It is a symbol of hope, illuminated from the shadows of November 1966, the days of the flood.
Those who love Italy cried in the wake of the early days of November 1966 when waters, as deep as sixteen feet, tore through and across Florence and western Tuscany. Heating oil, from tanks in cellars across the city, broke. Water, infused with oil and the detritus of city living, of trees and farm animals who died in the mountains east of the city, poured into the most treasured museums and libraries of this most favored of Renaissance cities.
In the monastic cellar below the church of Santa Croce, the ‘pantheon’ for many famous Renaissance artists and city leaders, lay a 13th Century Crucifixion by the early period artist, Cimabue. Bencivieni di Pepo or in modern Italian, Benvenuto di Giuseppe, was born in 1240. Many people do not know his name. Yet, when his role as the teacher of Giotto is made clear, visitors understand his importance to the world of western art. His work broke with the stilted style of post medieval art and was one of the earliest works depicting the figure of Christ, his mother and John the baptist. Created by Cimabue’s hand was a human figure, someone with all the characteristics of ‘real’ people.
For Florentines, the work was the penultimate treasure of their city, a symbol both artistically and figuratively of the birth of renaissance art.
In early November 1966, flood waters nearly destroyed this masterpiece. With over sixty percent of the
surface damaged or destroyed, the city prepared to mourn the loss of an irreparable treasure. The art world rallied with experts and the citizens of bella Firenze and, in 1976 the work was again displayed for the world to enjoy.
Damaged, as well, during the flood was the huge fresco that covers the western wall of refectory. Taddeo Gaddi’s monumental work of the Tree of Lfe and the Last Supper are additional masterpieces housed in this little visited hall of the church. In 1335 Gaddi, who was the godson of yet another early Renaissance Master, Giotto, began work on these frescoes. The Last Supper (Cenacolo in Italian) was significantly covered in oil tainted water in the wake of the flood; you would hardly know that today. Due to the incredible work of an art restoration team, the Last Supper was completely restored, and the Tree of Life (and other of Gaddi’s works, the Four Miracles) were brilliantly returned to life.
Many visitors enter Santa Croce to pay homage to the sepulchers of the famous. When you visit Santa Croce, take a moment to visit the Refectory where Gaddi’s fresco overwhelms and Cimabue’s masterpiece holds pride of place.
IF YOU GO:
Santa Croce Basilica and Cloister
Piazza Santa Croce, Florence
Monday – Saturday 9:30AM – 5:00PM
Closed: January 1, Feast of St. Francis on October 4, Christmas 25 December, Feast of St. Steven on 26 December, Easter, Easter Monday, 1 May and 2 June.
NOTE: Ticket office entrance is along the north wall of the Basilica. If you are facing the facade of the Baslilica, walk to the left side of the building to locate the ticket office. This is the official visitors entrance.