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Santa Croce Abbey - Pazzi Chapel

Basilica di Santa Croce e Cappella dei Pazzi, Firenze
Credits Luca Casprini

The grandiose basilica is probably the work of Arnolfo di Cambio, who'd worked there since 1294-1295, even if we didn't find any clear documents about it. The population of the Florentine Republic paid the cost, and was built on a previous small church that the friars had built following their arrival in the city in 1252, in a place still outside the walls, a few years after the death of St. Francis. In 1966, following the collapse of the floor of the basilica after the flood, we found the remains of the ancient building. The church was finished about 90 years later, but was consecrated later only in 1444. The basilica continued to be enriched and modified in the seven centuries since its foundation, acquiring new symbolic features: from a Franciscan church to a religious "town hall". Important families and corporations, from laboratory and artistic workshop to the theological center, from Pantheon of Italian glories to a place of reference in the political history of pre and post-unification Italy. Some transformations were the result of precise historical and political vicissitudes, such as the transformations made by Vasari in the mid-sixteenth century (also caused by the restoration after a disastrous flood) or the efforts lavished in the nineteenth century to transform Santa Croce into the great mausoleum of Italian history. In 1966 the Florence flood inflicted serious damage to the complex of the basilica and the convent, located in the lower part of Florence, so as to become sadly known as a symbol of the artistic losses suffered by the city (especially with the destruction of the Crucifix of Cimabue), but also of its rebirth from the mud, through the capillary work of restoration and conservation.

Originally the basilica had an unfinished facade, a typical feature of many Florentine basilicas. The exposed stone wall was very similar to what is still visible in San Lorenzo. In the fifteenth century the Quaratesi family had proposed to finance the new façade entrusting it to Simone del Pollaiolo called Il Cronaca. The condition, however, that the Quaratesi coat of arms appeared well in sight at the center of the main front discouraged the Franciscan friars from accepting the proposal, and the rich family decided to dedicate themselves to the embellishment of another Franciscan church, San Salvatore al Monte. In addition to the crest of Christ over the rose window (placed in 1437 during a severe pestilence), in the middle of the simple central portal in a niche, the gilded bronze statue of San Ludovico di Tolosa di Donatello was placed as the only decoration. niche of Orsanmichele (where it was replaced in the '500 by a work by Giambologna), which today can be admired in the refectory of the convent. The neo-Gothic facade was created between 1853 and 1863, a highly criticized work by the Jewish architect Niccolò Matas for his artificial neo-Gothic style. All in all, it was one of the few modern construction sites that did not cause losses of ancient artifacts or important testimonies, and which crowned the piazza grandly, fueling the myth of Santa Croce in Italy and abroad. The yard was financed by a wealthy English Protestant named Sloane. the star of David inserted in the tympanum of the façade, although not unknown as a Christian symbol, is generally understood as an allusion to the architect's religious faith. The bell tower. The slender bell tower dates back only to 1847, the work of Gaetano Baccani; here too, as for the façade, the fifteenth-century project, entrusted to Baccio Bandinelli, had been resolved into nothing. The nineteenth-century realization is generally considered to be rather graceful due to its limited simplicity, even if the decoration with the ring on the cusp reveals the modern eclectic inspiration. On the left of the churchyard was the pompous monument to Dante at the conclusion of the Dante celebrations of 1865 for the 6th centenary of the birth of the great poet. In the presence of King Victor Emmanuel II was inaugurated in the center of the square, but was later moved, also to allow the historical soccer games. Also called: costume-soccer.

Internal architecture. The grandiose central nave, punctuated by colossal spans, marks a fundamental stage in the artistic and engineering journey that will lead to the nave of Santa Maria del Fiore. The thin walls, supported by pointed arches on octagonal pillars, recall the early Christian basilicas of Rome where Arnolfo worked for a long time, but the scale is infinitely bigger and the structural problems constituted a real challenge to the technical skills of the time. The resolution of these problems constituted an important precedent for the great challenge of building the basilica body of the city cathedral. In particular, the gallery that crowns the arches and surrounds the central nave is not just a stylistic device to accentuate the horizontal course of the building and curb Gothicism, then not much appreciated in Florence, but a structural ligament to hold together the slender members and the vast wall mirrors. Only from a distance, for example from Piazzale Michelangelo, one can fully appreciate the external sides with the naked triangular tympanums and the apse crowned with cusps. The trussed ceiling, deceptively "Franciscan", required a complicated structural device given the enormous free light and the weight that threatened to overwhelm the thin walls. The interior, extremely wide and solemn, has an Egyptian cross shape, that is to say "T", typical of other large convent churches, with a particularly large transept that cuts the church up to the polygonal apse. Arnolfo, respecting in some way the Franciscan spirit, designed a church with a deliberately bare plant, with large openings for the illumination of the walls on which, as already in other Franciscan churches, first of all that of Assisi, great figurative cycles had to be frescoed. intended to tell the illiterate people the Scriptures (the so-called Bible of the Poor). But the great church, built with the contributions of the main Florentine families, does not have the usual three chapels at the capocroce, but aligns eleven, plus five others located at the ends of the transept. These chapels were destined to the burials of the donors and received rich wall decorations by the hands of the greatest masters of the time.

