WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XXI: Sta. Croce (continuation) – The Pazzi Chapel. – Inquisition
Sta. Croce has been frequently the scene of political meetings, as well as used for the delivery of orations on morals and philosophy; and not seldom severe denunciations were thundered from its pulpit against the rivals of the Franciscans – the Dominicans of San Marco and Sta. Maria Novella.
Outside the church, to the south, are arcades, within which are old frescos representing scenes from the life of St. Francis, by scholars of Taddeo Gaddi, of no great merit, but interesting from the representation of the Cathedral of Florence and other buildings as they appeared in early days. A flight of steps leads down to the cloister, which was built by Arnolfo di Cambio, and was for many years divided in two, but which has been recently restored to its primitive condition. Beneath the arcade are monumental slabs, most of which are modern.
In the midst of the court is a large and ponderous statue, intended to represent the Eternal, by Baccio Bandinelli. It once stood in the choir of the cathedral, forming part of a group, the remainder of which was the reclining statue of the Saviour, now in the Baroncelli Chapel of Sta. Croce. The ground enclosed by this cloister is paved with the gravestones of the monks.
The beautiful portico on the eastern side, supported by Corinthian columns and pilasters, leads to the Pazzi Chapel, built after a design by Filippo Brunelleschi, and one of his most beautiful compositions. The work was executed at the expense of Messer Andrea de' Pazzi, a distinguished knight of the court of Réné, King of Naples, early in the fifteenth century, and he dedicated the chapel to his patron-saint, St. Andrew. Both the portico and chapel are adorned with coloured Robbia work, in which the arms of the Pazzi family - two dolphins and four daggers - are conspicuous. These arms, surrounded by a garland of fruit, form the central ornament of the cupola of the portico. Over the entrance-door, which is in beautiful proportions, is a medallion in blue and white Robbia ware, representing our Lord bearing his Cross, and the Eternal, with Adoring Angels. The Pazzi arms are supported by angels.
The door-posts and window-frames are decorated with garlands of oak leaves; the frieze is composed of cherubim, Brunelleschi's favourite device, and the scallop, or pilgrim shell, is probably placed here in allusion to the crusading exploits of the founder of the family, who planted the first Christian standard on the walls of Jerusalem.
The interior of the chapel, from its grand and symmetrical proportions, is as strikingly beautiful as the portico, though it is to be regretted than an unpleasant effect is produced by the contrast of the dark hue of the stone, of which the pilasters and arches are constructed, and the whitewash on the walls and vaulting of the roof. The cupola over the altar is peculiar in form, divided into two compartments.
The Twelve Apostles in medallions of white and blue Robbia ware are peculiarly fine, whilst the four Evangelists in the later style, having variety of colour, are greatly inferior: these, with the Pazzi arms, decorate the upper portion of the walls of the chapel; a narrow frieze, composed of lambs and cherubim, also in coloured Robbia ware, is carried round the building.
With the consent of the Pazzi this beautiful chapel was used by the monks as a chapter-house, and in 1566, above four thousand friars were assembled here to listen to the new regulations for the Inquisition in Tuscany, issued by Pope Pius V., vesting all the power in the hands of one head Inquisitor, who was to be a Franciscan; the deputation from Rome was abolished, but every process was to be referred to the Roman consistory.
