Asti: The Duomo

Cathedral of Asti.

The cathedral of Asti, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and San Gottardo, is located on the northwestern edge of the historical city centre. The large building – travel guides like to stress that it is one of the largest Gothic churches of Piemonte – stands just within the medieval city walls of Asti, of which the remains can be seen just north of the cathedral. According to a local publication[1] there were Roman temples in this area in Antiquity, but unfortunately I have not found a trace of any of these. The cathedral is a building that combines Gothic architecture with frescoes in the style of the Baroque, a combination that is unusual rather than beautiful. For me the remains of the floor mosaics from the twelfth or thirteenth century were the highlight of my visit.


The history of the cathedral probably goes back to Late Antiquity. The first church building may have been erected in the fifth or sixth century. This building was lost around 1070, after which the new cathedral was consecrated at the end of 1095 by Pope Urbanus II (1088-1099), shortly after his return from Clermont where he had called for the First Crusade. The bell-tower, built in 1266, is the only remnant of the Romanesque cathedral. The tower has, by the way, lost its top floor and spire over the course of the centuries. In the first half of the fourteenth century a whole new cathedral was built in the Gothic style. Three bishops of Asti were involved in the process: Guido II Valperga (1295-1327), Arnaldo De Rosette (1327-1348) and Baldracco Malabayla (1348-1354). The building was strongly influenced by French Gothic architecture, supposedly the result of bishop Arnaldo being from Cahors in Southern France. Perhaps the cathedral was already completed when Arnaldo died in 1348, but in Asti the completion is usually attributed to bishop Baldracco Malabayla, a member of a prominent family in the town.

Side view of the cathedral.

In the second half of the fifteenth century the cathedral was renovated, acquiring its present façade in the process. The current interior of the Duomo dates from the eighteenth century, when a large-scale remodelling in the style of the Baroque took place. In the first decades of this century the columns and vaults of the cathedral were decorated with frescoes by teams of painters from Milan and Bologna who are so obscure that they do not even have their own biographical pages on Wikipedia. The quality of the frescoes is debatable, but the loss of the ribs of the Gothic cross-vaults can only be lamented. The high altar dates from 1732 and was designed by Benedetto Alfieri (1699-1767). Lastly, the rear part of the cathedral was completed in 1762-1764. It is the result of a remodelling which was led by the architect Bernardo Antonio Vittone (1704-1770) from Turin. The frescoes in this part of the building were then painted between 1767 and 1769 by Carlo Innocenzo Carloni (1686-1775), a painter who, unlike his predecessors, did manage to get his own Wikipedia page.

Decorations of the façade of the cathedral.

Portale Pelletta.


The façade of the cathedral is simple and made almost entirely of brick. Two of the three entrances seem to have fallen into disuse, but then again visitors enter the building through the side entrances anyway. The three portals, and especially the central portal, do still have a number of fairly good sculpted reliefs in the Romanesque style, perhaps remnants of the eleventh-century cathedral. See the image above.

Much more beautiful and interesting than the façade is the portal on the south side of the cathedral. The portal dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century, but the statues were added in the fifteenth century by a member of the Pelletta family, a family of bankers and one of the richest families in Asti. Because of their involvement the portal is often called the Portale Pelletta. The four statues above the columns represent Saints Jerome, Peter, Paul and Blaise of Sebaste. Above the Gothic pointed arch we see the Santa Maria Assunta to whom the cathedral is primarily dedicated, i.e. the Virgin Mary taken up to heaven by angels. All the way at the top a female head is visible. The woman is called “Madama Troyana”. Like the Pelletta family, the Troya family was part of the aristocracy in Asti, and “Madama Troyana” might refer to a daughter from the Troya family who married a Pelletta son.

Interior of the cathedral.


Interior of the cathedral.

