(“Tramonto tra le guglie” by P.Gabriele)
I adore climbing up from the underground station ‘Duomo’ and seeing the cathedral appear in front of my eyes with all its beauty and magnificence.
There aren’t so many man made objects that would fascinate me every single time I see them. Duomo di Milano is one of them. Maybe it’s because it represents the whole world – from the smallest animals to angels and demons, or because it’s so carefully designed and decorated, or because it’s a cathedral that means so much to Milan.
I’m sure every Milanese brings the city guests and visitors to see Duomo from outside, then inside and finally from the roof.
I personally believe, that every Milanese could perfectly describe Duomo using quite sophisticated Gothic architecture terms in Italian. However, the ones who have foreign visitors or friends might struggle a bit. So here you are, a short glossary for Gothic cathedral terms.
Apse (abside) – the semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir or aisles of a church.
Arcade (arcata) – an arch or a series of arches supported by piers or columns
Arch (arco)- the pointed arch is widely regarded as the main identifiable feature of Gothic architecture (distinct from the round arch of the Romanesque period). The most common Gothic arches are the Lancet, Equilateral and Ogee.
Buttress (contrafforte) – a mass of stone built up to support a wall, usually necessary to strengthen those of great height.
Capital (capitello)the cap or crown to a column, usually heavily decorated.
Canopy – (cupola, volta)a decorated rooflike projection or a richly decorated baldachin over a statue
The main body,or nave (navata), of the cathedral is usually divided into one main, and two side aisles (navata laterale) These lead up to the north and south transepts (transetto), or arms of the cross, the shape in which a cathedral is traditionally set out.
Chapels (cappella)- the recesses on the sides of aisles in cathedrals and abbey churches. Sometimes known as chantries.
Choir (coro)- the area of the main altar where services are sung, located between the crossing and the apse.
Cinquefoil (cinquefoglio)- in tracery, having five pendants in a circular ring; usually applied to windows and panels.
Colonettes (colonnine) – Small, thin columns, often used for decoration or to support an arcade.
Column (colona) – a cylindrical support, usually capped by a decoratedcapital.
Crossing (crociera)- intersection of the nave, transepts & chancel.
Façade (facciata) -the front of the cathedral. During the Gothic era, the west façade at the entranceway was noted for its three sculptured portals, and crowning rose window flanked by two towers. Starting with Saint-Denis, this became a feature of Gothic cathedrals.
Flying buttress (arco rampante) – a buttress arched over at the top to engage with a main wall. A principal feature of Gothic architecture, lending strength and solidity to the main structure.
Finial – (rifinitura) small ornament located on top of a pinnacle or gable.
Gargoyle (gargoyle) – a spout usually carved in the shape of an animal or demon, and connected to a gutter for throwing rain water from the roof of a building.
Grotesque (figura grottesca) – a carving usually of a demon, dragon, or half human/half animal, serving no utilitarian purpose. Often confused with gargoyles.
Jamb (stipite) – the stones forming the side of a door or window.
Jamb figures – located on either side of the main portal door; the first carved figures a visitor meets on a visit to a Gothic cathedral.
Lancet arch – a Gothic pointed arch usually applied to long, narrow windows.
Lady chapel (Cappella assiale) – the easternmost chapel of a cathedral, intended for quiet contemplation and the occasional special service.
Niche (Nicchia) – a recess in a wall for the reception of a statue.
Oculus – a small circular or eye-shaped window.
(“Duomo di Milano” by P.Gabriele)
Perpendicular style – the name given to late 15th century English Gothic architecture as lines became longer and carving more elaborate. Also know as Flamboyant style.
Pillar (pilastro) A support which does not taper, has an impost, and does not need to be cylindrical as is the case with a column. The shaft consists of either rectangular, octagonal, circular, or cruciform blocks and may have a capital.
Pinnacle (pinnacolo) a slender, pointed summit placed on top of buttresses, gables, etc.
Quatrafoil (quadrifoglio) – tracery constructed from four foils.
Reredos (dossale) – a decorative screen behind the altar, usually highly carved.
Rose window (rosone) – a large, circular window with heavily foliated tracery branching out from a common center.
Spire (guglia) – a sharply pointed pyramidal structure surmounting a tower.
Stained glass (vetro colorato, vetrata) – colored windows of Gothic cathedrals made from a combination of many pieces of colored and semi-transparent white glass joined together with lead strips. The function of stained glass was to fill the cathedral with light in windows which also fulfilled a narrative and illustrative purpose, in representing Biblical events and the lives of saints.
Tracery (traforo)- ornamental stonework most often seen supporting window glass in the form of trifoils and cinquefoils. Sometimes used merely as decoration on panels and moldings and then called ‘blind’ tracery.
Trifoil (trifoglio) – tracery in three foils.
Tympanum (timpano) – a panel above a main portal, or doorway, usually heavily decorated.
Vault (volta) – an arched ceiling.