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Florence - Abbey of Santa Croce

bailica di santa croce, facciataThe huge basilica

It is probably by Arnolfo di Cambio, who probably worked at, from 1294-1295. I fact there are no written documents that confirm this. All the population of the Florentine Republic paid the construction, and rose on a previous small church the monks built just after their arrival in the city in 1252, in a place outside the walls a few years after the death of St. Francis. The ruins of the old building have bee discovered and located in 1966, following the collapse of the floor of the basilica after the flood. The church was finished about 90 years later, but was later consecrated only in 1444.
The basilica has continued to be enriched and amended during the seven centuries after its founding, acquiring new symbolic connotations: Franciscan church at 'Town Hall' religious for large families and corporations, laboratory workshop and artistic theological centre, from Pantheon glories of Italian place of reference of political history of pre-and post-unitary. Some changes were in fact a result of specific historical and political as the changes made by Vasari in mid-sixteenth century (also caused by the restoration after a disastrous flood) or its efforts to transform it, durig the XVIII Century, the Holy Cross, in the great mausoleum of Italian history. In 1966 the Florence Flood inflicted serious damage to the whole church and the convent, located in the lower part of Florence, so sadly become known as a symbol of artistic losses incurred by the city (especially with the destruction of Cimabue Crucifix), but also of its rebirth from the mud, through capillary work of restoration and conservation.

Santa croce, lato destroThe History

Originally, the basilica had a undefined façade. A feature typical of many Florentine basilicas. The pietraforte (hard stone) wall, resembling so much to what you can still see in San Lorenzo. In the fifteenth, Quaratesi family proposed to finance the new facade entrusting it to Simone del Pollaiolo nicknamed as “Chronicle”. The main condition however, was that the Quaratesi emblem was located in the middle of the front façade. This condition made the Franciscans monks to refuse the proposal. The rich Quaratesi family decided then to give their money to make nicer another Franciscan Church, San Salvatore a Monte. In addition to the emblem of Christ above the rosette (placed in 1437 during a severe plague), in a niche at the centre of simple central portal, was placed as single decoration, a gilded bronze statue of Saint Louis of Toulouse by Donatello removed from a niche of Orsanmichele (where he was replaced in'500 by a work of Giambologna). Today it can be admired in the convent refectory. The neo-Gothic facade was created between 1853 and 1863, created by Niccolò Matas and immediately criticised for its artificial neo-Gothic style. The shipyard was financed by a wealthy English Protestant named Sloane. The David star inserted in the eardrum of the facade, while not unknown as a Christian symbol, is generally understood as an allusion to religious faith of the architect.

chiostro della basilica di santa croceThe bell tower
The slender tower dates back to 1847, opera by Gaetano Baccani. Here too, as in the facade, the fifteenth C. project entrusted to Baccio Bandinelli was resolved in “nothing done”. The achievement is judged generally nineteenth as pretty enough for its simplicity, although the decoration with the ring on the cusp, reveals the inspiration modern and eclectic.
On the left of the churchyard was placed the pompous monument representing Dante, just at the end of celebration dedicated to him in 1865, for the sixth centenary Dante’s birth. In the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele II, was inaugurated at the heart of Piazza, but was later moved, to allow the new games of Florentine soccer games.

Internal Architecture.