The larger refectory is entered from this cloister by a beautiful door, also the work of Brunelleschi. A fresco covering the entire wall is attributed to Giotto, but is supposed by Cavalcaselle to be by Taddeo Gaddi. "Beneath a vast Crucifixion and Tree of Jesse, and four sides from the life of St. Francis and St. Louis, by some unknown Giottesque, a Last Supper is depicted. In this fresco the Saviour sits behind a long table in the midst of his disciples, and St. John falls fainting on his bosom. Judas alone is seated in front of the table, and places his hand in the dish. St. Peter, from his place at the side of St. John, looks sternly at the traitor, whilst the Apostles generally are distinguished by animated movement. Amongst the episodes depicted at the sides of the Crucifixion are St. Francis receiving the Stigmata, and the Noli me tangere. The wall, so adorned, has a fine and imposing aspect, though much of the background is damaged or repainted. The grandeur of the composition in the Last Supper is, however, marred by the somewhat weighty character of the figures and the large size of the heads. The eyes are drawn in close horizontal lines, and without corners, as was usual with Taddeo Gaddi; the foreheads are low, the necks broad, the heads short and coarse. Abruptness in the passage from light to shade, abuse of red in the shadows, a bold neglectful ease of hand in the drawing and colouring of the parts, draperies more arranged than natural, gay tones of vestment, are all peculiarities of Taddeo. The Crucifixion, on the other hand, is composed of figures remarkable for exaggeration of length, and without the just proportions which Giotto always succeeded in maintaining. Some of those in the foreground are indeed very feeble. This subject, with its attendant figures in the Tree of Jesse and side frescos, is executed, however, with a certain ease of hand, and betrays an artist of the middle of the fourteenth century, confident in somewhat slender powers, and sacrificing the great principles of art to boldness and rapidity of execution."187
The central subject is the Tree of Life, whose branches as scrolls spread on all sides, are inscribed with rhymes declaring the attributes of the Saviour. Twelve prophets are at the ends of these scrolls. The Holy Spirit descends on Christ, and the pelican feeds her young on the top of the tree. St. Francis embraces it at the foot; St. Louis is seated beside it writing; the fainting Virgin is supported by St. John. To the right and left of this centre-piece the Saviour appears to St. Romanus; St. Benedict is at the mouth of his cave drawing up his food, and the Devil is flinging a stone at the bell by which the saint announced his hunger; Mary Magdalene is anointing the Saviour's feet; and below all is the Last Supper.188
The smaller refectory of the convent contains a fresco by Giovanni di San Giovanni, surnamed Manozzi, a painter of moderate attainments, but whose frescos possess more merit than his easel pictures. He was born in 1590, and was a pupil of Matteo Rosselli. The subject of this fresco is a miracle supposed to have been performed by St. Francis, in imitation of our Saviour, multiplying loaves of bread during a chapter of the order.
A severe fire in 1423 destroyed the Dormitory of the Convent and a great portion of the building, which has also suffered at various times by floods from the Arno. The infirmary and the Foresteria, or reception room for pilgrims or other strangers, extended in the direction of the Corso dei Tintori, where there were also extensive gardens. The Friars had once a fine library, commenced in 1426 from the bequest of a butcher, Michele di Guerdicio. It was united to the Laurentian Library by a decree of Pietro Leopoldo in 1766; but some of the manuscripts were kept back, and preserved in a part of the Monastery less exposed to floods than the original building.
When Cosimo I. became Grand-Duke of Tuscany, he filled a great part of the Monastery with the Spanish soldiers who accompanied his father-in-law, the Viceroy of Naples, to assist him in the conquest of Sienna; and, deaf to the remonstrances of the friars, the Spanish prince made use of their gardens for his stud.
That part of the convent which is nearest the piazza contained the chambers where the Inquisition held its infamous Tribunals, from 1284 to 1782, when the Holy Office was suppressed. The Gate went by the name of Il Martello - the hammer - from the knocker employed to summon the porter; over it was once a fresco, long effaced by Lorenzo de' Bicci. The two most celebrated trials by the Inquisitors within these walls were those of Cecco d' Ascoli and Pandolfo Ricasoli. Françesco Stabili, better known as Cecco d' Ascoli from his birthplace, born in 1257, was from his youth devoted to intellectual pursuits, especially the study of astrology. He was denounced by the Court of the Inquisition in Bologna for having maligned the Roman Catholic faith; and was condemned to a public penance, and to be deprived of all his astrological books. He accordingly removed to Florence; but there his enemies pursued him, and he was again summoned to appear before the Tribunal of the Holy Office sitting in Sta. Croce, where he was sentenced as a heretic to be burnt alive, at seventy years of age. His greatest crime was the prediction of the descent of Louis of Bavaria into Italy, and of the aggrandisement of Castruccio Castracani, Lord of Lucca; his condemnation was therefore caused by Guelphic influence; even Pope John XVII. Exclaimed, in the presence of his court - "The Minor Friars have persecuted and murdered the prince of peripatetic philosophy."
