07 August 2011

LIFE: Milan's Cathedral

SARONNO, Italy – My friend Gary is coming for a visit next week. One of the things we are going to do is go into Milan, do some shopping and re-visit the Cathedral. The last time Gary was here, the Cathedral was wrapped in scaffolding, undergoing a much needed facelift. He’s going to be surprised when he sees the new and improved version.
 Milan's Cathedral
It took about 180,000 hours to clean the 35,000 feet of blacken marble. In addition to the scrubbing and polishing, there was a fair amount of restoration work done as well and that took the quarrymen and marble sculptors another 150,000 hours work in the quarry and marble workshops. All in all it added up to about six years of labor intensive work to return the Gothic masterpiece to its original glory.

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1386 and went on until 1965 when it was officially declared completed, but in reality it has never been completed as work continues still. “What are they building, another Cathedral?” locals ask whenever a construction project seems to be taking longer than they deem necessary. 
The View From the Top
Inside the Cathedral there are so many things to see it is easy to pass giant candlestick in the left-hand transept. But if you take the time to give it a closer look, you’ll see that the seven-arm candlestick, known as the Candelabro Trivulzio, is masterpiece of intrigue.

First of all you start to realize that it is much larger than you first thought. From a distance it looks like a large seven-armed candlestick, but as you move closer you see just how big it is, an amazing 16 feet tall. 
The Candelabro Trivulzio
Between the darkness of the Cathedral and the dark bronze of the candlestick it takes a minute to focus in on the details. But as your eyes adjust to the low light, you see the swirl of bronze leaves that hide dozens of strange figures, including animals, saints and angels. The base is made up of four dragons, their drooping heads form the feet of the candlestick, and their powerful tails point upwards to create the basic structure. Strangely, each of the dragons is being attacked by a pair of animals.

If you come up to the candlestick from the south side you see a foot made up of a dragon being attacked by two frightened monkeys wielding swords. To the left, and at the very bottom, is the head of a fantastical animal with a curved beak and curling horns. 
 Detail of Candlestick
Above this, to the left, is the figure of Noah in the Ark with one of his sons looking out from the right-hand side. Noah has his hands in the air, having just released a dove. Move your eyes upward and to the left and you see the dove returning, with an olive branch bringing the message to Noah that the flood has come to an end. To the left of the Ark, there is a flashback to before the Flood, with two sheep on their way in.

To the right of Noah's ark, Abraham is swinging a large sword. He is about to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom he is holding on the altar. Just above him, an angel has grabbed the sword to save the boy, and just under the little altar is the unfortunate lamb who will become the sacrificial victim in place of Isaac.

Above these two Biblical scenes are a king and a queen. They represent Virtues vanquishing the Vices, which are seen as smaller figures below. Next up are a group of star-signs, Cancer (the crab on the left) and Leo (a lion), with Virgo sitting above and between them. 

 The Lights Are Low
In the curling tail of the left-hand dragon, a female figure holds a serpent: this group represents one of the four Liberal Arts, dialectics. On the other side, in the right-hand dragon's tail, a young man is pouring water from a jar: this represents one of the Rivers of Paradise. They represent the four great rivers, the Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges and the Nile.

Now, leave the base and move up the central stem, past the first smooth node, to the central node. This is dedicated to Mary, who is seated on a throne, with Jesus on her lap. On the three remaining sides of this node, the three wise Kings can be seen on horseback, making their historic journey to see the Baby Jesus.

The strange dragons are strange indeed with no answer as to what they are all about.  Does the base of the candlestick represent the universe, with the rivers, the history of the world told through the Old Testament stories, and the stars represented by the astrological signs? All good questions, unfortunately at this point still no good answers.

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