Gubbio: The Duomo

The Duomo of Gubbio.

The Duomo is often the most beautiful and most richly decorated religious building of a city or town. The Duomo of Gubbio or cathedral of Santi Mariano e Giacomo is unfortunately an exception. It is a dark and chilly building with a slightly gloomy atmosphere. Most Italian cathedrals adjoin large squares, but Gubbio’s cathedral stands so close to the adjacent Palazzo Ducale that it is almost impossible to inspect the façade of the Duomo without straining one’s neck muscles.[1] Taking a picture of the façade is also difficult. The Duomo can be found one terrace above that on which the Palazzo dei Consoli stands. We took the Via Ducale and climbed the slope of Monte Ingino until we reached a side entrance and entered the cathedral from there. We now found ourselves in a huge open space, largely devoid of natural light.

The original cathedral of Gubbio stood closer to the valley, in the same area where we now find the church of San Giovanni Battista. It may have originally been dedicated to the Apostles, but the dedication was changed to Saints Marianus and Jacobus at an unspecified moment in time. These two men were martyrs from Numidia in what is now Tunisia in North-Africa. Marianus, a lector, and Jacobus, a deacon, were decapitated during the reign of the emperor Valerianus (253-260). Their relics were later moved to Gubbio and the cathedral was rededicated to the two Numidians. Many centuries later the body of Ubaldo Baldassini, the influential bishop of Gubbio from 1129 until his death in 1160, was laid to rest beside the martyrs. He would be canonised in 1192.

Interior of the Duomo.

When a certain Bentivoglius became bishop of Gubbio in about 1188, the decision was taken to build a new religious complex on the slope of Monte Ingino. The relics of Marianus, Jacobus and Ubaldo were moved to the new cathedral, which was still far from complete. The remains of Ubaldo did not stay there for long, for his elevation to sainthood in 1192 gave him a special status that warranted construction of a sanctuary of his own. In 1194, the relics of Ubaldo – now Saint Ubaldus of Gubbio – were moved to an oratory higher up the slope of the mountain. In the sixteenth century the oratory was converted into the church of Sant’Ubaldo. Meanwhile, the new cathedral seems to have been completed around 1229. It was subsequently enlarged in 1336.

The Duomo was provided with its current façade in the first half of the fourteenth century, when Pietro Gabrielli was bishop of Gubbio. There is little decoration, apart from a large rose window and reliefs of the Lamb of God and the four Evangelists. The interior of the Duomo was remodelled on several occasions. Bishops Federico Fregoso (1508-1541) and Marcello Cervini (1544-1555) were responsible for the interventions in the sixteenth century. Cervini was elected Pope Marcellus II in 1555, but he died after less than a month on the throne of Saint Peter. He did not achieve much while in office, but he has nonetheless won some fame for being the last pope who did not change his birth name after being elected.

Altarpiece by Sinibaldo Ibi.

In the eighteenth century, the Duomo was given a Baroque makeover. These interventions were largely reversed between 1913 and 1918. The result is a Gothic(-ish) building with a single nave and imposing pointed arches. The walls must have once featured many medieval frescoes, but of these only a few traces remain. The frescoes in the sanctuary all date from the twentieth century and so do the stained glass windows in the apse. Most of the paintings that now grace the walls of the nave were made in the sixteenth century. I will discuss two that I particularly liked.

In the eighth bay on the left, we find an altarpiece by Sinibaldo Ibi (ca. 1475-after 1548), a painter from Perugia. It features a Madonna and Child with two angels and Saints Ubaldus and Sebastian. The former is dressed as a bishop with a fine golden chasuble. The latter is depicted as a fully dressed young man with an arrow in his right hand and a stick in the other. This iconography sets Ibi’s altarpiece apart from other paintings featuring Saint Sebastian, where he is usually depicted as a naked man, tied to a stake, with a body riddled with arrows. The text on the altarpiece mentions that it was commissioned by a certain Hieronimus Bentivolius for his sisters Paola and Magdalena. Ibi – SINIBALDUS PERUSINUS – painted it in the month of October. The year is not mentioned, but it is now generally assumed that it was in 1507.

The Nativity, attributed to Giuliano Presutti.

Another fine work of art is a Nativity scene in the sixth bay on the left that was presumably painted by Giuliano Presutti. His year of birth and death are unknown, but he was born in Fano in the Marche and active in the first half of the sixteenth century. The painting was executed during the pontificate of Pope Leo X (1513-1521), probably between 1519 and 1521, as Presutti is documented in Gubbio between 1519 and 1534. The work has been attributed to various painters, including Pinturicchio (1454-1513) or one of his pupils, a follower of Lo Spagna (died 1529), Eusebio da San Giorgio (ca. 1470-after 1539) and even a follower of Timoteo Viti (1469-1523), himself a pupil of Raphael. The latest studies tend to attribute it to Presutti.

Sources: Italian Wikipedia and the Key to Umbria website.


[1] The Via Sant’Ubaldo, which starts in front of the Duomo, must have been a square once. This square was significantly reduced in size when in 1476 Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, remodelled the old Palazzo della Guardia and turned it into the present Palazzo Ducale.


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