One of the most magnificent places of Florence, rich in art, history and spirituality, is surely the Church of Santa Croce. Known as the “Shrine of Italian Glories”, with the tombs of Michelangelo, Macchiavelli, Michelagelo and Galileo, Santa Croce preserves an incredible concentration of art treasures like frescoes by Giotto and his followers, statues, panel paintings, an archive of documents that binds eight centuries of Florentine history.
Just outside the church, peek out into the PAZZI CHAPEL, one of the masterpieces of Renaissance architecture. Even if at this point you may already feel a sort of “cultural saturation”, try and find to stand for a moment under the cupola, right in the middle of the chapel. Beyond any story, any explaination, any possible theory about its construction indulge the time to enjoy the exceptional calm of this space.
In 1423 a vast fire destroyed the old “Sala del Capitolo”, the chapter house where the friars held meetings. Some of the richest families of Florence as the Medici, Spinelli and Pazzi offered their support to reconstruct the chapel. Eventually Andrea de’ Pazzi gained the patronage of the chapel, which was entitled to Saint Andrew. At that time lots of important commissions in town had been assigned to Filippo Brunelleschi:
– 1419 Spedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital)
– 1420 Dome of the Saint Mary of the Flower Cathedral
– 1421 Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo Church
Funds for the chapel were assembled in 1429 by Andrea Pazzi, entrusting Brunelleschi to provide a project. According to archive documents construction did not begin until about 1441, and was completed after his death. He was surely responsible for the plan, which is based on simple geometrical forms, the square and the circle, but not for the building’s execution and detailing.
A loggia was added in front of the Chapel, open on three sides. The hand of Brunelleschi regarding this part of the structure is still a subject of discussion among the scholars, some attributing the completition to Michelozzo, Rossellino or Giuliano da Maiano. It features six Corinthian columns that create a large central “serliana” (opening) and two side spaces, anticipating the interior plan. The columns support an entablature with architrave and a frieze decorated by winged angels heads. Under the loggia there are finely decorated voults. The central dome of the loggia is covered by colorful tondos and the crest of Pazzi Family (two paired dolphins) made of glazed terracotta, works by Luca della Robbia. Along the two barrel voults aside, you find instead high-reflief sculpted rosettes in grey sandstone (pietra serena), which is a fragile material tending to crumble over time. Columns and decorations reveal extensive damage where the stone has disintegrated both on the surface and from within, causing pieces to fall off. A complete restoration is therefore now urgently required to re-integrate removed parts and protect the entire structure.
(photo credit: Marco Badiani, The Florentine)
INSIDE THE CHAPEL
The Chapel has a rectangular layout containing one square room, covered by an umbrella-shaped dome, and two wings aside, each one covered by a barrel vault with round windows. The wall opposite the entrance opens on a small square apse called “scarsella” decorated with a fresco painting reproducing the sky over Florence on July 4th 1442. A similar work, still open to interpretation, adorns the inside of the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo church.The Pazzi Chapel does not feature any impressive fresco painting along the walls: they are articulated with classical pilasters and frames in grey pietra serena. These include a series of roundels on the lower walls as well as oculus windows in the bands above the arches and in the base of the dome. The pilasters have, of course, no structural capacity but they allude to the bearing function of the wall and its structural value.
They also offer proportional clarity, rhythm, and color and enhance the unity of visual and spiritual experience between exterior and interior. The dome above the central space and its twelve ribs outlined in moldings of pietra serena. The stone elements stand out clearly against the white plaster walls, inviting the viewer to a calm perception of the entire sorrounding space.Lots of questions are still open to debate about what the building means visually, optically, and symbolically.
THE PAZZI CHAPEL: YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW
From Nov. 17 to Dec. 19 Opera di Santa Croce will be running an international crowdfunding campain to restore the Loggia of the Pazzi Chapel in partnership with #Kickstarter and #TheFlorentine. The campain will only last 33 days and aims to raise 95,000 USD. The event recalls the history of the open call to finance the neo-gothic facade of Santa Croce in 1860.
All backers of this modern challenge will see their names inscribed in the historical archive of Santa Croce Church and various acknowledgments according to their generosity.
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