On the left side of the cathedral one can find the works of the local painter Gandolfino da Roreto in two chapels. His Marriage of the Virgin dates from 1510, while his panel of the Madonna and Child with saints was completed six years later. A third work by Gandolfino is located in the large chapel in the right aisle, which is dedicated to San Filippo Neri. The work is a polyptych that was disassembled at the end of the seventeenth century. The constituent parts have now been incorporated into a Baroque altar.

Much more interesting are the twelfth- or thirteenth-century floor mosaics in the sanctuary of the cathedral. These were part of the Romanesque cathedral and must also have embellished its Gothic successor, but in the sixteenth century they were covered by a new floor and the mosaics were forgotten. Researchers did not rediscover them until 1984-1985. The mosaics were laid in three rows with a total of twelve images. Regretfully most of these have been more or less damaged by the heavy scaffolds that were placed in the sanctuary when it was renovated in the eighteenth century. Fortunately enough of the images has been preserved to be able to interpret them.

Floor mosaics in the sanctuary.

Floor mosaics in the sanctuary.

In the four corners we see the four rivers of Paradise, mentioned in Genesis 2:11-14. Five mosaics tell stories from the life of Samson, one of the protagonists in the Book of Judges and leader of the Israelites in their struggle against the Philistines. We see him killing a lion and causing the collapse of the temple of Dagon. The first of the three remaining mosaics has an image of King David riding a horse. The caption reads REX PROFETA DAVID. The second mosaic shows a man behind a lectern and the text CANTOR. A cantor is a singer in a church. As the choir of the cathedral is behind the sanctuary, the mosaic presumably refers to the liturgical singing during mass. The last mosaic depicts a rider with a falcon on his arm and – possibly – a dog. The text accompanying the mosaic reads COM[ES] RIPRANDVS, “Count Riprandus”. However, we do not know which Riprandus or Riprando this is. In the tenth and eleventh centuries there were a couple of Counts of Piacenza named Riprando, but it seems very unlikely that one of these was depicted here in Asti. As of 1095, Asti no longer had a count itself. In the aforementioned year the town became a free comune.


Four mosaics: Samson and the temple of Dagon (bottom left), COMES RIRPANDVS (bottom right), CANTOR (top left) and a river of Paradise (top right).

Very intriguing is a sculpture group from 1500-1502 that represents the Lamentation of the Dead Christ. The group originally stood in the large chapel to the right of the choir, which belonged to the Malabayla family. As we have already seen above, this was one of the most distinguished families in Asti. It provided the town with no fewer than four bishops, Baldracco (1348-1354), Giovanni (1355-1376), Vasino I (1473-1475) and Vasino II (1519-1525). It was Vasino I who in his will left money to remodel the family chapel. Work on the chapel was completed a few years after his death in 1495. In 1767 a niche was created for the sculpture group in the left aisle and that is where we can still admire the work. The statues were made of terracotta, which was later painted. The name of the maker or makers has unfortunately not been recorded, but we are dealing with a work of high quality and the amount of drama we see is also quite high.

Lamentation of the Dead Christ.

Holy water basin.

There is supposedly a work by Francesco Bassano the Younger (1549-1592) in the sacristy of the cathedral and a work by Guglielmo Caccia, nicknamed Il Moncalvo (1568-1625), in the chapter room. I have not been able to corroborate this information, as both rooms were closed when I visited the cathedral. The last object that I would like to mention in this post was fortunately not off-limits. It is a holy water basin situated in the front part of the cathedral. Its base is an inverted Roman capital. Placed on the capital is a basin featuring lions and griffins which dates from the thirteenth century. On the basin we can clearly read the year MCCXXVIIII, i.e. 1229.


  • Amici dei Musei e dell’Archivio Storico di Asti (red.), The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption Asti;
  • Urban itineraries, p. 16;
  • Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Asti) – Wikipedia;
  • Information panels in the church;
  • Trotter travel guide Northwest Italy, p. 216.


[1] Asti. Urban itineraries, p. 16.

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  1. Pingback:Asti: Palazzo Mazzetti – – Corvinus –

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