WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XXII: Sta. Croce (continuation) - Frescos
The frescos on the walls of the interior of Sta. Croce, from which the whitewash has been lately removed, are principally at the eastern extremity of the church. On the sides of the arch leading to the apse are represented the Twelve Apostles. To the right St. Francis is receiving the Stigmata, or marks of our Saviour’s wounds, in the rocky wilderness near La Vernia; the composition is nearly identical with that in one of the small paintings in the Florentine Academy, attributed to Giotto, but more probably by Taddeo Gaddi. To the left of the apse, the Virgin is represented in the mandorla, or vesica piscis, supported by angels. These frescos, if not actually by the hand of Taddeo Gaddi, must have been painted by one of his scholars.
The frescos in the interior of the apse have never undergone the process of whitewashing, and are the undoubted work of Agnolo Gaddi, the son of Taddeo, and the pupil of Giovanni da Milano and of Jacopo da Casentino: they were executed at the expense of Jacopo degli Alberti. The subject chosen is the origin and discovery of the Cross. The tradition is as follows: - When our first father Adam lay sick, his son Seth prayed for him at the Gate of Paradise, and received a branch of the Tree of Knowledge from the Archangel Michael, bidding him plant it on Mount Lebanon, and that when it bore fruit his father would be healed. Adam was, however, dead before his son returned, and Seth planted the branch on his grave, where it took root and flourished, till the days of Solomon. The wisest of men ordered it to be cut down, and used in building the Temple; but the builders rejected it as unsuitable in size and quality, and they threw it into a marsh, where it served as a bridge. When the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem, and was preparing to step upon the tree, she beheld in a vision the Saviour of the world suspended on it, and in place of walking over the bridge, she fell down and worshipped. Solomon accordingly ordered the tree to be buried deep in the earth on the spot whence afterwards arose the Pool of Bethesda, whose healing powers proceeded as much from the tree below it as from the angel who descended to trouble the waters. When the time of our Saviour’s Passion drew near, the tree rose and floated on the surface, and the Jews seized upon it to make the Cross. After the Crucifixion the tree lay buried three hundred years, until Helena, the mother of Constantine, was inspired with a desire to discover the wood of the Cross, and she constrained a certain man, of the name of Judas, to show her where it was hidden; then Judas led the way to Golgotha, where, in answer to the prayers of Helena, three crosses appeared. The difficulty of distinguishing that of our Saviour from those on which the thieves were crucified was solved by the Bishop of Jerusalem, who caused a sick woman to touch all three, and when she came to the true Cross she was made whole. Helena caused the Cross to be cut in two; one half she enclosed in a silver shrine, which she left at Jerusalem; the other half she carried away to present to her son the Emperor Constantine; and she appointed the Feast of the Discovery or Invention of the Holy Cross to be celebrated every 15th of May throughout the whole world. Many years afterwards, Chosroes King of Persia subjugated all the kingdoms of the East, and when he came to Jerusalem, he carried away the portion of the Lord’s Cross left there by Helena. He built a tower of gold and silver and gems, and placing the Cross beside him, commanded all the people to worship him as King of kings, and Lord of lords. Then the Christian Emperor Heraclius arrived on the Danube with a large army, to fight against the son of Chosroes and recover the Cross; and they agreed to settle their dispute by single combat, in which the son of Chosroes was killed; and immediately his whole army was converted to Christianity, and were baptized. Heraclius seized Chosroes in his tower, beheaded him, and carried off the Cross, intending to restore it to Jerusalem. But when, mounted on his royal charger, he was about to enter the city by the gate our Lord had entered on an ass, the stones descended and made an impenetrable barrier; then an angel bearing the sigh of the Cross appeared, and reproached the Emperor for his presumption. Heraclius, accordingly dismounted, and presented himself barefoot with the Cross on his shoulder before Jerusalem, when, behold! the stones resumed their place, and he was thus enabled to enter and restore the precious relic whence it had been taken.
