The sober exterior of the Arezzo’s Cathedral gives little indication of the treasures within: a delightful Maddalena portrait by Piero della Francesca, XV century stained glass windows and a Gothic alterpiece in the form of San Donato’s tomb.
The severe-looking church stands at the highest point in town, near the Medieval Palazzo Comunale and a green esplanade called “Il Prato” and makes for a perfect stop after visiting the town.
The right side of the church is made from sandstone and was part of the original Medieval building. Its 14th-century portal has a terracotta lunette from 1330 and two porphyry columns pilfered from an ancient Roman temple. The main facade and the bell tower are from the 20th century, but the whole thing works together in a kind of sober harmony.
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The interior of Arezzo Cathedral:
Inside is where things get interesting. Here the light spills through colourful stained glass windows designed by the French master Guillaume de Marcillat between 1516 and 1524. Aside from this, his other claim to fame was that he once taught Vasari (born right here in Arezzo) and worked in Rome with Raffaello. Glass isn’t the easiest medium when it comes to showing depth and perspective, but de Marcillat managed it, creating a perfect consistency of detailed figures and architecture. The scenes include the Calling of St. Matthew, the Baptism of Christ, the Expulsion of Merchants from the Temple, the Adulteress, and the Raising of Lazarus.
Moving on, there’s the grand Gothic tomb of Guido Tarlati, and next door the beautiful portrait of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca, who also worked on the cycle of frescoes for the Church of San Francesco. She seems luminous, with a slightly flushed face. The striking colours of her dress, cape and hair give her a truly statuesque quality. And the overall effect is such that she looks like she is stepping out of the painted arch.
On the main altar you’ll find the richly decorated tomb where the headless body of the martyr San Donato is conserved (the reliquary in the Church of Santa Maria della Pieve was done for the head), dating 14th century.
If you have a soft spot for Andrea Della Robbia, don’t miss the neo-gothic Chapel of the Madonna del Conforto on the left-hand side, that houses several of his trademark terracottas.