“Ars sine scientia” or rather “Ars sine geometria”? The debate of 1400 on the elevation of Milan cathedral

Supplementary Files



Architectural theory
Building knowledge
Gothic architecture
Milan Cathedral.


The construction of Milan Cathedral from 1386 was one of the most important episodes in the history of Italian and European architecture because of the uniqueness of the building itself — the largest Gothic church ever constructed in Italy — and because of the presence of some of the most authoritative architects of the late Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries in Europe (Lombard, French, German).

The documentation about the discussions on how to build the Duomo in the late Trecento and early Quattrocento, especially on the structural choices to be made and the different Lombard and Northern building-site practices, made famous to English readers in a celebrated article by James Ackerman, is extraordinarily rich and extensive, permitting considerations on the relationship between medieval architectural ideals and an actual project.

The paper focuses on the famous discussions of 1400, in part a re-run of those of 1392. It will be argued that famous criticism by the French expert Jean Mignot of Milanese architects involving the terms ars and scientia could have a very different meaning from the one generally accepted in the literature. Consequently, it will result that Mignot wanted to return to the original project proposed by Gabriele Stornaloco, which embodied the desired correspondence between the sacred architecture and the perfect God’s world.

All of which, could be of some interest to medievalists in general, and to those concerned with architectural theory and with the relationship between Gothic architecture and literature in particular.



Ackerman, J. S. (1949). "Ars Sine Scientia Nihil Est" Gothic Theory of Architecture at the Cathedral of Milan. The Art Bulletin, 31(2), 84-111 (reprinted in Ackerman, J. S. (1994). Distance points: Essays in theory and renaissance art and architecture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 211-68)

Annali della Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano dall’origine fino al presente. (1877). Milano: G. Brigola, vol. I

Beltrami L. (1887). Per la facciata del Duomo di Milano. Beltrami, L., & Ramelli, A. C. (1964). Luca Beltrami e il Duomo di Milano: Tutti gli scritti riguardanti la cattedrale pubblicati tra il 1881 e il 1914. Milano: Ceschina, 37-91

Ceriani Sebregondi, G., & Schofield, R. (2016). First Principles: Gabriele Stornaloco and Milan Cathedral. Architectural History,59, 63-122.

Cimoli, A. C., & Irace, F. (2007). La divina proporzione: Triennale 1951. Milano: Electa.

Nava, A. (1854). Memorie e documenti storici intorno all’origine, alle vicende ed ai riti del Duomo di Milano. Milano: Tipografia Borroni et Scotti.

Schofield R, & Ceriani Sebregondi G. (2015). Disegni di Antonio di Vincenzo per il Duomo di Milano. Repishti F. CORPUS DEI DISEGNI DI ARCHITETTURA DUOMO DI MILANO. www.disegniduomomilano.it.Milano: Politecnico di Milano.

Trachtenberg, M. (2010). Building-in-time: From Giotto to Alberti and modern oblivion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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