This legend is represented in eight divisions of the wall, and in the following order: - On the south wall, beginning from the top. 1. Seth receiving the branch from the angel and planting it on the breast of Adam. 2. The Queen of Sheba adoring the tree, and King Solomon causing it to be buried. 3. The tree taken out of the Pool of Bethesda, and made into the form of a Cross. 4. The discovery of the Cross by Queen Helena, and the restoration of the sick woman. On the north wall: - 5. The Cross carried in procession by Queen Helena and worshipped by the people. 6. The invasion of Chosroes, and the capture of the Cross. 7. The vision of Chosroes, the victory of Heraclius over the son of Chosroes, and Chosroes seated on his throne within his tower. 8. Heraclius carrying the Cross into Jerusalem; he is first seen on horseback, and afterwards, when admonished by the angel, he is on foot. In this last fresco there is a portrait of the painter, Agnolo Gaddi, at the right-hand corner; he wears a red hood, and has a small beard, according to the fashion of his time. Agnolo crowds his space with too many figures, but there is a certain dignity in all of them; the colour is clear and bright, and he gives animation and interest to the story. According to Cavalcaselle, “Agnolo composed better than his father Taddeo, and gave more repose and dignity, more nature and individuality to his figures. He did not exaggerate in the direction of slenderness, and his general outlines were at once more graceful, more true and grand than those of his father. As a draughtsman he was free and bold, defining everything equally, but he frequently failed to define form truly; and whilst the rest of his figures are still below the standard of Giotto, certain forms are purposely and persistently false. The eyes are drawn according to a conventional model; the noses are straight and narrow, and expanded flatly at the end, and the mouths generally droop at the corners….In the three drawings of hands and feet he bestowed more care; but he evidently never possessed the clear comprehension of the nature of the form he depicted….As a colourist Agnolo was bold. His tones are bright, clear, and transparent, and he shows a feeling for the true nature of harmonies. His idea of relief was greater than that of Taddeo.”191 The windows behind the apse are filled in with fine coloured glass.
Returning to the transepts, the first chapel south of the apse belonged to the family of Bardi, who, with the Peruzzi, - the owners of the adjoining chapel, - were the two great banking families of Florence during the fourteenth century. The walls of the Bardi Chapel are decorated with frescos containing scenes from the life of St. Francis. Ridolfo de Bardi, one of the sons of this house, though bred to arms, and a valiant soldier in the wars with the Ghibelline faction led by Louis of Bavaria, became finally a Franciscan monk. The frescos on the walls of the Bardi Chapel were executed by Giotto; but were covered with whitewash, and only disclosed in 1853. They were probably painted after 1310 (the date of the death of Bartolo de’ Bardi, the father of Ridolfo). In the upper compartment, on the left, St. Francis is represented abandoning the world; below, he appears to St. Anthony of Padua at Arles; and still further down, is the death of St. Francis; his dead body surrounded by his weeping brethren. The portraits of Arnolfo di Cambio and his father, who wears a black cap, are introduced in the left-hand corner of this fresco. On the opposite wall above, the Order of St. Francis is instituted; below, St. Francis passes through fire in the presence of the Sultan; and, in the third compartment, the transfer of the saint to Sta. Maria degli Angeli, where he was buried, and the Bishop’s dream.192 Ghirlandaio has followed this composition of the death of St. Francis in his fresco in the Sassetti Chapel of the SS. Trinità. On either side of the window are frescos, as well as on the vaulted ceiling. Beside the altar are St. Nicholas, St. Louis, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and St. Clara. The rude altar-piece of this chapel has a figure of St. Francis painted on panel, with eight episodes on either side.
