Key to Umbria: Orvieto

Duomo: Cappella del Corporale (1350-6)

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Cappella del Corporale     Cappella Nuova     Crypt

The Cappella del Corporale was built as an extension to the left transept of the Duomo in 1350-6 to house the relic of the Sacro Corporale (the linen altar cloth that had been stained by the blood of Christ in 1264, during the Miracle of Bolsena).

The new sacristy, which is reached via the door in the right wall, was also built at this time.

Sacro Corporale

Reliquary of the Sacro Corporale (1337-8)

This magnificent silver gilt and enamel reliquary now stands in a case in the aedicule to the left of the entrance to the chapel.  The inscription states that Bishop Beltramo Monaldeschi, the Archpriest Angelo, the papapl chaplain Ligo and a number of named canons of the Duomo commissioned it from “magistrum Ugolinum et socios, Aurifices de Senis” (Ugolino di Vieri and associates, goldsmiths of Siena) in 1338, during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XII.  It was probably manufactured in Siena, and associated payments are documented in the period 1337-9.  This reliquary, which is one of the largest ever commissioned from Siena, This reliquary, which is one of the largest ever commissioned from Siena, was probably the work of a number of “associates” under the direction of Ugolino.  It housed the Sacro Corporale and was taken in procession for the first time on the feast of Corpus Domini of 1338.

The double-sided reliquary replicates the arrangement of the facade of the Duomo.  The eight enamels in the upper and middle registers of the shutters on the front constitute the earliest surviving narrative depiction of the Miracle of Bolsena and formed the basis for future representations, including the frescoes of this subject in this chapel (see below).  The other four enamels on the front and the twelve enamels on the back depict scenes from the Passion, and those around the base depict scenes from the early life of Christ.

Tabernacle (1358-63)


This tabernacle on the altar was commissioned to house the Sacro Corporale and its original reliquary.  A certain Nicolò da Siena was commissioned to design it in 1358, and it is usually assumed that Andrea Orcagna (who was capomaestro at this time) directed the project.  Fittings were commissioned in 1363, presumably to hold the finished tabernacle in place.  A set of keys was commissioned for the tabernacle in 1366, together with a set of stairs, presumably to facilitate access to it.

The tabernacle has a relief of the Agnus Dei  in the lunette, with a relief of Christ the Redeemer in the gable above.  The gilded doors have images of the Virgin, St John the Baptist and angels. 

The tabernacle still houses the Sacro Corporale, although now in the more portable reliquary that is still used in the annual procession. 

Narrative of the Miracle of Bolsena (1601-2)

These four inscriptions on red marble (two of which are illustrated here), which are on the right wall, are  based on the earliest surviving copy (ca. 1563) of the now lost document (written after 1317) that described the events surrounding the Sacro Corporale.

Art in the Chapel

Frescoes (1357-64)

These frescoes were commissioned in 1356 from Giovanni di Buccio di Leonardello and Ugolino di Prete Ilario.  Giovanni di Buccio soon left the team to concentrate on the mosaics of the facade.   Ugolino di Prete Ilario continued the work with the assistance of a number of other local artists, including Petrucciolo di Marco, Domenico di Meo, Antonio di Andreuccio and Pietro di Puccio.  He signed one of the frescoes on the back wall as Ugolino, painter of Orvieto, and dated it very precisely to 8th June 1364, which was presumably the date of completion of the entire programme of decoration.   Many of the scenes have Latin explanatory inscriptions (1362) devised by “Ser Checco di Pietro”.

Unfortunately, the frescoes were poorly restored in 1857-60 following the visit to Orvieto of Pope Pius IX.  Some of the original sinopie were discovered during the restoration of 1975-8.  They were detached at that time and are now in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.

Scenes from the Passion

The frescoes on the back wall depict:

  1. the Crucifixion;

  2. the Last Supper; and

  3. the Resurrection. 

Miracle of Bolsena


                   Urban IV greats the Bishop of Orvieto         Urban IV shows the Sacro Corporale to the people

          at the bridge over the Rio Chiaro as he returns        of Orvieto from the loggia of Palazzo Papali

               from Bolsena with the Sacra Corporale              

The eight frescoes on the right wall of the altar bay depict scenes from the events surrounding the miracle of Bolsena.  Some of them provide interesting views of Orvieto in the 14th century.  For example:

  1. the original church of San Lorenzo delle Vigne can be seen to the right of the bridge over the Rio Chiaro in the fresco illustrated on the left above

  2. Palazzo Soliano and the tower house that later provided the site for Palazzo Buzi can be seen to the right of the loggia of Palazzo Vescovile in fresco illustrated on the right.  

Eucharistic scenes


                                 A priest drives the devil from a condemned                  A Jewish man burns his son,

                                  heretic by elevating the consecrated Host           who has eaten the consecrated Host.

                                          [Where in the entrance bay ??]                   In a later scene, the Virgin intervenes and                     

                                                                                                                       the boy is safely removed from the flames

                                                                                                                                (Left wall of the altar bay)

Many of the other frescoes in the chapel provide graphic details of the power of the consecrated Host and the unhappy fate of people who fail to venerated it.

Other Art in the Chapel

Madonna dei Raccomandati (1339)

A confraternity dedicated to the Virgin commissioned this altarpiece, which now stands in the aedicule on the right, from Lippo Memmi, who signed it LIPUS DE SENA.  It is one of the earliest representations of this iconography, which originated in Siena, and has been beautifully restored. 

Monument to Orsino and Rodolfo da Marsciano (1522-45)

Michele Sanmicheli was commissioned to execute this monument on the right wall in 1522, but the work was still in the design phase in 1524.  Further delay arose in 1527, when the money that had been bequeathed to pay for the monument was "borrowed" as a contribution to the fortification of the city during the tense period before the sack of Rome.  Simone Mosca completed it in 1544-5.

[Who were the deceased  ???]

Monument to Bishop Sebastiano Vanzi (1571)

This monument by Ippolito Scalza is in the aedicule on the left of the entrance bay and faces the entrance. 

Bishop Sebastiano Vanzi was an eminent jurist who distinguished himself at the Council of Trent in 1562-3.   His will of 1567 contained a substantial bequest to the Opera del Duomo.  He intended that this should finance, among other things, a bronze tomb in front of the high altar, which would be used for his own burial and for those of his successors.  Work on the design was started, but the project came to a halt after Bishop Vanzi retired in 1570.  He died a year later.

Bishop Vanzi had also suggested that part of his bequest should be used each year for a temporary model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which would be erected in the Cappella del Corporale to house the reserved Host during Easter week.   In the event, a tomb in local stone (which was much cheaper than bronze) was erected for Bishop Vanzi in this chapel.  His marble bust above the sarcophagus was positioned so that he would be seen to participate in the annual services at the temporary sepulchre.

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