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|Milan - Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie|
The unique blend of simple elegant Tuscan architectural forms and colourful Lombard decorative motifs produced an extraordinary offspring: the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In 1463, a captain in Francesco Sforza's army, Gaspare Vimercati, donated a plot of land to the Dominican order. On the site was a chapel adorned with a fresco of the Virgin, so called Madonna delle Grazie. The monks commissioned Guiniforte Solari to build a church and monastery on the plot, and ground was broken on September 10, 1463. The church that Solari built between 1466 and 1490 is a typical example of the transition stage between Gothic and Renaissance, as can be seen in the Lombard style gabled fašade decorated with pilaster strips and pierced by a single opening below and several niches above. Only the gabled portal belongs to the period when the Renaissance architect Donato Bramante was involved in the work. The church was just about ready - the presbytery and apse had already been finished - when the new ruler of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, ordered it enlarged. Both presbytery and apse were torn down so that Donato Bramante could put up his own design for the huge apse. It was begun in March 1492 and when it was completed in 1497 Ludovico had his wife, Beatrice d'Este, buried there.
Bramante's great tribune was a lesson in Renaissance architecture to the artists of Lombardy, even though his idea of three apses radiating from a square is actually based on an older building (the Parma Cathedral). Nevertheless, we must not fail to mention that the great Florentine architect of the Early Renaissance, Brunelleschi, greatly influenced Bramante's concept of simple, perfectly proportioned, harmonious space. From the outside the tribune looks like a giant wheel resting upon a cube. The decorative effect is enhanced by the double column arcade encircling the top part of the dome and the use of rectangular windows alternating with pilasters cut into the lower level. Geometric patterns in brickwork make an attractive contrast against the neutral colour of the wall surface. All of these elements combine to give a sense of spatial grandeur satisfying both eye and spirit.
The interior, like the outside of the church, is richly satisfying in its magnificently conceived contrast of the nave's Gothic purity and the tribune's Renaissance decorativeness. Guiniforte Solari designed the nave with its Gothic style pointed arches. The strong downward thrust of the arches brusquely interrupted where the pilaster strips join the decorated capitals of the columns, create a feeling of great spaciousness in the nave. The rhythmic procession of columns leads us to Bramante's tribune. The inside of the cube with its strictly geometric partition of space appears fragmented by the use of colourful decorative motifs. The four huge arches, one for each side of the cube, join the lower spaced to the dome, by means of pendentives. The end arch opens into the presbytery, whereas the other two-form giant niches on either side of the choir. The painted decoration is extremely simple, and it's in the extreme simplicity of the geometrical motifs, that the originality of Bramante's conception lies. Only three designs, the circle, the square, and the spoked wheel are used, and they are harmoniously repeated.
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