The Peruzzi Chapel is also surrounded by frescos of Giotto, which were covered with whitewash early in the eighteenth century, and restored in 1841 and 1863. The Peruzzis were generous patrons of the Church of Sta. Croce, and these frescos are the finest series ever executed by Giotto. The subjects represented are scenes from the lives of St. john the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The lunette above, on the left, represents Zacharias standing on the steps of the altar, waving a censer, with two lute-players and a piper behind; the angel appears to him under the portico of the altar. Two women are witnesses of the miracle, to which the younger appears to call the attention of the elder, who seems absorbed in thought and tremulous with fear. In the compartment below, St. Elizabeth lies on a bed, with two attendants, one of whom gracefully bends, and looks at a man, with a noble figure, who turns his back to the spectator. A partition, with an opening, separates this room from another, where Zacharias is writing the child’s name on a tablet which he holds on his knee: he looks up at the infant, which is carried to him by a man and woman, behind whom are several other persons. The lowest fresco represents herod seated, with two guests, behind a table under a rich portico, supported by slender columns with statuettes. Before Herod stands a soldier, who presents him with the head of John the Baptist. Salome dances gracefully to the sound of her own lyre and of a viol played by a youth, who stands to the left of the picture: two figures behind contemplate the dance. In another room Salome is kneeling before Herodias with the Baptist’s head.193
On the opposite wall, is the Vision of Patmos – the Evangelist asleep on a solitary rock, and above him in a cloud is the Son of Man holding a scythe in his hand; on his right, the angel who calls on him to mow; the woman pursued by the dragon; the mystic child in its cradle; the angel and the four beasts – the whole is much damaged and repainted. In the compartment beneath is a very fine composition, representing the restoration to life of Drusiana – the saint is on the left of the picture, with a man kneeling beside him; two of his disciples, a cripple on crutches, and two spectators are behind; in front kneel the relations or friends of Drusiana, who is rising from her couch, which is supported by one of the bearers; behind are the priests. There is a wonderful variety of emotion expressed in the countenances of the spectators, and simplicity and grandeur in the drapery. In the lowest compartment is represented the Resurrection of St. John. According to the legend, the favourite apostle of our Lord, being nearly ninety years old, ascended a lofty mountain, after he had commanded his disciples to dig a deep grave for him in the church. On his return from the mountain he found that they had done as he had ordered them, and, throwing his mantle into the pit, he descended and composed himself to sleep. His disciples believed he was dead, and at daybreak a crowd assembled to view the body; but when they looked into the grave, St. John had disappeared, leaving his sandals to prove that he had been there. The heads in this fresco are earnest in expression, the action natural, easy, and appropriate.
The Riccardi Chapel, which is next to the Peruzzi, formerly belonged to the Giugni family, and was also decorated with frescos by Giotto, representing incidents in the lives of the martyrs; they have, however, entirely disappeared. The chapel was bestowed on Joseph Buonaparte, the ex-king of Spain, and brother of Napoleon I., when he resided here: his monument and those of his family adorn the side walls. That to Julia Clary, the wife of Joseph, is by the Florentine sculptor Pampaloni. Bartolini was employed for the monument to Charlotte, their daughter, who was married to the only brother of Louis Napoleon, late Emperor of the French: she was much beloved, and died in 1839, aged thirty-seven.
Next to this chapel is that of the Soderini, which had formerly paintings by Taddeo Gaddi, of which no traces remain. The vaulted ceiling was painted in 1621, with incidents from the life of St. Andrew, by Giovanni di San Giovanni. The painting representing the Discovery of the Cross, is by Jean Bilivert, 1576-1644; St. Francis distributing his possessions to the poor is by Passignano, 1560-1638; and of St. Francis in prayer, by Matteo Rosselli.
