Key to Umbria: Orvieto

Duomo: Facade

Umbria:  Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact 


Orvieto:  Home    History    Art    Saints    Walks    Monuments    Museums

Duomo:  Main page    Exterior    Facade     Interior     16th Century Remodelling

Cappella del Corporale     Cappella Nuova     Crypt

The Duomo of Orvieto is one of the few Italian cathedrals with a completed facade. 


                                                Single cusp design                         Multi-cusp design

Two preparatory drawings for the design of the facade survive in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo:

  1. one design, which has only a single cusp, is sometimes attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio; and

  2. the other (probably later) design, which is closer to the structure that was actually built, is usually attributed to Lorenzo Maitani.

These drawings are amongst the oldest of their type to survive in Italy.

The facade took almost three centuries to complete.  The chronology of its completion can best be set out in terms of the artists who worked on it:

  1. Lorenzo Maitani (in 1310 -30) spent perhaps the last twenty years of his life supervising the works on the reliefs (see below) on the four pilasters that flank the entrances.

  2. Andrea Orcagna (in ca. 1359) was responsible for the rose window and the statues in niches to the sides of it.
  3. Antonio Federighi (in 1451-6) seems to have been responsible for introducing the row of niches for twelve statues of the apostles above the rose window in order to correct its proportions.

  1. The Opera dell’ Duomo sent Michele Sanmicheli (capomaestro in 1509-25) to Rome in 1513 to consult Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane on the façade.  Sanmicheli probably initiated the final phase of its completion (the building of the upper triangular cusp, its flanking towers and the two outer towers)  on his return.  However, his plans for the campanile were never used. 

  2. Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane continued with the work on the upper cusp and its flanking towers in 1533-4. 

  3. A team under Francesco Mosca, il Moschino worked on the series of figures of prophets for the niches that flank the rose window in 1555-6.  The sculptors mentioned included The sculptors mentioned included the young cousins Ippolito Scalza and Ludovico Scalza.  The figures in the middle niche on the left (illustrated here) are attributed to Francesco Mosca, il Moschino and Ippolito Scalza.

  1. A team under  Raffaello da Montelupo began work on the figures of Apostles for the niches above the rose window in 1560.  The middle four figure (two of which are illustrated here) are attributed to him.  Work continued until 1570, by which time Raffaello da Montelupo was dead.  The four figures to the right, which presumably belong to the later phase of the project, are attributed to Fabiano Toti.

  2. Ippolito Scalza completed the façade by building the two outer towers in 1571-91.

Giuseppe Valadier carried out the last major restoration of the facade in 1796-1805.

Sculpture on the Facade 

Marble reliefs (1310-30)


                       1st pier                                2nd pier                              3rd pier                              4th pier


           Forbidden Fruit                                Annunciation                                                   Damnation

                    1st pier                                              3rd pier                                                           4th pier 

The document of 1310 relating to the appointment of Lorenzo Maitani as capomaestro remarks that he was experienced in “[creating] wall[s] figured with beauty, which wall must be made in [the facade], and with all other masteries and ornaments appropriate to this same fabric”.  This is usually taken to indicate that, inter alia, he orchestrated the carving the 162 reliefs on the four piers in the lower register of the facade.   The actual execution seems to have been the work of two (probably Sienese) workshops:

  1. One workshop produced the reliefs for the outer piers, in which the reliefs are carved in rectangular fields separated by carved vines.  These depict:

  2. scenes from Genesis; and

  3. Old Testament prophecies of the Redemption.

  4. The other produced those for the inner piers, in which the reliefs are carved in oval frames separated by the branches of Trees of Jesse.  These depict:

  5. scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin; and

  6. the Last Judgment.

Some parts of the upper scenes are unfinished, and work might have been terminated by Maitani 's death in 1330.

Symbols of the Evangelists (ca. 1330)


Symbols of:  St Matthew                     St Mark                           St John                          St Luke 

Lorenzo Maitani is mentioned in connection with the purchase of bronze for the eagle (the symbol of St John): he might have been responsible for the execution of this and the other bronze symbols of the Evangelists on the facade.

Sibyls (1456 and 1588)


                                               Eritrean Sibyl                                      Libyan Sibyl

These freestanding marble statues, which stand to the sides of the facade at ground level, depict:

  1. the Eritrean Sibyl, which is probably the "figura marmorea de novo facta per magistrum. Antoniuni Caputmagistrum in angulo facciate" (the new figure made by Antonio Federighi at the corner of the facade) which was documented in 1456 (on the left); and

  2. the Libyan Sibyl (dated by inscription to 1588) by Fabiano Toti.


