Inlaid choir stalls

Wooden choir (mid 16th century) – originally in the church of Santa Maria della Scala

The choir, carved in walnut wood and comprising nineteen stalls, was originally in the 14th century church of Santa Maria della Scala. It was moved to San Fedele’s in 1776, when Santa Maria was demolished to allow for the construction of Teatro della Scala. The architect Giuseppe Piermarini, who designed the theatre, was personally involved in the relocation of the choir, which needed some alterations to fit in San Fedele’s apse.
The design of the choir is rather understated, with a lower row of nineteen simple stalls, and an upper one of nineteen more ornate seats, sporting backrests with marquetry of perspective arches. Each backrest panel is an inlay masterpiece of minute fragments of bone and mother-of-pearl decorating the vault, the sides and the floor of an arch, as vivid as a painting.
Each arch frames a scene with buildings and urban views, likely to be idealised representations of the city of Milan. Seven are of archaeological sites, with ruins of houses, pyramids, arches, doors etc. Four are of bridges over a stream. In the early 16th century there was a great deal of interest and respect for mementos of the ancient past, be it the classical times or the Middle Ages. Some elements of the scenes like domes, towers and loggias could represent real buildings of the Milan of that period, but are hard to verify from pictures and drawings of the time. The fact that some of the panels also show arms and other militaria could hint at the military triumphs of the noble families of the clergy of Santa Maria’s.
Completed in 1560 the choir is part of a trend of wooden marquetry choirs, with earlier examples of the highest standard in the Lombardy region dating from the 15th century. The craftsman’s name is unknown, although some clues point to Anselmo de’ Conti.