Vanvitelli's project: a possibile Facade

When he arrived in Milan in April of 1745, Luigi Vanvitelli immediately agreed to take over the job of designing the facade of the Cathedral. After examining the drawings of his predecessors, such as the one by Vertemate Cotognola, the architect took inspiration above all from the design by Francesco Castelli.

His plans for the facade kept him busy for the whole of May and June. Accounts from this period describe Vanvitelli as being engaged in diligently measuring the Duomo and its main decorations, and in inspecting the quarry where white Candoglio marble was extracted as well as the one in Baveno where the red marble would be extracted for the spiral columns he had designed. The architect's marvel and the satisfaction with regard to the choice of the red marble are recorded in the capitular orders, but also his concern over the transport, since memory of a shattered column was still vivid. After delivering the designs, Vanvitelli returned Rome.

In his absence, the situation gradually worsened. Contrary to the instructions of the architect who would later design the Royal Palace in Caserta, the two posts next to the main door were not removed. It was decided that the opinion of the architect, Carlo Giuseppe Merlo, should be requested, but the reply was not prompt. In the meantime, the designs by Vittone were rejected. A record of payment made to Vanvitelli for his work has been found in the archives: three thousand liras on 1 July 1745, in a bill of exchange to be exhibited in Rome, and three thousand liras in cash.

An exchange of architectural opinions then followed between Francesco Croce and Vanvitelli on the relationship between the facade and the square, and on that between the facade and the body of the cathedral, on light and on the essence of the Gothic style. In the opinion of the Milanese architect, this style could be acceptable in certain conditions and considering each case individually, while the Neapolitan architect held it to be a corruption of good Roman architecture.

Despite the favourable reception by the Chapter of the Duomo, Vanvitelli's facade design was never completed due to the opposition of the Milanese school, who considered it to be too much in contrast with the rest of the building, with horizontal divisions and a portico that diminished the soaring vertical lines of the cathedral.