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Posts Tagged ‘Brunelleschi’

Il Torchio - OltrarnoVia dei Bardi

Il Torchio – Oltrarno
Via dei Bardi

When you cross the Ponte Vecchio, and leave the cacophony of central Florence behind, you enter a world apart. This is the Oltrarno, the south side of the city and its creative center. Small workshops line narrow lanes. Borgo San Jacopo, a shady narrow medieval street, leads west away from the Via Guicciardini, Via dei Bardi leads east to shops as varied as high end hand crafted jewelry to Il Torchio, a book press whose owner creates gorgeous leather bound journals and multicolored Florentine paper.

Along the Via Santo Spirito, just past the south end of the Ponte Santa Trinita is the small workshop of Ippogrifo, where a couple create gorgeous etched copper prints. See my blog post about Ippogrifo.

It was in the fourth or fifth century that the first church structure was built on the site of present day Santa Felicita. Dedicated to St. Felicity of Rome, the building was to go through several expansions, reductions and redesigns over the course of the next thousand years. Within the, now, 18th Century interior are works by Taddeo Gaddi, Pontormo, Francesco d’Antonio and Neri di Bicci. While many art historians discount the comparative value of the frescoes and painting in the church, this is a rarely visited treasure of Florence.

Facade Santa FelicitaVasari Corridor

Facade Santa Felicita
Vasari Corridor

Santa Felicita shares a unique and unusual architectural feature unlike any other church in Florence. The power and influence of the Medici family is seen throughout the city. It was in 1564 that Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici commissioned Georgio Vasari to design and oversee construction of what is called the Vasari Corridor. This elevated enclosed walkway was built to provide the Medici family and court to move between the family’s Palazzo Pitti on the Oltrarno to what is now the Uffizi gallery-at the time the offices (uffizi) of the Medici family business.

The fact that the corridor slashes directly across the facade of Santa Felicita is symbolic of the Medici influence on the church. Their money patronized the monastery of San Marco, the church of the family’s patron saint, San Lorenzo. Here, at Santa Felicita, the imposing presence of the corridor overstates “Io sono Medici”, “I am Medici and I can build over the facades of churches with aplomb.”

The final unique design of this church is the presence of an open gallery above the nave from which the Medici family could hear (attend) mass without having to mingle near or in churchgoers from the city.

Jacopo PontormoDeposition, 1568Cappela Capponi, Santa Felicita

Jacopo Pontormo
Deposition, 1568
Cappela Capponi, Santa Felicita

The most striking of the works of art in the church is Jacopo Pontormo’s Deposition, painted by commission of Ludovico Capponi in 1565 for his family’s private chapel within the church. The fresco was completed in 1568. Pontormo’s vision of the deposition created an outcry among the Florentine artistic community. Gone were the conventions of cross and location of the grief-stricken in proximity to the cross. In their place was a work that focuses on Jesus’ mother, Mary. The swirl of figures around her, the placement of the body of Jesus in the lower left quarter of the painting and the use of unusual colors created a vortex of grief, unseen prior to this monumental work. It was the birth of the “Mannerist” style.

If you leave the Church of Santa Felicita and walk west, generally paralleling the Arno River, you will pass a small church along the Borgo San Jacopo. This narrow medieval lane is lined with buildings constructed after World War II. During the German retreat in 1944, the ancient buildings along this section of the river were destroyed. Time and loving care restored the tiny church of San Jacopo Sopr’Arno.

The church is famous as much for its architectural design than for any art contained within. The

San Jacopo Sopr'ArnoFlorence

San Jacopo Sopr’Arno
Florence

arches that support the church are suspended above the Arno river, literally supporting a portion of the floor above the water.

Heavily modified over the course of centuries, its most famous claim to fame is that Filippo Brunelleschi studied architecture in the structure and built (later destroyed) a small version of the dome that now towers over the city at the Duomo of Santa Maria dei Fiori. Please see “If You Go” below for information on hours and gaining access to the church.

Not a great distance beyond San Jacopo is the Church of Santo Spirito, one of the last churches that Brunelleschi worked on. His plans for the building began in 1428. Upon his death in 1468 the responsibility for the completion of the building was given to others who had worked in Brunelleschi’s workshop: Manetti, Gaiole and Salvi d’Andrea.

While the facade was never completed to Brunelleschi’s design, the simplicity of the facade seem appropriate, a moment of calm before visitors encounter the incredible collection of art housed within.

Interior, Santo Spirito

Interior, Santo Spirito

Over forty side chapels, decorated by artistic commissions by different families of the city, line each side of the nave. Works by the 15th century sculptor Rossellino share space with 14th Century Triptychs by Maso di Banco; frescoes by Andrea Sansovino in the Corbinelli Chapel occupy walls near  a Doubting Thomas, a work attributed to the 15th century painter Neri di Bicci. This is yet another treasure of Florentine art contained within the walls of a seemingly unassuming church.