Work on the mosaics began in earnest in 1359 with the scene of the Baptism of Christ in the gable over the door on the left, which led to the baptistery.  All of the other scenes were planned as a narrative cycle of the life of the Virgin (to whom the Duomo is dedicated).  All of these except that in the tympanum had been completed by 1390.  Work on this last space began in ca. 1450: the initial plan to depict the Coronation of the Virgin here was modified, and the first mosaic in the gable actually depicted the Resurrection of Christ (see below). 

All of the original scenes have been heavily restored, and many have been completely replaced.  This probably began in 1484, when the Opera del Duomo began a search for qualified artists who could repair what was by that time a considerable amount  of deterioration.  Jacopo Ripanda da Bologna is documented in 1485-95 in connection with the restoration of the mosaics on the facade.  A concerted programme began in 1581: in 1584, Cesare Nebbia designed new mosaics, which depicted the Baptism and the Resurrection.  On the occasion of the fifth centenary of the Duomo, some of the mosaics were replaced and those removed were presented to Pope Pius VI.

Coronation of the Virgin

As noted above, it was originally intended that the original scene in the central tympanum, which was the last to be completed, would depict the Coronation of the Virgin.  The marquetry relief (ca. 1370) from the centre of the choir of the Duomo, which is now in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, probably replicates the original plan for the composition.   

However, the tympanum itself was not built until 1532.  By 1584, when the Opera del Duomo turned its attention to its mosaic, the plan had changed, and the mosaic commissioned from Cesare Nebbia actually depicted the Resurrection of Christ.  This was probably intended to complete the series of scenes from the Passion depicted by the altarpieces in the right aisle (see the page on the 16th century remodelling).  Work on the mosaic extended over the period 1584-7.  Nebbia was still complaining in 1591 that neither he nor his collaborators had been paid for their work, because of doubts about the stability of the mosaic.  A preparatory cartoon for this mosaic has recently been rediscovered and restored and is now in the Museo del Opera del Duomo (see below).  

This mosaic was replaced in 1713 by a mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin by Ludovico Mazzanti, a fragment of which survives in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (see below).  The design was based on an altarpiece (1616) by Giovanni Lanfranco in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (which is now also in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo).

The new mosaic began to deteriorate almost immediately.  The present mosaic (illustrated above), which also depicts the Coronation of the Virgin, was installed in 1842-7.  [It is based on a composition (15th century) by Sano di Pietro]

Doctors of the Church

These figures of the theologians who (among other things) defined Marian doctrine surround the rose window.  Pietro di Puccio was recorded as working on the originals in 1388.  These were detached and replaced by copies in the 19th century.  Fragments depicting SS Jerome and Ambrose survive in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (see below).

Assumption of the Virgin

These heavily restored scenes above the central door still bore the signature of Giovanni di Buccio di Leonardello and the date 1366 in the 19th century.  Angels transport the Virgin in a mandorla while the Apostles to the sides witness the scene.  This was originally above a sculptural group of the Madonna and Child with angels in the lunette above the central door that is now in the the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (see below).

Birth of the Virgin and Annunciation to SS Joachim and Anne

These scenes are in the gable over the right door. 
  1. The main scene depicts the birth of the Virgin.  An inscription records that Ugolino di Prete Ilario designed it in 1365 and that it was executed by Giovanni di Buccio di Leonardello.  It was replaced by a copy in 1786.  The original (which has been heavily restored) is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see below).   

  2. The figures to the sides of the main scene represent an angel announcing the imminent birth to the parents of the Virgin:

  3. the annunciation to St Joachim (1487-92) is by Jacopo Ripanda da Bologna; and

  4. the annunciation to St Anne (1618-40) is attributed to Gabriele Mercanti

Marriage of the Virgin (1612)

The original mosaic in the left upper cusp was executed in 1381-6 by Ugolino di Prete Ilario and Pietro di Puccio.  The present mosaic, which is based on a cartoon by Antonio Circignani, il Pomarancio, was restored in 1786.

Presentation of the Virgin

The original mosaic in the right upper cusp bore the signature of Pietro di Puccio and the date 1376.  A cartoon (ca. 1650) for the present mosaic, which is attributed to Giacomo Pierucci survives the the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.  The mosaic was restored by Giuseppe Ottaviani in 1760-3 and restored again in 1837.