Pandolfo Ricasoli was a man of great learning, who was celebrated in his day as a preacher and instructor of youth. He was, however, accused of immoral conduct with Faustina Mainardi, a woman of low condition, who kept a girls' school, to which Pandolfo Ricasoli was spiritual director. He was brought before the Tribunal of the Holy Office, held that day in the Refectory of Sta. Croce, which was turned into a court of justice.189 A scaffold, hung with black, as for a corpse, was placed in the centre of the hall, and the Inquisitors were seated around. Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, the younger princes of the blood, the priests and nobles of Florence, with other persons holding places of authority, filled the remaining space. The two prisoners, in dresses painted with flames and demons, were made to kneel at the feet of the Grand Inquisitor, whilst a monk recited the accusations against them. Ricasoli and Faustina were condemned, and sentenced to be walled up alive in one of the dungeons of the Inquisition.190
It was not until 1782, as has been already stated, that this barbarous Tribunal was suppressed, and the Inquisition banished from Florence, by the order of Pietro Leopoldo I., when that part of Sta. Croce which had been assigned to the Inquisitors was converted into an Infirmary and Foresteria.
The Convent of Sta. Croce enjoyed the privilege of keeping one of the two urns which contained the voting balls for the election of the magistrates. One of these Franciscan friars, as well as a Dominican from St. Mark's, always assisted at the ceremony of election on the Ringhiera in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, where a solemn oath was administered to the new magistrates, who swore to "leave the government as they found it, to do justice, and hate iniquity."
Sta. Croce has more than once offered an asylum to fugitives from justice; as in 1212, when the Monastery was selected by Walter de Brienne, Duke of Athens, as a residence, until he felt secure of his despotic power in Florence.
During the famous siege of Florence, in 1529, the friars were suspected of treachery. The accusation arose from the incaution of one of the monks, Vittorio Françeschi, who was much beloved by the lower orders from his preachings and consolations, and among whom he was known by the name of Fra Rigagolo: on his return to the city from one of his apostolic missions into the country, he was led from curiosity to examine the defences and guns. The suspicions of the soldiers and their commanders having been aroused, the Monastery of Sta. Croce was searched by night, but nothing found to justify the sacrilege. The Council of War who directed the operations of defence received another accusation against the monks, through the Tamburo, or Lion's mouth of Florence, by which they were declared to have had secret communications with the Pope, and even to have received the enemy's soldiers, disguised as Franciscans, within their walls. Fra Rigagolo was said to have himself opened the city gates to them. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Bargello, and finally executed within the building. Some hundred soldiers were quartered in the Monastery, and it would have gone still harder with the monks, had not Florence fallen a prey to the Medici, who regarded the Franciscans of Sta. Croce with more favour than the Dominicans of St. Mark.
During Napoleon Buonaparte's administration of Tuscany, Sta. Croce was not suppressed, but its property was confiscated, and the monks only allowed an annual pension and their food. In 1809 a lay board of works was appointed to superintend the repairs of the church; and the manuscripts, pictures, statues, and reliefs, with all the objects of art, were confided to a commission for the preservation of artistic monuments. In 1814 the convent was restored to the monks, and it was only finally suppressed in 1871.
Arnolfo di Lapo 1240-1311
Baccio Bandinelli 1493-1560
Brienne, Walter de, at Sta. Croce 1312
Brunelleschi, Filippo 1379-1446
Cecco d' Ascoli 1257-1327
Convent of St. Croce burnt 1423
Convent of Sta. Croce suppressed 1871
Cosimo I. 1537-1575
Giovanni di San Giovanni 1576-1636
Inquisition in Sta. Croce 1284-1782
Pazzi Chapel, assembly of monks 1565
Réné, King of Naples and Sicily 1409-1480
Ricasoli, Pandolfo, immured alive 1641
Rigagolo, Fra, accused and beheaded 1529
187 See "Crowe
and Cavalcaselle," vol. i. p. 364.
188 See Lord Lindsay's "Christian Arts," vol. ii. p. 240.
189 A picture representing this scene is in the gallery of the Marchese Gino Capponi.
190 See Napier's "Florentine History," vol. v. p. 499.
Chapter XXII: Sta. Croce (continuation) - Frescoes
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