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The church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro

Sometimes you don't have to believe your own eyes


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Where is


Via Torino, 17, 20123 Milano MI, Italia (122m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

I like to amaze my guests and lead them to visit this masterpiece of the Milanese Renaissance: the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro, built by Donato Bramante, whose architecture leaves one stunned. Some hurried visitors stop at the threshold of the church and walk away without realizing that beyond the three naves, the altar and the choir, there is much more. In fact, I stand corrected: there is much less! Yes, that richly decorated apse, in perfect balance with the dimensions of the aisles and side transepts, does not exist. Don't believe it? Try to get closer then, you will be surprised.

Why it is special

What you see is nothing more than a deception achieved by a perspective illusion that simulates an apse, which does not actually exist. It is an ingenious solution to a seemingly unsolvable architectural problem. In the original design of the church, in fact, chancel and apse were to measure 9.7 meters, as were the transepts, but permits were not obtained for the construction of this space. The problem was solved by Donato Bramante who, by making a few relief elements and pictorial decorations that followed the rules of perspective, condensed those 9.7 meters into just 97 centimeters!

Not to be missed

In the church you can also admire other masterpieces: the splendid Sacristy of Bramante, with an octagonal plan and a segmented dome; but also the "Lamentation over the Dead Christ" by Agostino de' Fondutis, a terracotta composition placed inside the Sacellum of San Satiro, the oldest building in the whole complex. It is also very interesting to find out the story of the "Madonna and Child," placed on the high altar: it is believed to be miraculous.

A bit of history

The Sacellum of San Satiro dates as far back as the 9th century. The construction of the church is deeply linked to this first building: on the outside of the small church, in fact, there was an icon of the Virgin that one day turned out to be miraculous. Two centuries after the prodigy, in the second half of the 1400s, it was decided to build a church that could house the sacred image. The work was entrusted to Bramante in 1480, and shortly afterward the decoration of the interior began. The facade entrusted to Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, however, was never finished.


Most saints can boast several churches and chapels dedicated to them. Not San Satiro. Those devoted to the saint would necessarily have to go to Milan, to the church of Santa Maria in San Satiro, as this is the only parish in Italy dedicated to him.

chiesa-san-satiro-milano-trompe-l'oeilIt is enough to change perspective to realize that something is not as it seemed. - Ph: Paolobon140 (Source)

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Paola Raverdino

It amazes me every time because of the play of illusions created by one of the great masters of Renaissance architecture-Donato Bramante.