The last chapel is next to the door of the sacristy, and is called the Morelli Chapel; but it formerly belonged to the Velluti, and contains frescos on the right-hand wall, in a damaged condition, by a pupil of Giotto, representing incidents from the story of the Archangel Michael, to whom the chapel was dedicated by Gemma de’ Velluti, a Franciscan nun. The frescos on the left wall give the legend of Sipontum, near the site of the modern Manfredonia, in Apulia, where it is recorded that a man named Galgano, or Garganus, lived in the fifth century, who was rich in pasture land, cattle and sheep. One of his bulls happening to stray, he set out with his servants in quest of him, and found him at the entrance of a cavern on the summit of a mountain overhanging the city of Sipontum. Enraged at the trouble the beast had given him, Garganus ordered that he should be slain; but the arrow discharged, instead of hitting the bull, returned to the bosom of him who sent it, who fell down dead. Garganus applied to the Bishop of Sipontum to explain this strange occurrence, and the bishop fasted and prayed for three successive days, at the end of which time the glorious Archangel Michael appeared to him in a vision, and informed him that the spot where the servant aimed at the bull was peculiarly sacred to himself, and commanded that a church should be built there, which order Garganus readily obeyed. The altar-piece of the Velluti Chapel is an Assumption of the Virgin, a good example of the work of Cristofano Allori. St. Thomas Aquinas and two children are supposed to be by Passignano; this painting is very superior to that of Allori both in grace of composition and beauty of colour. The family of Velluti, to whom the chapel belongs, were Florentine merchants, who were employed on political missions to the Pope and Neapolitan sovereigns, and are now represented by the Duca di San Clemente.
The south transept terminates in a large chapel, belonging to the Baroncelli family, over which are recently discovered frescos, in an imperfect condition – an old and young man, and Christ with the Doctors. To the right of the entrance is a monument, with the shield of the Baroncelli family, and within the arch are statuettes of the Annunciation, probably by Andrea Pisano. The monument itself is attributed to Nicola Pisano, though some give it to Andrea. It is a beautiful specimen of monumental decorations of an early period. The inscription states that in February, 1327, this chapel was finished, and dedicated to God and the Virgin of the Annunciation.
The wall to the left is covered with frescos by Taddeo Gaddi, representing incidents from the life of the Virgin. As an example of an early work by this master, these frescos are especially interesting: they were probably executed while Giotto was in Naples. Taddeo has divided his subject into a lunette above, and five compartments below, separated by twisted columns and cornices. Within the lunette, Joachim, the father of the Virgin, is expelled from the Temple; below are the meeting of Joachim with his wife Anna, the birth of the Virgin, her presentation when a child in the Temple, where she is supposed to have been educated by the priests with other young girls, and lastly her marriage to Joseph. In the Presentation she is seen ascending the steps of the Temple; Joachim and Anna stand below; the High Priest above is prepared to receive her; in the foreground to the left, are several children; to the right, as spectators, are two kneeling females, beautifully drawn: behind these a man with a long beard, seen in profile, who is supposed to be a portrait of the painter’s father, Gaddo Gaddi; beside him is another bearded man, dressed in white and wearing a cap, who represents Andrea Tafi, the worker in mosaic. In the Marriage of the Virgin there is a total absence of repose or order in the composition.
On either side of the window Taddeo Gaddi has painted the following subjects: The Annunciation; the Visitation; the Angels appearing to the Shepherds; the Adoration of the Shepherds; the Star appearing to the Wise Men; and their Visit to the Stable of Bethlehem. On the pilasters supporting the arch are David with the head of Goliath, to represent the triumphs of the ancestor of the Saviour, and Joseph with his rod which has budded.
In the legend of the Virgin’s life, it is related that there were many competitors for her hand. The high priest ordered every unmarried man of the house of David to lay a rod on the altar, and declared that he whose rod should give forth buds should be the husband of Mary; among the rivals was Joseph, an old man and widower, who had already sons and grandsons; his rod alone budded, and as it did so, a dove descended from heaven and lighted upon it. In all early pictures of the Marriage of the Virgin the traditional scene is represented of youths in despair breaking their rods, and even administering blows to Joseph, who receives them with the utmost equanimity.
