The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik
The Cathedral Of St James In Šibenik
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Cultural Croatia Europe And North America County Of Šibenik-knin

The Cathedral of Šibenik is the fruitful outcome of considerable interchanges of influences between the three culturally different regions of northern Italy, Dalmatia and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. These interchanges created the conditions for unique and outstanding solutions to the technical and structural problems of constructing the cathedral vaulting and dome. The structural characteristics of the cathedral make it a unique and outstanding building in which Gothic and Renaissance forms have been successfully blended.

Šibenik is a small town on the Dalmatian coast, opening out on a bay separated from the Adriatic by the Sveti Ante (St Anthony) channel and a multitude of tiny islands. The town was founded in the 10th century by the Subic family;it consists of a labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares climbing from the level of the cathedral to the fortress at the summit of the old town. Early in the 12th century it came under the sway of the kings of Hungary, who granted its independence. In 1116 and 1378 Šibenik suffered at the hands of the Venetians. They took the town in 1412, renaming it Sebenico and holding it until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. The cathedral of St James owes its present appearance to three successive periods of construction between 9 April 1431, when the first stone was laid, and 1535.

The Cathedral of St James bears witness to the considerable exchanges in the field of monumental arts between northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. The first phase (1431-41) was carried out under the supervision of master mason Francesco di Giacomo, who began raising the west front and the walls of the nave and aisles as far as the first cornice. This first phase of construction in the Gothic style of northern Italy was completed by the west and north doors. In 1441 Dalmatian architect and sculptor Georgius Mathei Dalmaticus was charged with the resumption of work to transform the simple basilica into a more imposing edifice. His projects were only partially executed and came to a halt once the apses were complete. Georgius Mathei Dalmaticus mingled the forms of late Gothic with those of the early Renaissance. The third and final phase was directed between 1475 and 1505 by Niccolòdi Giovanni Fiorentino, an Italian architect and sculptor who retained the overall conception of the structure, the use of stone as the only material, and the method of joining the slabs of stone developed by his predecessor.

The cathedral, consecrated in 1555, takes the form of a basilica consisting of three aisles, each ending in an apse, beyond a non-salient transept surmounted by a dome. A rectangular sacristy raised on pillars under which runs a passage leading to the baptistry stands between the southern apse and the Episcopal Palace. The three aisles are separated by two rows of Gothic columns, the capitals of which are decorated with plant motifs. Above them the fillet decorated with two rows of leaf-work motifs and the openings in the galleries, where short fluted pilasters alternate with columns, bear witness to the second phase of construction. There is a close correspondence between the interior and exterior forms of the building. The nave extends into a raised choir reached by means of a circular stairway. The altar stands at the rear of the central apse and there is a quatrefoil baptistry below the southern apse.

Georgius Mathei Dalmaticus built the cathedral, with the exception of the nave and the aisle walls, by assembling slabs of stone and the contiguous sections of pilaster and ribbing using a particular technique for the joints. The roofing of the aisles, as well as that of the apses and the dome, is made from stone 'tiles'. These roofing tiles are laid side by side with their horizontal edges overlapping, and the joints are made by the perfect fit. On the dome the tiles are held in place by stone wedges fitted with great precision and are inserted into the ribs as into a portcullis. This type of construction could well have taken its inspiration from shipbuilding, or from the experience of many artists whose first trade was the working of wood as joiners, cabinet-makers, or model makers. The solution adopted for the cathedral at Šibenik was made possible by the outstanding quality of the stone used, which came from the stone quarries of Veselje, on the island of Brac, which are still in operation to this day.

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