Udine: Museo del Duomo

Tower of the Duomo. The bottom part is the former baptistery.

The museum of the cathedral of Udine is housed in the octagonal bell-tower of the building and in a couple of chapels to the left of the choir. The ground floor of the bell-tower previously served as the baptistery of the cathedral, which also explains its octagonal shape. Regretfully the former baptistery proved to be utterly unsuitable as a base for a high tower. Construction of the campanile had to be suspended in 1469 because of grave concerns about the stability of the tower. The former baptistery fortunately found a new purpose as accommodation for the Museo del Duomo. It is not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, which is rather odd and quite extraordinary in Italian museums nowadays. What is even odder, is that taking pictures with a smartphone is in fact allowed, or at the very least tolerated. The images in this post were shot with my Samsung Galaxy.

The museum of the cathedral is quite small, but there are two things that are not to be missed. The first is the funerary monument for Bertrand de Saint Geniès. Between 1334 and 1350 he served as patriarch of Aquileia. In the latter year he was murdered by dissatisfied Friulian nobles, which is why the Catholic church considers him a martyr. The funerary monument for Bertrand was originally intended for storing the relics of Saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus. It was moreover supposed to be set up inside the patriarchal basilica of Aquileia, which is hardly surprising, as Hermagoras was the first bishop of Aquileia and Fortunatus his deacon. This history explains why the reliefs on the monument depict scenes from the lives of the two saints. On the front we for instance see some of the acts of Hermagoras as bishop, including his appointment by Saint Peter upon a nomination by Saint Mark the Evangelist. In 1353 Bertrand’s successor Nicholas of Luxemburg decided to convert the reliquary into a monument for his illustrious predecessor, who would be beatified in 1760. A remarkable element of the monument is that it is supported by a man and four young women.

Funerary monument for Bertrand de Saint Geniès.

On the walls of the other rooms of the museum we see the scant remains of medieval frescoes. It is often quite difficult to establish what they depict or depicted. The former chapel of San Nicolò is a pleasant exception to the rule. Here we find frescoes that were painted in 1349 by Vitale da Bologna (ca. 1310-1360). Three scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas can still be interpreted quite well. The large fresco in the lunette represents the funeral of the saint. Below it several miracles attributed to Saint Nicholas have been depicted. On the far right he saves a ship that has got into trouble during a heavy storm. This story helps explain why Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors. In the scene next to the ship the saint rescues a young boy. This may very well be the story of the child that was kidnapped by Muslim pirates and taken back to his family in Myra by Saint Nicholas. On the far right we see the story of the evil butcher who offers hospitality to three boys, but then kills them and puts them in a pickle barrel. Saint Nicholas manages to bring them back to life, which explains his status as patron saint of children.

Scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas – Vitale da Bologna.


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