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Variety of styles and simplicity of volumes for the Cathedral of Santo Stefano

The Cathedral

Variety of styles and simplicity of volumes for the Cathedral of Santo Stefano

Precious materials and vivid contrasts make of the Cathedral of St Stephen a stunning example of harmony: even within the variety of its styles, the simplicity of the volumes is organized in well-defined geometric masses. The result is undoubtedly attractive and the whole square is affected by this balance. The first record of the church dates to the 10th century: it was already dedicated to Saint Stephen and was referred to as the church of Borgo al Cornio, a small village, perhaps of Longobard origin, which is the oldest nucleus of today’s city.
In the course of the next centuries, the Cathedral’s Romanesque structure, the result of Guidetto's rebuilding in 1211, was renovated and extended, mainly as a result of the growing popularity of the worship of the Holy Belt. First the transept was built, then the Chapel of the Holy Belt, which was magnificently decorated by Agnolo Gaddi with Stories of the Virgin and the Holy Belt (1392-1396), and also holds a small and exquisite statue in white marble of the Madonna with child by Giovanni Pisano, dating from the early 14th century.

In the 15th century the then Rectory of St Stephen witnessed some of the most remarkable artistic events of the early Renaissance: in 1428, Donatello and Michelozzo were called to design and make the magnificent pulpit from which the Holy Belt is shown to the public and soon after Paolo Uccello was commissioned to decorate the Chapel of the Assumption. 1452 was a particularly significant year: Filippo Lippi was entrusted with painting on the walls of the choir of the Cathedral the fresco cycle of the Stories of St Stephen and St John the Baptist, his masterpiece. In these frescoes, the monumental conception of the figures, the light brushstrokes, the free composition of the scenes, in which the prospective elements are not presented rigorously but are, rather, subordinate to the narrative and to the scenic effect, mark the beginning of a new season in the history of Renaissance art.

Thanks to Filippo and other masters working in the Cathedral, a completely new artistic climate was created in the city, one that was open to experimentation and to the dramatic renewal of Italian art as a whole.

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