The chapels
The Major Chapel is inspired by the purest Gothic architecture of transalpine origin, although mediated by Italian sobriety, with a strong vertical momentum, underlined by the umbrella ribs in the vault and the extremely long narrow two-light windows. The frescoes that decorate it are the Stories of the invention of the true cross, a tribute to the name of the church, made by Agnolo Gaddi around 1380.

Chapel on the right. The frescoes in the following two chapels on the right are more noteworthy: the Peruzzi Chapel and the Bardi Chapel, both decorated by Giotto between 1320 and 1325. The first depicts the Stories of St. John the Baptist and those of St. John the Evangelist. in that Bardi the Stories of St. Francis. Both frescoes were executed in the late age by the master renovator of Western art and represent a summa of his pictorial work and an artistic testament, which will greatly influence the next generation of Florentine painters (for example Domenico Ghirlandaio 150 years later again of the Bardi Chapel to create the Franciscan scenes in the Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinita). The details that reveal the master's hand are the extraordinary spatiality, rendered with great mastery of the arrangement of the figures in the scene and the dramatic rendering of the narration underlined by the expressiveness of the characters. For example, in the scene of the Death of Saint Francis the confreres of the Saint are desponders in front of the extended body, with incredibly realistic gestures and expressions. Also on the right, at the top of the transept, is the Baroncelli chapel, frescoed by Taddeo Gaddi with Stories of the Virgin (1332-1338), where Giotto's great disciple led his studies on light (with the first portraiture of a scene night in western art) and also author of drawings for the stained glass window, of the four prophets on the outside and perhaps also of the altarpiece, some also attributed to Giotto. The Castellani Chapel instead was frescoed by his son Agnolo Gaddi with aid, while the tabernacle is the work of Mino da Fiesole.

Left chapels. As far as the left chapels are concerned, the Pulci-Berardi Chapel with frescoes by Bernardo Daddi (XIV century) and a glazed polychrome terracotta by Giovanni della Robbia on the duck are outstanding at the end of the transept. The last on this side of the transept is the Bardi Chapel of Vernio, frescoed by Maso di Banco with the Stories of San Silvestro, while at the head of the transept is another chapel with the same name, where the Crucifix of Donatello is preserved which gave rise to a dispute, according to Vasari, between him and Filippo Brunelleschi, who judged the Christ of this work too rough and peasant and realized as a term of comparison the only wooden sculpture to us reached us, the Crucifix that now located in the Gondi Chapel of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella.

Medici Chapel. Coming out of the nave from the head of the right transept, through the portal designed by Michelozzo, favorite architect of the Medici family, we reach the Medici Chapel, always designed by him, with a very simple and essential decoration, crowned by the elegant altarpiece in glazed terracotta by Andrea della Robbia, dating back to around 1480.

Sacristy. From here you can also access the large Sacristy, also this one entirely frescoed. Above the geometric decoration of the lower part, a series of scenes from the life of Christ on the south wall are executed by some of the most important painters of the Giotto school: Niccolò Gerini, Taddeo Gaddi (the Crucifixion) and Spinello Aretino.
On the east side, in correspondence of the windows giving light to the room, there is the large Rinuccini Chapel, with frescoes executed between 1363 and 1366 by Giovanni da Milano (some attributed to Spinello Aretino).