The great nave, with colossal rhythmic spans, marks a milestone in the artistic and engineering. Later it will lead to building of the nave of Santa Maria del Fiore. The thin walls, supported by sixth acute arches sustained by octagonal pillars, recall the Christian Rome basilicas where Arnolfo worked for a long. The scale instead is infinitely bigger. The structural problems were a real challenge to the technical capabilities of time. The resolution of these problems was an important precedent for the great challenge of building the body of the basilica cathedral town. In particular, the gallery that crowns the arches and around the central nave, it is not just a stylistic trick to accentuate the horizontal construction and halt the gothic style, not too much e welcome in Florence. In fact it is a structural ligament to keep together the slender members and the large walls. Only from far away, as an example from the Michelangelo Large square, the external flanks with the knots triangular eardrums and the apse crowned with cuspids, can be appreciated fully. The ceiling trusses, deceptively 'Franciscan', involved a complicated device given the enormous structural free and light weight that threatened to crush the thin walls. The interior is extremely broad and solemn, it has a shape of a Egyptian cross, that’s a ' T ', typical of other large churches convent, with a particularly extended transept that cuts the church at polygonal apse. Arnolfo, respecting somehow the Franciscan spirit, drew a church with a deliberately strips plant, with large openings intended for lighting of the walls on which, as in other Franciscan churches first of all the Assisi’s, they should be large in fresco with figurative cycles, intending to explain to the illiterate people, the Holy Scriptures (the so-called Bible of the Poor). But the big church, built with contributions of major Florentine family, does not have the usual three chapels at the “top crux”, but it aligns eleven chapels, plus other fives, located at the ends of the transept. These chapels were earmarked for burials of donors and received extensive wall decorations at the hands of the greatest masters of the time.

The chapels

The Major Chapel.It’s inspired Gothic architecture more pure matrix transalpine, although mediated by Italian sobriety, with a strong vertical momentum, underlined by “the umbrella ribs“ in the vault and the extremely long narrow mullioned windows. The frescoes decorating the chapel, are the stories about the invention of the true cross, a tribute to the name of the church, carried out by Agnolo Gaddi around 1380.

The right Chapels
More important are the frescoes in the two subsequent right chapels, the Peruzzi Chapel and Bardi Chapel. Both decorated by Giotto between 1320 and 1325. In the first, there are depicted the Stories of San John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. In the Bardi’s instead, there are the Stories of St. Francis. Both frescoes were executed later by the innovating master of western art. They represent a summa of his work and his artistic testament. This influenced much, the next generations of Florentine painters (for example Domenico Ghirlandaio which 150 years later, remade following Giotto’s schemes, to create the Franciscan scenes inside Sassetti Chapel in SantaTrinita). There are details which reveal the master hand: the extraordinary space, made with great mastery of the arrangement of figures in the scene. The dramatic emphasized narrative shown with expression of the characters. For example in Death of St. Francis scene, of the Holy brothers despair in front of his death lying body, with incredibly realistic gestures and expressions. On top right of the transept, there is Baroncelli chapel, frescoed by Taddeo Gaddi with stories of the Virgin (1332-1338), where the great Giotto’s disciple led his research about the light (with a night scene, the first in the western art). The author designed the glasses, four prophets and perhaps even outside the altarpiece, some attributed to Giotto. Castellani Chapel instead, was frescoed by his son, Agnolo Gaddi with some aids, while the tabernacle is the work of Mino da Fiesole.

Left Chapels

Stand out at the end of the transept Flea-Berardi chapel with frescoes by Bernardo Daddi (XIV century) and a polychrome glass-terracotta by Giovanni della Robbia (over the altair). The last on transept side is the Bardi Chapel of Vernio, frescoed by Banco Maso, with the Stories of San Silvestro. The transept’s head chapel has the same name, where it’s kept the Donatello Crucifix. It made a dispute start, according to Vasari, between him and Filippo Brunelleschi, who talked badly about this work: the Christ is too rough and peasant. That’s the only wooden sculpture arrived to us, the crucifix that now lies in the Gondi Chapel of the basilica of Santa Maria Novella.

Medici Chapel.

Leaving the chapel aisle by the head of the right transept, through the portal designed by Michelozzo, beloved architect of the Medici family, we reach the Medici Chapel with a very simple and essential decoration, crowned elegant altarpiece glazed earthenware of Andrea della Robbia, dating from around 1480.


From here you get accesse to the great entirely frescoed, Sacristy. Upon geometric decoration of the lower part, you have on the south wall a series of scenes from the life of Christ performed by some of the most important painters of Giotto’s school: Nicholas Gerini, Taddeo Gaddi (the Crucifixion) and Spinello Aretino. On the east side, in conformity of the windows, there is the great Rinuccini Chapel, with frescoes painted between 1363 and 1366 by Giovanni da Milano (some attribute to Spinello Aretino).