Facing the larger frescos by Taddeo Gaddi is a fresco by Sebastian Mainardi, a pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio; this is one of his best productions, and it has been sometimes attributed to his master. The subject is the Virgin letting down her girdle to St. Thomas. According to the legend, the doubting apostle Thomas was absent when the Virgin ascended into heaven, leaving her tomb full of roses to the wonder of all the apostles who were present. Thomas refused to believe the tale on his return, but when the grave was opened, he found it empty; and the Virgin, pitying the weakness of his faith, let down her girdle to him from heaven to remove all further doubt.
The altar-piece of this chapel is a very remarkable and authentic picture by Giotto, probably painted between 1299 and 1303, on the return of the artist from a visit to Rome, and before his departure for Padua. He has inscribed his name as follows: Opus Magister Iocti. The altar probably once stood where is Mainardi’s fresco, and this picture was then opposite the fresco of Taddeo Gaddi; it has been reduced in size and set in its present ornamental framework. The painting is on five panels; the centre has the Coronation of the Virgin, who bends with modest grace and folded arms as the Saviour places the crown on her head; the mild dignity of his expression and the earnest gaze of the four worshipping angels is very beautiful. In the lower half of the four compartments – two on either side – very lovely angels play musical instruments and sing hymns; above them are numerous heads of patriarchs, prophets, and saints in glory. Each is painted with characteristic portrait-like reality. In the five hexagons of the predella are the Saviour, St. Francis, the Baptist, St. Peter, and Paul the hermit; they are delicately painted and varied in expression.
According to Cavalcaselle, “No traveller to Florence will have failed to visit Sta. Croce, or to study the Baroncelli altar-piece. It was long a standing piece for the critics of Giotto’s style. It will therefore be needless minutely to describe the beauties of the principal group….Let the student mark how admirably the idea of a heavenly choir is rendered – how intent the choristers on their canticles, the players on their melody – how quiet, yet how full of purpose – how characteristic and expressive are the faces, how appropriate the grave intentness and tender sentiment of some angels, how correct the action and movement of others – how grave yet how ardent are the saints, how admirably balanced the groups. Nor will he pass by without a less than cursory glance the five figures in the lower hexagons: the Ecce homo, with a broad thorax and wasted arms, calmly grieving, but a type reminiscent of more distant times; the wild, austere, and emaciated Baptist, with his long unkempt locks, and arms reverently crossed on his naked breast; and St. Francis showing the stigmata. To perfect decorum and repose, Giotto added in this altar-piece his well-known quality of simplicity in drapery.”194
Unfortunately, this interesting picture is half concealed by a heavy and awkward figure of the Saviour by Baccio Bandinelli, brought here from the cathedral with the statue of the Eternal which was placed in the cortile of the monastery.
To the right of the Baroncelli Chapel, facing the east, is another and larger, called the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, which formerly belonged to the Castellani family, one of whom, a Prior of the Republic, founded this chapel, which he dedicated to St. Anthony, and which he caused an artist, of the name of Gherardo Starnina, to adorn with frescos. Gherardo, born in Florence in 1354, was a pupil of Antonio Veneziano, and the master of Masolino. In 1378, soon after he had finished his work in this chapel, he joined in the riots of the Ciompi, or “Woodenshoes,” of Florence, and was forced to quit the city. He travelled to Spain, where he became wealthy; but he returned to his native place in 1387, and after painting several frescos died there, in 1406. Until very recently all the paintings in the Castellani Chapel were buried in whitewash, with the exception of those on the ceiling. Vasari mentions that Starnina’s paintings were thus concealed; it is even now, however, doubtful whether the recently discovered frescos are all or any of them the work of this master. Cavalcaselle attributes them to Agnolo Gaddi.195 He adds that the prophets on the wall outside the chapel, holding scrolls on which Hebrew lines are inscribed, are of a later date than those on the ceiling. Within the last two years the careful and persevering efforts of a friar of the convent have brought to light some of the most interesting. The frescos appear to have been the work of more than one hand; those representing the histories of St. Anthony and St. Nicholas, though dramatic and powerful, are in the simple artless style of composition and drawing belonging to an early period. The sleeve of the dress is curved, and the bent arm is without an elbow, the eyes are long and small, and the whole figures are Giottesque in treatment, reminding us of the frescos by Taddeo Gaddi in the Baroncelli Chapel, or of Agnolo in the apse of this church. The frescos representing the lives of our Saviour, and of St. John the Evangelist, belong to a more advanced period in art; they retain the simple narrative style in the composition, but with greater ease and freedom; the drawing and the expression of the heads and figures is correct, noble, and often very beautiful; there is also more variety, and a closer approach to nature, with a fine disposition of drapery.