Tombs and works in the aisles
Santa Croce as Pantheon of the artists
The basilica holds innumerable tombs (only those preserved territories are hundreds and others have disappeared or have been moved in the cloisters) many of which preserve the burials of famous men. Although the basilica had been used as a burial place for many famous people, like many other churches, it was only in the nineteenth century that it became a veritable pantheon of celebrities linked to art, music and literature. In 1871 he was buried here with a crowded public ceremony Ugo Foscolo, who died in England in 1827, according to his own desire to be buried alongside other great Florentine characters such as Michelangelo and Galileo. After this episode began to arrive other bodies of celebrities who died many years earlier, like Gioacchino Rossini in 1887, Leon Battista Alberti, Vittorio Alfieri, etc., for which the best sculptors of the time made the monuments that still align in the nave. Also for Dante a great sepulcher was set up, but the city of Ravenna strenuously refused to deliver the remains of the dead poet in exile. Among the ancient monuments, that of the first important person to be buried here is by Leonardo Bruni, for whom Bernardo Rossellino conceived a renaissance arcs tomb (1444-45), that is, with the sepulcher placed inside a recess formed by a staircase and from a round arch that closes it at the top. Similarly, the tomb of Carlo Marsuppini was created by Desiderio da Settignano.

Right aisle. The most famous is instead Michelangelo Buonarroti, at the beginning of the right aisle, designed by Vasari after the remains of the great artist arrived in Florence from Rome (1564). Above the tomb three sculptures represent the personifications of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, saddened by the disappearance of the great master, but the whole of the sepulcher is a mixture of painting, sculpture and architecture. In front of Michelangelo, on the pillar, there is the sculpture of the Madonna del Latte by Antonio Rossellino (1478) placed over 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 we find first the cenotaph of Dante, an immense monument of 1829. On the next pillar stands the valuable pulpit by Benedetto da Maiano, admirably decorated with bas-reliefs with scenes of deep effect thanks to the skilful use of perspective. Next to the following altar, the third, the monument to Vittorio Alfieri by Antonio Canova (1810), and then that of Niccolò Machiavelli (by Innocenzo Spinazzi, 1787). The niche with the Annunciation, in "pietra serena" with gilding, is a famous work by Donatello, realized with an unusual technique. Beyond the door to the cloisters is the aforementioned monument to Leonardo Bruni, next to which Gioacchino Rossini and Ugo Foscolo are buried.

Left aisle.
Galileo Galilei is buried at the beginning of the left aisle and his tomb is surrounded by a series of fourteenth-century frescoes rediscovered following restoration in the last century.
Placed symmetrically to Michelangelo, it is somewhat reminiscent of its forms, although it is later than a century and a half. Nineteenth-century works, in the left aisle, are the monuments to Luigi Cherubini and Leon Battista Alberti, the latter by Lorenzo Bartolini, also he is honored here by a plaque in the atrium near the sacristy (it is buried instead in the Chapel of San Luca in the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata). Among the fine altarpieces of the side altars, stands a Pietà opera by Agnolo Bronzino

The Cloisters and the Museum
The convent and the history of the museum. The basilica corresponded one of the largest convents in the city. As in Santa Maria Novella the rooms were gradually secularized starting from the late eighteenth century and destined for other uses. For example, the Central National Library of Florence is located on a land that was formerly part of the convent and today, among the various activities that are held in the former cenobium include a primary school and a school for leather craftsmen, which has its own show-room near the sacristy. The most monumental part of the complex, consisting of the former refectory with the Cenacolo, was set up as a museum as early as November 2, 1900, under the direction of Guido Carocci, where there was already a deposit of works of art, partly from the demolitions of the historical center of the period of the Risanamento. The museum was gradually enlarged and inaugurated with a new staging on March 26, 1959 as a Museum of the Opera di Santa Croce, with the two cloisters, the main refectory and some other environment, but the disaster of the flood of Florence, with water arrived at 4.88 meters in Santa Croce, it required a long period of closure to prepare the necessary restorations. It was reopened only in 1975 and a year later, on the occasion of the decennial flood, the tortured Crucifix of Cimabue was reported in the museum. From about 2000 the entire basilica complex was converted into a single large museum with a single paid ticket, which on the one hand reduced the impact of mass tourism on the treasures of the basilica, on the other it triggered the typical controversy of when it destines a consecrated building of worship for museum use, impoverishing the spiritual role of these environments. In the face of these changes, today it does not make much sense to talk about the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, unless you only want to indicate the places "that were part of the former museum". In November 2006, just after the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the flood, nineteen paintings of great value have returned to their place after a meticulous and complex restoration. Among the fourteenth-century paintings there are a Madonna with child and saints by Nardo di Cione, the Coronation of the Virgin by Lorenzo di Niccolò, the Polyptych by San Giovanni Gualberto by Giovanni del Biondo, a San Jacopo by Lorenzo Monaco, a San Bernardino by Siena by Rossello di Jacopo and a San Bonaventura by Domenico di Michelino. Among the Renaissance altarpieces is the Deposition from the Cross by Francesco Salviati (which has undergone an almost miraculous recovery, after it was found torn to pieces) and The descent of Christ to the Limbo of Agnolo Bronzino (after the restoration, details discovered scabrous of demons, censored in ancient). Only the grandiose canvas of the Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari is missing, which at the time was divided into large segments and stored for forty years. The work restated in 2016.