Only a few minutes walk further west of Santo Spirito is Santa Maria della Carmine, which houses one of the most famous works of 15th Century Renaissance art in the city.

The church was established in 1268 by a group of friars from Pisa who dedicated the church to “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”. The city of Florence provided assistance, along with wealthy families of the city, to support the cost of the church. The complex was consecrated in 1422, yet the building process continued until its 1475 completion. The facade of the Church is not finished. As with many other churches in Florence including San Lorenzo, only a brick and mortar wall greets visitors.

Branacci ChapelSanta Maria della Carmine, Florence

Brancacci Chapel
Santa Maria della Carmine, Florence

The interior of the church was heavily damaged by fire in 1771 and was rebuilt in a Rocco Baroque style. What the fire did not destroy, and the art world is grateful for this seemingly supernatural intervention, were a cycle of frescoes painted by commission of Felice Brancacci a wealthy businessman. Two masters of early Renaissance art began work on this cycle in 1425, Masolino and Masaccio. After Masolino died, Masaccio completed three of the frescoes – Expulsion from Paradise, The Tribute Money St Peter Healing a Lame-Man, and St Peter Raising Tabitha from the Dead. As with so many talented artists of the Renaissance, Masaccio’s life was cut short. He was called back to Rome, before the frescoes were done, where he died at the age of 27. The frescoes were completed by Fillipino Lippi, a student of both artists.

Rather than attempt to describe what these artists accomplished, I have included a few photos of the works below. I let them stand on their own – as incredible evidence of talents that established the school of early Renaissance painting in Florence.

DisputationMassacio, Branacci Chapel

Disputation
Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel

Tribute Massacio Branacci

Tribute, Masaccio Brancacci Chapel

To walk into this chapel, be surrounded by such incredible colors and beauty is breathtaking.

So . . . when the crowds of the city overwhelm you, when the heat gets to be too much, or you simply wish to take in some of the lesser visited treasures of Florence, walk the Oltrarno. Surprises and pleasures await.

IF YOU GO:

Santa Felicita

Piazza di Santa Felicita, 3, 50125 Florence, Italy

Phone:+39.055.213.018
Entrance tickets: Free
Hours: Wednesday ONLY 9:30 am–12:00 pm, 3:30 pm–5:30 pm

San Jacopo Sopr’Arno

Note: The church is now deconsecrated, and used for a variety of cultural events. If it is closed, the priest of Santa Felicita has the key.

Borgo San Jacopo – Firenze

Hours:  9:00-12:00/15:00-19:00

Entrance tickets: Free

Tel: +39.05.233.20

Santo Spirito

Piazza Santo Spirito – Firenze

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9:30am -12:30 pm and 4:00pm -7:00 pm

Entrance tickets: Free

Piazza di Santo Spirito 29, 50125 Florence (FI)

Santa Maria della Carmine – Brancacci Chapel

NOTE: Reservations are required. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except for Tuesday, from 1:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends

Piazza del Carmine

Florence, 50100

Tel: +39.055.276.82.24 for reservations

Hours: Mon. and Wed.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 1–5

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

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NaveSanta Maria Novella (1360)

Nave
Santa Maria Novella (1360)

Most visitors to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, overcome by the sheer scale and beauty of the church, often miss one of the most important treasured works of early Renaissance art in Florence. In this photo, if you look to the left of the pulpit and the column supporting it, you will see a fresco of what appears to be a crucifixion. Read on. Masaccio’s influence on the art world is still being felt today.

Masaccio, Trinity1427

Masaccio, Trinity
1427

Of Masaccio, much has been written. His Trinity, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, is considered by many to be a masterpiece, second only to his frescoes in a chapel across the city.

There are, as with the finest paintings of human hands, stories about this particular work that I find fascinating.

Masaccio was born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, to parents who lived in a small town called, at the time, Castel San Giovanni di Altura. The town was located in the area of Arezzo, about forty-five miles southeast of Florence.  His apprenticeship is cloaked in mystery. Art historians are not, in any way, certain of when Masaccio arrived in Florence to begin his art education. It was in 1422 that, for the first time (apparently) Masaccio joined the guild of artists to which he would belong all of this life.

In Vasari’s tome, Vita (Lives of the Artists), he writes that Brunelleschi and Donatello befriended both Masaccio and another Renaissance painter, Masolino. The influence of two such respected leaders of the art community in Florence, Brunelleschi as architect and Donatello as sculptor, would have been much to their young protege’s favor.

In 1424, Masaccio and his partner were given a commission to fresco a chapel at the church of Santa Maria della Carmine for the Branacci family, one of the wealthiest families of the city. The influence of Giotto’s style on Masaccio is apparent in the frescoes at the Carmine. As Giotto used human face and body posture to communicate emotion, so followed Masaccio.

Reasons are unclear as to why the fresco cycle at Santa Maria della Carmine was left incomplete.  It was perhaps the Branacci family’s resources. This was, after all, nearly 600 years ago and records are incomplete at best.