The History of St. Nicholas of Bari is to the right on entering the chapel; he was, as Mrs. Jameson observes, essentially the saint of the people. Above is represented the assistance he gave to a poor nobleman who was without dowries for his daughters - St. Nicholas is throwing a purse of gold into an open window, that none might know from whence it came; he is seen restoring a sailor to life who had fallen overboard from a vessel which was conveying the saint to the Holy Land; he restores three children who had been cut to pieces and salted for provisions; he brings a lost child to his parents.
The most beautiful fresco of the series is that of the Life of Our Saviour, on the same side. Opposite is the Life of St. Anthony, born at Alexandria, A.D. 357, in affluent circumstances, but who joined a company of hermits in the wilderness. Here he was pursued by demons tempting him, all of whom he overcame, and, shutting himself up in a cavern, he lived twenty years in solitude. When he had reached ninety years of age, he flattered himself with the idea that no one else had passed a longer time in seclusion and the exercise of self-denial; but he was informed in a vision that a certain hermit called Paul had exceeded him in both. Anthony resolved to find him out, and was guided to his cavern by centaurs and satyrs. The hermits discoursed together with infinite delight, and a raven supplied them with bread, until Paul died, when two lions came to dig his grave, where Anthony buried him. Anthony retired, with a few other monks, to another solitary place, where he lived fourteen years, and, finally, his spirit was received by angels and carried to heaven. The other frescos on this side represent the life of St. John the Evangelist; they are very grand, and recall the frescos in the Carmine by Masaccio, which is not surprising if this work be by the hand of his master, Gherardo Starnina.
The monuments in this chapel have no interest, but there are two statues of Robbia work on a large scale, well executed. One represents San Bernardino, the other St. Dominick.
A handsome door to the left of the Baroncelli Chapel leads to the Sacristy and to the Capella del Noviziato, Chapel of the Novitiate, of the Medici. Within a lunette over the door is a fresco of the Madonna and Child, by Mainardi. This chapel is entered at the farther end of the corridor, on one side of which are windows, on the other monuments and a curious wooden Crucifix, attributed by some to Margheritone of Arezzo, 1236. It is said to have been presented by the artist to Farinata degli Uberti, the great Ghibelline leader, as a token of admiration for his having rescued his native city from the destruction threatened by his own party, in 1260, after the Ghibelline victory of Montaperti, when it was proposed to raze Florence to the ground; it was the single voice of Farinata degli Uberti which protested against so barbarous an act. Dante alludes to this when he makes Farinata, from his place in the "Inferno," utter these words -
Ma fu' io sol colà, dove soffertoThe Chapel of the Novitiate, or Cappella Medici, is dedicated to San Cosimo and San Damiano, and contains several beautiful works of art. There is a most exquisite specimen of Luca della Robbia's work over the altar: a Madonna and Child surrounded by cherubim, which have wonderful variety of expression; angels crown the Mother and Infant Christ; to the right is St. John the Baptist and St. Elizabeth with her lap full of roses; to the left St. Lawrence, St. Francis, and a bishop. There is also a lunette over the door facing the altar, with angels and a garland of fruit. To the right of the entrance is a very lovely shrine to hold the consecrated wafer, by Mino da Fiesole, brought hither from the Convent of the Murate, in 1815. Mino was born in 1433, and died in 1484; though called of Fiesole, he was really a native of Poppi, in the Casentino, and he was the intimate friend of Desiderio da Settignano. His style is sweet, refined, and graceful. This Comunicatorio represents angels waiting at the tomb of the Saviour. Opposite to this is another Robbia work of a Madonna and Child; and over the two doors on either side of the altar are representations in the same material of St. Dominick and St. Francis. A large monument on one side of this chapel to a young girl, is the work of a living sculptress, Mademoiselle de Fauveau, and her brother. There are several good paintings on panel of the school of Giotto.