Tombs and works in the aisles. Holy Cross as Pantheon of artists.

The basilica houses countless graves (just the terrain tombs are a few hudred. Some others were moved inside the cloisters or simply disappeared) many of which retain the graves of famous men. Although the basilica had been used as a burial place of many famous people, like many other churches. During the XVIII century, the church became a real pantheon of celebrities related to art, music and literature. In 1871 it was buried here with a crowded public ceremony Ugo Foscolo, who died in 1827 in England, according to his own desire to be buried alongside other major Florentine personalities like Michelangelo and Galileo. After this episode began arriving other bodies of deceased celebrities also many years before, as Gioacchino Rossini in 1887, Leon Battista Alberti, Vittorio Alfieri, etc., for which the best sculptors of the built monuments that still line the nave. Even Dante was prepared for a large tomb, but the city of Ravenna staunchly refused to deliver the remains of the poet died in exile.

Nave right

The most famous buried men, is Michelangelo Buonarroti, at the beginning of the right aisle, designed by Vasari, when the corpse of the great artist arrived in Florence from Rome (1564). Up to three tomb sculptures represent the personifications of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, sad for the death of the great master, but the whole of the tomb is a mix of painting, sculpture and architecture. In front of Michelangelo, on the pillar, it placed the sculpture of “Our Lady of milk” by Antonio Rossellino (1478) placed above the tomb of Francesco Nori, who died to save the life of Lorenzo the Magnificent during the so-called “Pazzi conspiracy”. Continuing in the right aisle meets the first Cenotaph of Dante, magnificent monument of 1829. On the next pillar rests the valuable pulpit Benedict da Maiano, wonderfully decorated with bas-scenes with a strong effect of depth thanks to the wise perspective. Following alongside the altar, the third, is the monument dedicated to Vittorio Alfieri by Antonio Canova (1810), and then Niccolò Machiavelli tomb (Innocent Spinazzi, 1787). The newsstand with the Annunciation, made in sandstone with gilding, is a famous work by Donatello, made with a unusual technique. Besides the door for the cloisters is the already mentioned monument to Leonardo Bruni, next to which they are buried Gioacchino Rossini and Ugo Foscolo. Nave left Galileo Galilei is buried at the beginning of the left aisle and his tomb is surrounded by a series of frescoes rediscovered after restorations in the last century. Nineteenth works instead, in the left aisle: monuments dedicated to Luigi Cherubini and Leon Battista Alberti, the latter by Lorenzo Bartolini. Bartolini has here by a plaque in public areas near the sacristy (instead is buried in the Chapel of St. Luke in the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata). Among the valuable pale side of the altar, stands out a Pieta by Agnolo Bronzino


The Cloisters and the Museum https://www.santacroce.firenze.it

The monastery and the history of the museum At the basilica corresponded one of the largest monasteries citizens. As in Santa Maria Novella environments were gradually secularized starting by the end of the eighteenth century and for other uses. For example, the National Central Library of Florence stands on land that was part of the first convent and today, between the various activities held in the monastery are - an elementary school and a school for leather artisans, who has a show-room near the sacristy. The most monumental of the complex, made up by former refectory with the Upper Room was set up as a museum since November 2, 1900, under the direction of Guido Carocci, where already there was a art works deposit, partly coming by demolition of the historic centre of the period of Rehabilitation. The museum was expanded and slowly enlarged with a new staging on March 26, 1959 as Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, with two cloisters, the main refectory and some other environment, but the disaster of flooding of Florence, with the water reached 4.88 meters in Santa Croce, made necessary a long period of closure to prepare the necessary restorations. It was only reopened in 1975 and a year later, during the decade of flooding, the battered Cimabue Crucifix was shown in the museum. Since 2000 about any basilica complex was converted into a single large museum with a single ticket surcharge, which a party has reduced the impact of mass tourism on the treasures of the basilica, on the other has triggered the typical polemics of when devotes a building of worship consecrated to use museum, impoverishing the spiritual role of these environments. Faced with these changes today is not much point in talking about Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, unless that should not only show the 'who were part of the museum'. In November 2006, just after the celebration for the forty years of flooding, nineteen pictorial works have returned to their place after a meticulous and complex restoration. Among the XIII’s paintings returned back “alive” like: “Madonna and child and saints” by Nardo di Cione, the Coronation of the Virgin by Lorenzo di Niccolò, Polyptych of San Giovanni Gualberto by Giovanni del Biondo, a “San Jacopo” by Lorenzo Monaco, a “San Bernardino of Siena” by Rossello di Jacopo and a “St. Bonaventure” by Domenico di Michelino. Among the blades Renaissance is one the Deposition from the Cross by Francesco Salviati (which has suffered almost miraculous recovery after he was found torn to pieces) and The descent of Christ to Limbo Agnolo Bronzino (after the restoration were discovered gory details of demons, censored in ancient times). Actually it’s only missing the great canvas of the “Last Supper” by Giorgio Vasari, separated in the epoch into large segments and stored for forty years. The Opificio delle Pietre Dure director, Mrs. Cristina Acidini, now revealed all the restorers efforts will devote to this complicated recovery.

