Italy’s artistic development forms layers of history

Another day’s work finds Victor Santinoli handing out earpieces one afternoon in mid-July in the Duomo di Milano. Santinoli, a Milanese working as a tour guide at the Duomo, points out different periods of architecture within the cathedral. 

Italy boasts significant signs of modernization, including an advanced economy, high quality of life, and an influential position in international politics, according to the World Bank. According to custodians of the country’s historical sites, Italy commemorates its rich history by modernizing side-by-side with historical sites instead of by replacing them.

Santinoli explains that the area behind the main altar, known as the apse, began construction around 1386. The rest of the Duomo, called the facade, was completed in 1814 under orders by Napoleon Bonaparte. Each of these constructions is a tribute to a different historical period. Santinoli further notes that the Duomo underwent renovations in the 1560s “in order to enhance the Italian nature and the Catholic nature of this cathedral.”

16th-century classical style artwork on display alongside the 14th-century gothic style pillars of the Duomo di Milano.

Consequently, newer classical-style constructions are now layered over the Duomo’s gothic architecture. Santinoli says that the Duomo brings “many things together [in] a mix of different styles.” This stylistic mixing accentuates Italy’s tendency to reuse rather than replace historical monuments. 

The director of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Cecilie Hollberg, strolls through the museum’s Gallery of Prisons, looking up at the legendary “David of Michelangelo” as the cameras trail after her for a press release. Hollberg says in the press release that Michelangelo “found his fortune in a huge block of marble of poor quality,” which had allegedly been abandoned some years earlier. Italy’s “symbol of liberty and civic pride,” in the words of David’s plaque at the Galleria, was born from that neglected mound of stone. 

David itself is a result of reusing rather than replacing aged material. Layers of various time periods exist within a single slab of stone. The Galleria also exhibits groupings of painted scenes such as the Annunciation, the Coronation, and the Painted Cross.

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