Art in Umbria

The Chapel of Saint Brizio inside Orvieto's Duomo

La Cappella di San Brizio nel Duomo di Orvieto è stata dipinta quasi interamente da Luca Signorelli: scoprila insieme a noi.

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Tourist information and welcome office
Piazza Duomo 24 - 05018 Orvieto
info@iat.orvieto.tr.it

Famed for its marvellous frescoes by Beato Angelico, Benzolo Bozzoli, and Luca Signorelli, the chapel is unique within Italian renaissance art.

 

The chapel of Saint Brizio, or cappella Nova (‘New chapel'), can be found in the right transept of the Duomo of Orvieto. The chapel constitutes one of the most significant instances of Italian renaissance painting thanks to its innovative spatial and iconographic model, and to the high artistic profile of its fresco decoration by Beato Angelico, Benzolo Bozzoli, and Luca Signorelli. 

The spatial layout of the chapel is structured into two large vaulted spans fanning out into eight ogives separated by gothic style frames, some of which are enriched by plant motifs.

The chapel's vault features a number of important frescoes. The one depicting Christ sat in judgement surrounded by the angels, and the one showing the sixteen prophets, occupying respectively two of the eight ogives, are attributed to Beato Angelico and his helpers (1447). The master Beato Angelico himself is thought to have personally authored the figure of Christ, now quite damaged, a group of angels to the left, and some of the sitting prophets.

The decorative bordures featuring human heads are instead attributed to Benozzo Bozzoli. One of the heads is thought to be a self-portrait of the artist.

The other ogives were decorated by Luca Signorelli, who worked at them in various moments between 1499 and 1502. He painted depictions of the Apostles and Virgin Mary, of the Angels bearing the symbols of the Passion, of the Church fathers, of the Martyrs, of the Patriarchs, and a choir of virgins.

It is interesting to note the difference between the scenes authored by Beato Angelico and those of Luca Signorelli. Whilst the former dedicated the same attention to detail in wall decoration as he did on canvas (after all for Angelico, who was a Dominican priest, art was still first and foremost an offering to God who was the ideal viewer of the scenes it depicted), Signorelli was hastier and oriented towards an idea of the human spectator as viewing art from a distance.

The decoration of the lunettes is also the work of Luca Signorelli and begins from the first lunette to the left of the chapel entry, which depicts the episode of the Sermon of the Antichrist. This is a rare theme in Italian art, especially for such a monumental representation. Giorgio Vasari recognised several important people among the characters depicted in the scene, including Cesare Borgia, Pinturicchio, and Enea Silvio Piccolomini. The two characters in black garb located at the far left of the fresco are instead self-portraits of Luca Signorelli and Beato Angelico, the latter donning the Dominican habit.

The entry wall bears a depiction of the Apocalypse, laid out following the entry-way arch and showing impending natural disasters (an earthquake, a tidal wave, and a blacked-out sun) and the arrival of monstrous winged demons hurling a rain of fire down onto fleeing and terrified men and women.   

To the right of the entry wall there is a depiction of the Resurrection: the dead rise up from a white and smooth terrain, seemingly ice, to the sound of the trumpets played by two angels enveloped in fluttering ribbons.

The cycle of frescoes continues in the lunette above the altar, which depicts the Ascent to Heaven and the Call to Hell. The central window divides the scene into two halves: on the left the blessed ascending to Heaven, and on the right the damned, sent towards their punishment.

The chapel's right wall depicts a vivid and striking representation of Hell, made such by its richly grotesque inventiveness, and by the swarm of naked bodies who almost seem to pour out of the wall itself.

Next to this scene, the cycle is closed by a depiction of the Blessed in Heaven.

In the wainscot, the dense and inventive grotesque decoration is interrupted by framed depictions of illustrious characters, including poets (from Homer to Dante) surrounded by scenes taken from their works. On the base we find depicted mythological figures such as tritons and nereids, similar to the slabs of classical sarcophagi.

Suggestions

Before the visit it is a good idea to acquire a guide or an audio-guide, so as not to miss the details of the decoration and to gain a proper understanding of the ensemble.    

 



In the surrounding area