The appearance of this great temple of Italian Gothic art is mainly due to the design made by Lorenzo Maitani, also inspiring on the other hand of the sculptural and ornamental repertoire that can be seen on the façade of Orvieto Cathedral.
The project began around the year 1310, and although Maitani did not see it completed and the works were also carried out by other architects later, the truth is that they all followed the main lines of the original project.
For example, on its main façade the towers are practically reduced to simple pinnacles, so typical of Gothic architecture, so that these towers do not compete in height or importance with the central gable. Actually, this is a very palpable demonstration that everything in the project poses a set with a scale of proportion that may be somewhat small for the total size of the building. For this reason, it is somewhat reminiscent of other examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy, such as the facade of the Cathedral of Pisa.
One of the striking features of the Orvieto Cathedral, is that when looking at the whole and particularly its façade, one does not find a dominant motif, such as the towers or a dome. Instead, everything provides a clear impression of unity andbalance, and even seems to be a piece-by-piece construction, which could be folded if necessary.
Another characteristic, despite being a Gothic work, is that there are hardly any openings that bathe the interior of the temple with light. In fact, on the façade it only opens through a small rose window and the doors themselves. Something that contrasts enormously with the great European Gothic temples of the time, such as the cathedrals of Reims or Notre Dame de Paris. And instead, although much of the construction is solid surface portions, at first sight it does not give the sensation of being a gigantic solid block. On the contrary, the stone provides a translucent idea due to the presence of ornamentation with brightly colored mosaics, something that has to do with the Byzantine heritage that is shown in many examples of Italian architecture of the Middle Ages.
In fact, it manages to convey to us the idea of weightlessness typically from Gothic, an art whose most splendid and recognizable examples are found in France. And although in Italian lands the influence of this Gallic Gothic style was not excessive, instead the architect and sculptor Lorenzo Maitani and the Cathedral of Orvieto are influenced by this art, and certain elements unthinkable in Italian medieval art can be discovered. For all these reasons, the result has an enormous personality resulting from different heritages and influences, both from Italy and from outside this country.