Baptism of Christ and Annunciation

These scenes are in the gable over the left door.   Andrea Orcagna and Giovanni di Buccio di Leonardello collaborated on the cartoon for the Baptism of Christ in 1360.  Nello da Roma completed the mosaic of the Annunciation to St Anna in 1362.  The Opera del Duomo waited for a year before paying for these mosaics because there were concerns for their stability: in 1363, Ugolino di Prete Ilario pronounced them "perfectum, et bonum et pulchrum"(perfect and good and fair).  These original mosaics no longer survive.

The present mosaics depict:

  1. the Baptism of Christ, based on a cartoon (1583) by Cesare Nebbia;

  2. the figures of the Annunciation (1649) to the sides, which are attributed to Giacomo Pierucci.

Bronze doors (1962-64)

The most recent additions to the Duomo are the bronze main doors the Sicilian sculptor Emilio Greco.  They were installed, after considerable controversy, in 1970.  The reliefs depict the seven works of mercy, one of which (second from the bottom, on the right) depicts Pope John XXIII visiting people in prison.

In 2008, Antonella Greco, the daughter of the artist, donated a model that her father used for these doors to the Museo Emilio Greco.

Art from the Facade

Maestà (early 14th century)


                                            Original sculpture                     Copy in original position

This sculptural group group comprises:

  1. a marble statue of the Madonna and Child enthroned;

  2. a cast bronze canopy, and

  3. two groups of three cast bronze angels who draw back the canopy drapes.

It was removed from the platform above the central portal in 1982 and replaced by a copy.  The original is now in Room II of the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.

The Madonna probably pre-dates the canopy and six angels, which were cast in 1325.  At least two of the angels were decorated in 1330.  Traces of blue on the underside of the canopy survive, as do the marks left by the application of stars made of gold leaf.  The casting of such a complex group is a remarkable feat for this period.  The “jewels” around the edge of the canopy are a later addition, and the limbs of the figures have been replaced or heavily restored.

St Michael (ca. 1561) 

This marble figure was commissioned from Raffaello da Montelupo to stand above the right entrance, “facing to the church of San Giacomo".  It must have been completed by 1561, when copper for its wings and gold leaf were purchased.  It was restored in 1816.  It was moved to the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo in 1964 and replaced by a copy.

The figure depicts St Michael standing in front of a chained kneeling figure of a bearded man [the Devil ?].  Its iconography was obviously based on the figure (1544) of St Michael that  Raffaello da Montelupo executed for the top of the Castel Sant' Angelo, Rome.

Mosaic Fragments

These comprise: 

  1. Birth of the Virgin

  2. An inscription records that Ugolino di Prete Ilario designed this fresco in the gable over the right door in 1365 and that it was executed by Giovanni di Buccio di Leonardello.  It was replaced by a copy in 1786.  The original (which has been heavily restored) was given to Pope Pius IV and then sold in 1890 to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

  3. SS Jerome and Ambrose (1388)


  5. St Jerome                              St Ambrose

  6. These documented mosaics belong to a set of the four Doctors of the Church that Pietro di Puccio executed to surround the rose window on the facade of the Duomo.   They were detached and replaced by copies in the 19th century.  Fragments depicting SS Jerome and Ambrose survive in Room IV of the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.

  7. Resurrection of Christ (1584)

  8. This Opera del Duomo commissioned this preparatory cartoon from Cesare Nebbia for the mosaic (see above) in the tympanum.  It was recently been rediscovered and restored, and is now in Room IV of the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.

  9. Coronation of the Virgin (1713)

  10. This mosaic by Ludovico Mazzanti, which was probably the first work by Mazzani in his native city, replaced a mosaic (1568) of the Resurrection of Christ.  It began to deteriorate almost immediately.  It was replaced in turn in 1842-7 and is now in Room V of the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo.

Read more:

A. Cannistra (Ed.), "Il Mosaico Risorto. Un Inedito di Cesare Nebbia tra Restauro e Valorizzazione", (2010) Orvieto

A. Fiderer Moskowitz, “Facade Reliefs of Orvieto Cathedral”, , (2009) London

C. Harding, “I Mosaici della Facciata (1321-ca. 1390)

  1. in L. Riccetti (Ed.), “Il Duomo di Orvieto”, Rome (1988) pp 123-38

C. Harding, “The Production of Medieval Mosaics: The Orvieto Evidence,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 43 (1989 ) 73-102

J. White, “Reliefs on the Façade of the Duomo at Orvieto”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 22 (1959) 254-302

Return to the main page on the Duomo.

Return to: Exterior.

Continue to: Interior;    16th Century Remodelling;    Cappella del Corporale;   

Cappella Nuova;     Crypt.