The cloisters and the Pazzi Chapel

The fourteenth-century cloister which introduces the Chapel de' Pazzi is on the right side of the facade of the Basilica. It was originally composed of two separate cloisters, a rectangular and a square, which is clearly reflected in the plant today. On the right side of the facade is an indentation where a number of cypress trees surrounding the statues of seated Father God by Baccio Bandinelli and the Warrior bronze by Henry Moore. The Pazzi Chapel is a masterpiece by Filippo Brunelleschi and throughout the Renaissance architecture, wonderful example of spatial harmony achieved in all its structural elements and decorative.

The refectory

The exhibition continues with the visit of the premises of the fourteenth century Refectory where posts are important examples of sacred art among which stands out the splendid Cimabue Crucifix, one of works of art most important of all times, key in the transition from Byzantine painting to modern unfortunately become sadly famous as a symbol of destruction caused by the 1966’s flood, despite the restoration the painted surface has been largely lost and to be able to admire we remain fully only photographs prior to the disaster. The refectory west wall is completely covered by the large number of frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi (1333). The outline of the decorations, became soon, a typical scene for cenacles convents, with a Crucifixion, represented here as “Tree of Life”, surrounded by some scenes among which stands out the Last Supper. At the bottom, the first prototype of the Florentine cenacles that will decorate the refectories of the most prestigious convents and monasteries in the city. On the walls are then exposed six fragments of frescoes of a Triumph of Death by Andrea Orcagna, found under the sixteenth plaster. Probably they were seriously damaged by the flood of 1557, so much to compel Vasari (certainly not the work covered for only ancient spirit of renewal style, being an extreme admirer of the ancient masters Florence) to make new altars in sandstone on a white plaster wall. The fragments found are significant for the vivid narration of the scenes and colourful pictorial language. The statue of St. Louis of Toulouse a mighty works by Donatello, one of the few golden bronze of the great Florentine sculptor (1423-1424), originally built for a niche Orsanmichele, was later substituted by another Giambologna work and exposed for about three centuries (from fivehundred-century till the eight-hundred century) in a niche in the unfinished facade centre. The removed fragment fresco of Saints John the Baptist and Francis is part of a larger fresco made in the typical bright style of Domenico Veneziano. In here there are exposed too the nineteen blades (paintings on wood or on canvas) damaged during the flood and replaced in 2006, following a lengthy and comprehensive restoration work.

Other environments

In other 5 screens are stored other valuable works among which stand out the Polyptych of Giotto, the reconstruction of the monument to Gastone of Tower by Tino Camaino, a sculpture of Andrea della Robbia and the valuable silver reliquary bust of the Blessed Umiliana de' Cerchi attributed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. From the first cloister there is a accessible tunnel where there are placed, tombs plates from the nineteenth, removed from inside the church, among which are often important academic sculpture works made in the nineteenth century.

mple introduces a great statue of Galileo and some paintings dedicated to the scientific knowledge (of Nicholas Cianfanelli).


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