The San Gottardo in Corte is a small church near the Duomo of Milan. It was built as a chapel between 1330 and 1336, on the orders of Azzone Visconti, who was Lord of Milan from 1329 until his death in 1339. It was originally part of the Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, the seat of the Lords and – since 1395 – the Dukes of Milan. The name ‘in Corte’ presumably refers to the fact that it was located in the inner court of the Palazzo.
Azzone Visconti was not a healthy man. He died when he was just 36 years old and had been suffering from gout for many years. This was no doubt the reason why the church was dedicated to San Gottardo or Saint Gotthard. Gotthard of Hildesheim (960-1038) was a Bavarian saint who is considered the protector of those who suffer from this disease.
The most striking exterior feature of the church is a beautiful hexagonal campanile which is decorated at the top with many arches and columns. The tower was constructed by the Cremonese architect Francesco Pecorari in 1335. It is special for another reason as well: the first public clock of the city of Milan was installed in this bell tower. For this reason it was known to the Milanese as the campanile delle ore. The interior of the church is hardly spectacular. Originally a Gothic church, the San Gottardo was given a Neo-Classicist makeover in the eighteenth century by Giuseppe Piermarini (1734-1808).
Two works of art in the church need to be mentioned here. The first is the tomb of the aforementioned Azzone Visconti. It is the work of Giovanni di Balduccio, a sculptor from Pisa who was also responsible for the monumental tomb of Saint Peter of Verona in the church of Sant’Eustorgio elsewhere in Milan. The latter tomb had been funded by Azzone, so it seems appropriate that Giovanni di Balduccio sculpted his own tomb as well. Azzone’s tomb is high up on the left wall of the church. We see him lying on his deathbed on the lid of the sarcophagus, with two women at his side. Two others seem to be holding a sheet, perhaps a death shroud. The central figure on the sarcophagus itself is Saint Ambrosius, patron saint of Milan. The two kneeling figures that flank the saint might be Azzone’s successor Luchino Visconti (1339-1349) and the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian (1314-1347). The other kneeling figures have been identified as Lombard cities owing allegiance to the Viscontis.
In the back of the church we find the second work of art that is worth our attention. It is, in fact, a fragment of a fourteenth century fresco depicting the Crucifixion. The artist is unknown, but it is clear that he was inspired by the Florentine painter Giotto (ca. 1266-1337), who was known for his innovative and realistic style. Giorgio Vasari claims that Giotto was in Milan for a while and left several works there, but the San Gottardo fresco is not attributed to the artist himself, but to a pupil or follower. The fresco is faded and damaged, but it is still possible to discern the three crosses and the crowd attending the Crucifixion.
The church is nowadays part of the Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano.