This is the second installment in our mini-series of notes on Church floors!
When you enter Spoleto’s majestic Duomo (also known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta), your eyes are immediately and inevitably drawn upward. Most of this cathedral’s treasures are in its soaring heights: the intricate rose windows, the imposing cupola, the rich “Life of the Virgin” frescoes by Florentine master Fra Filippo Lippi. But while you are gazing above, perhaps the most precious and spectacular of the Duomo’s artworks is literally at your feet.
Look down and you will discover an elaborate patchwork of geometric mosaics worked in a style called Cosmatesque after the Cosmati family in Rome. The Cosmati worked for four generations in the 13th century perfecting the of opus sectile — or cut work — technique, in which inlays of delicate triangles and rectangles of colored stone and glass mosaics are set into stone matrices or encrusted onto stone bases. The resulting work alternates bands and blocks of intricate mosaic with contrasting bands, guilloches (a repetitive architectural pattern), and simple geometric shapes of unadorned white marble.
This unique flooring is one of the only remnants of the Duomo’s original Romanesque interior; the inside of the church was redone in the first half of the 1600s and most of its former architectural lines lost. The Cosmati pavement covering the central nave and some of the altar luckily survived this unfortunate “restoration”, and is one of my favorite things to photograph (unfortunately the immense size of the church and the rows of pews covering much of the central nave makes it hard to capture the scale).
The next time you stop in to Spoleto’s Duomo, take in the sights above. But don’t forget to turn your gaze downward and admire the masterpiece below.