The cloisters and the Cappella de 'Pazzi.
The fourteenth-century cloister that leads to the Cappella de 'Pazzi, is on the right side of the facade of the Basilica. It was originally composed of two distinct cloisters, one rectangular and one square, which are clearly found in the current plant. On the right side of the façade there is a recess where a series of cypresses surround the statues of God seated by Baccio Bandinelli and the bronze Warrior by Henry Moore. The Cappella dei Pazzi is a masterpiece of Filippo Brunelleschi and of all Renaissance architecture, a marvelous example of spatial harmony achieved in all its structural and decorative elements.


The refectory.
The exhibition itinerary continues with the visit of the fourteenth-century Refettorio where important examples of sacred art placed, among the splendid Crucifix of Cimabue stands out, one of the most important works of art of all time, key in the passage from Byzantine painting to that modern, unfortunately become sadly famous as a symbol of the destruction caused by the 1966 flood; despite the restoration, the pictorial surface has been largely lost and to be able to fully admire it, only the photographs before the disaster remain. The west wall of the refectory is dominated by the large series of frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, which cover it entirely (1333). The pattern of the decorations will become typical for the conventual cenacoli, with a Crucifixion, here represented as Tree of Life, surrounded by some scenes among which the Last Supper stands out. Below, the first prototype of the Florentine cenacles that will decorate the refectories of the most prestigious convents and monasteries of the city. On the walls are exposed six fragments of frescoes of a Triumph of Death by Andrea Orcagna, found under the sixteenth century plaster. Probably they had been badly damaged by the flood of 1557, so much to force Vasari (which certainly did not cover the ancient work for the spirit of stylistic renewal, being an extreme admirer of the ancient Florentine masters) to realize new altars in pietra serena on a white plaster wall. The fragments are however remarkable for the vivid narration of the scenes and the colorful pictorial language. The statue of San Ludovico di Tolosa is a powerful work by Donatello, one of the very few in gilded bronze by the great Florentine sculptor (1423-1424), initially created for a niche by Orsanmichele, and then ousted by another work by Giambologna. for about three centuries (from the fifth to the nineteenth century) in a niche in the middle of the unfinished facade of Santa Croce. Also in the refectory the detached fresco of Saints John the Baptist and Francis is a fragment of a larger work, in the typical luminous style of Domenico Veneziano. Here, the nineteen blades (paintings on board or on canvas) damaged during the flood have been exhibited and re-located only in 2006, at the end of a long and extensive restoration work.

Other environments. In the other 5 rooms are preserved other valuable works among which stand out the Giotto Polittico, the reconstruction of the monument to Gastone della Torre by Tino da Camaino, a sculpture by Andrea della Robbia and the fine silver reliquary bust of the Blessed Umiliana de 'Cerchi , attributed to Lorenzo Ghiberti, as well as detached frescoes, sinopias and reconstructions of tombstones. From the first cloister one can also access a gallery where the slabs of the nineteenth-century tombs removed from inside the church have been placed, among which there are often important academic works of sculpture of the nineteenth century. Around the Basilica there are more than a second square-shaped cloister with a central well, a series of ancient gardens that correspond to the back of the church, rich in trees (with some splendid specimens of baguettes, cedars of the Atlas and the Himalayas), nowadays areas belonging to the Pestalozzi and Vittorio Veneto schools, the Central National Library of Florence and the Leather School.

Basilica di Santa Croce e Cappella dei Pazzi, Firenze
Credits Di I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3896559
Basilica di Santa Croce e Cappella dei Pazzi, Firenze
Credits Di gaspa - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5919745
Basilica di Santa Croce e Cappella dei Pazzi, Firenze
Credits Di Rico Heil - private photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60551
Basilica di Santa Croce e Cappella dei Pazzi, Firenze
Credits Di Wknight94 - Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4120623

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