In 1426, Masaccio accepted the commission of Giuliano di San Giusto to paint an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Maria della Carmine in Pisa. When that work was completed, the artist returned to Florence and began work on the Trinity.

Now, things get interesting. Who commissioned the work? This was one of the most powerful churches in Florence, a Dominican stronghold. The art, even of the day, contained in the church was of incredible value. The two figures who kneel on each side of the cross have provided some clues. There are records at Santa Maria Novella of two families who were interested in commissioning a work in the basilica; the Lenzi and the Berti. Residential records of Florence from the 15th Century favor the Berti family.

Detail, Masaccio TrinityBerti (?) Family

Detail, Masaccio Trinity
Berti (?) Family

In January of this year (2012), art historians discovered that the Berti family lived in the neighborhood near the church. The Lenzi family’s location has yet to be confirmed.

Whomever these two people are, there is no doubt that they were important to the piece, if not the patrons who commissioned the work. The woman kneels to the left of Saint John the Baptist (who is patron saint of Florence today) and the man kneels to the right of Mary-two places of importance on such a work.

The early years of Masaccio’s studies came to the fore in this fresco. Brunelleschi, a master architect who would build the largest spanned dome in the Renaissance world over the city’s cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore, Florence’s cathedral, was a brilliant student of perspective. Masaccio brought his studies of Brunelleschi’s work to the Trinity.

Perspective StudyTrinity, Masaccio

Perspective
Masaccio Trinity

This was the first time that a scientific approach to providing a sense of depth, using perspective, was ever used in Renaissance art. The diagram included with this article shows the ‘focal point’, that place in the fresco where the eye is naturally drawn. The curve of the arched ceiling above Christ and God show a huge space behind them. The sense of three dimension becomes real as you stand in front of the work.

During the latter half of the 16th Century, Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, commissioned Vasari (he of Vita fame) to oversee a restoration and redesign of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. Vasari had been very impressed with Masaccio’s work, the Trinity in particular. In order to protect it, Vasari built an altar in front of the original 1427 work. It was only during another art restoration in the 1860’s that Vasari’s ‘cover’ was discovered, and Masaccio’s work was again revealed.

At the base of the Trinity is the fresco of a tomb.

Fresco, TombMasaccio, Trinity

Fresco, Tomb
Masaccio, Trinity

Above the skeleton, in broken Renaissance Italian are the words IO FU[I] G[I]A QUEL CHE VOI S[I]ETE E QUEL CH[‘] I[O] SONO VO[I] A[N]C[OR] SARETE.” The letters in parenthesis have been added to complete the phrase.

What do these words convey? “I once was what you are and what I am you also will be.” Words of warning, perhaps, to those who worshiped during the Renaissance that life was short, time fleeting. The words are, as well, full of mysterious foreboding for the life of Masaccio.

Less than one year after the Trinity was completed, at the young age of only 28, Masaccio was dead.

The artists of the early Renaissance were deeply influenced by Masaccio’s work. The world of three-dimensions, created of an architect’s curiosity, opened yet one more door on the creative minds of artists to come.

When you are in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, approach and study this masterpiece and consider what the art patronage of the city of Florence might be had Masaccio lived a longer and even more productive life.

IF YOU GO:

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 18, 50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: 055 219257

Web Site: Santa Maria Novella

Open Monday – Thursday 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Open Friday 11:00AM – 5:30PM
Open Saturday 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Open Sunday 12:00PM – 5:00PM
Open Festival Days 1:00PM – 5:00PM
Entrance Tickets are Euro 5.00 Per Person

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Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti

Time passes. Crowds pack the squares and alleyways of Florence. Afternoon hoards dwindle in the hours leading to an evening meal. The facade of  the Servite order’s mother church, Santissima Annunziata, glows russet in the long rays of the setting sun. Across the square of the same name is the Hospital of the Innocents, The Ospedale degli Innocenti. It was in this building, designed by the masterful Renaissance architect Brunelleschi, that abandoned children were cared for over the course of centuries.

Funded by the Medici family, specifically Cosimo di Medici, the hospital was created to provide support to the less fortunate children of the city.

Originally, a basin  was located at the northwestern corner of the building. This was where the abandoned children were left. In 1660, the basin was replaced with a wheel which protruded from the same corner of the building. The child was left on the wheel and a bell rung. The Servite nuns would open a grate and turn the wheel. Once hidden from public view, the child was provided all the care and education the Renaissance culture could provide. Boys were educated and prepared for public life if so inclined. Girls were taught moreWheel of the Innocents Florence basic skills.

So many tourists walk passed this most intriguing corner of Florence, never even suspecting that so many children disappeared into the courtyard of nuns. If you visit Florence, please take a moment to stand at the corner of the hospital and remember those who were nourished by the spirit, and funding, of the Medici.

IF YOU GO:

Address: Piazza SS. Annunziata, 12
Opening times: Everyday (except Wednesday, closed) from 8.15 to 14
Tel: 055 249 1708
Ticket: Euro 2,50

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