Spoleto’s almost playfully picturesque cathedral was consecrated in 1098, barely 40 years after Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, razed the entire town in retaliation for the citizens’ lack of support in his ongoing wars against the papacy. The church they built seems to defy the brutality of that catastrophe and is serenely set in a broad piazza at the bottom of a flight of monumental steps, with the white marble and golden mosaics on the dazzling facade framed against a gentle backdrop of a forested hill. Inside, the apse is graced with frescoes of the “Life of the Virgin” that are largely from the brush of Filippo Lippi, one of the more colorful characters of his time. An ordained priest, Filippo shirked his duties to draw and was eventually given permission to paint full time. Though he worked frequently and was a favorite of the Medicis, he was chronically impoverished, supposedly because he spent so much money on women. The commission to come to Spoleto must have been a plum for the artist, then close to 60. His delicate and engaging scenes of the elegant Virgin being visited by the Archangel and holding her very sweet-looking infant betray nothing of the turbulence in his life, as he was fighting to get dispensation to marry a young nun, Lucrezia Buti, whom he had seduced and who had borne his son, Filippino Lippi (who would soon match his father’s greatness as a painter). Both Lippis appear in the Domition of the Virgin scene, Filippo wearing a white habit with young Filippino, as an angel, in front of him. Fillippo died before he completed the frescoes, and his assistants finished the task. The cause of his death was suspected to be poison, perhaps administered by Lucrezia’s family or yet another paramour. He is buried beneath a monument that Filippino would design at the request of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Filippo’s patron, who tried in vain to get the body back to Florence. In the Cappella delle Reliquie (Reliquary Chapel), on the left aisle, is a rare treasure—a letter written and signed by St. Francis. (Assisi has the only other bona fide signature.)
Cattedrale di Santa Maria dell’Assunta
Piazza del Duomo
Our Rating Hours Daily 8:30am–6pm (until 7pm Apr–Oct). Phone 0743-231-063 Prices Free admission
MapPiazza del Duomo Spoleto
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