Prima e dopo Millin: le porte bronzee d’età normanna in Puglia

Author: Antonio Iacobini

Before and after Millin: Bronze Doors in Norman Apulia

The article focuses on the medieval bronze doors in Apulia, which were visited and studied by the French art historian Aubin-Louis Millin at the beginning of 1813 while he was exploring Southern Italy. A series of drawings of the doors was made on this occasion by the Neapolitain Ignazio Aveta and is today in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Such copies, which concern the doors in the Troia and Trani cathedrals as well as those in the Canosa Bohemund mausoleum and in St. Nichola’ of Bari basilica, are particularly important: with the exception of the byzantine door in Monte Sant’Angelo, five out of six of the Millin collection’s drawings are the very first iconographic documentation of such works of art and were made more than twenty years earlier than those that were used for the etchings of the volumes by Jean-Louis-Alphonse Huillard-Bréholles (1844) and Heinrich Wilhelm Schulz (1860).
Millin ensured that the drawn copies included not only the iconographic and ornamental details of the doors but also the inscriptions so that they could be rigorously analysed both textually and palaeographically. Although the technical quality of these copies is not outstanding, their documentary relevance is of paramount importance. The Canosa copy, for example, confirms that by 1813 the relief sculptures on the door had completely disappeared and that the original lower part of the left leaf was still extant. This last detail leads one to believe that the door damage did not occur in 15th century, as has already been proposed, but rather more probably in the second half of 19th century, when it is mentioned for the first time in Vito Fontana’s report (1878).
The most important drawing of the series is the only surviving copy of a lost door with figurative decoration of the St. Nichola’ of Bari basilica. Structurally, iconographically and epigraphically such a work has strong affinities with the bronze doors in Ravello, Monreale and Trani, all of which bear Barisano da Trani’s signature. Ignazio Aveta’s drawing allows therefore to infer that the famous foundry worker had been working for Bari sanctuary as well, maybe around 1170, i.e. at the beginning of his career. The 1813 drawing reproduces a disorderly combination of the panels, which could be the result of the assemblage of what remained of two previous twin doors that were originally located at the basilica’s side entrances near the stairs leading to the crypt with the saint’s tomb.
An appendix to the article by Anna Maria Martino presents a so far unpublished 18th century description of the two bronze doors of Troia cathedral that is included in the Troja Sagra’s manuscript by Vincenzo Aceto (Troia, Archivio Storico Capitolare, ms. 50).