the Crucifixion.

In the early part of the fourteenth century, probably in the 1320's, Lorenzo Maitani assembled a team of sculptors to illustrate the spiritual life of the world on the façade of Orvieto's cathedral. Like Dante's Divina Commedia, the reliefs on the Duomo of Orvieto mark the end of the Middle Ages: though the subjects are treated in the medieval manner, the carving consciously springs from classical Roman models and announces the modern age.

For now — this site is very much a work in progress — eleven scenes, from the life of Christ on the third pier, to the right of the main door of the cathedral as you walk in (except as noted):

Adam and Eve tempted by the Serpent (1st pier)

The Annunciation: the angel Gabriel appears to Mary

Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth before the birth of John the Baptist

The Birth of Christ

Adoration of the Magi

Mary presents her Child in the Temple according to Judaic Law

Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with the newborn Baby Jesus

Herod orders the Massacre of the Innocents

The twelve-year‑old boy Jesus discusses the Law in the Temple of Jerusalem

The Baptism of Jesus by John: the beginning of Christ's ministry

Jesus's road to his death: The Entry into Jerusalem

For a more thorough and general account of the façade, with beautiful photos that get the excellent text they deserve, see Dick Schmitt's site (in two long webpages).

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Page updated: 17 Jun 08