Fu per ciascuno di tôr via Firenze,
Colui che la difese, a viso aperto.
Inferno, canto x, v. 91.
In this chapel the body of Galileo was laid, and remained for many years; when the great philosopher died in 1642, the Romish Church would not permit him a more honourable place of burial, and here were likewise brought the remains of Vincenzio Viviani, his favourite pupil, who died in 1703, and desired to lie beside his master. Viviani had succeeded in raising, by subscription, a sum of three thousand scudi for the monument of Galileo within the church, near the spot where Galileo had desired that his bones should repose, beside those of his ancestors; but it was only in 1757, at a meeting of the professors belonging to the University of the members of the Florentine Academy, and of the Franciscan Friars of Sta. Croce, in the Pazzi Chapel, that it was resolved to disinter the remains of Galileo and Viviani, and bear them to their resting-place in the nave of the Church.
The Sacristy of Sta. Croce is a spacious square chamber, built by the Peruzzi family. It is surrounded by fine intarsiatura work, which was executed by Giovanni di Michele, a master carpenter, who lived early in the fifteenth century, along which was inserted the series of small pictures by Giotto or by Taddeo Gaddi, representing the lives of St. Francis and of the Saviour, which are now in the Florentine Academy. Some splendid illuminated books, church plate, and priests’ vestments are exhibited here under glass. The south wall of the Sacristy is adorned with frescos by pupils of Giotto. The Crucifixion is attributed by Cavalcaselle to Taddeo Gaddi, though the frescos on either side, which were also assigned to him, are more probably by Nicola di Pietro or Gerini.
Crucifix, Damaged in 1966 Flood, now Restored.
One of the painted crucifixes hung on the wall is supposed to be by Cimabue, the other by Giotto. The Nativity, with Joseph and the patrons adoring the Child, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bartholomew, St. Ambrose, and St. John the Baptist, painted on panel, is by Bugiardini, and was formerly in the Castellani Chapel. Bugiardini, born in 1471, was a pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and worked under Mariotto Albertinelli and Michael Angelo, but never rose to great eminence. There are, besides, a Crucifix by Santi di Tito; a Vision of St. Thomas, by one of the school of Andrea del Sarto; and St. Anthony of Padua, by Perugino. To the left of the entrance is a fine head of Christ in Robbia ware; and near this is a delicately carved lavabo, with St. Francis on the pediment; above is a painting of the Saviour.
Separated from the Sacristy by a grating of finely wrought iron-work, is the Rinuccini Chapel, built by one Lapo di Rinuccini, towards the end of the thirteenth century. It is decorated with frescos by Giovanni da Milano, the favourite pupil of Taddeo Gaddi; which were, however, for a long time attributed to Taddeo himself. These paintings are superior in drawing, as well as composition, to those of Taddeo in the Baroncelli Chapel, and belong to a more advanced period of art. On the pilasters either side of the entrance to the chapel are painted St. Anthony, St. Francis, St. Andrew, and St. Louis; beneath the arch are figures of the Apostles; on the ceiling are represented four Prophets and the Saviour in the usual attitude of benediction.
On the walls are the lives of the Virgin and of Mary Magdalene. To the left, in the lunette above, is the Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple; below, as in the frescos by Taddeo in the Baroncelli Chapel, are the Meeting of Joachim and Anna, the Birth of the Virgin, her Presentation in the Temple, and her Marriage. In the lunette, on the right wall, the Magdalene is represented anointing the Saviour’s feet; below, she is seated at the Saviour’s feet in a beautiful and earnest attitude of attention; the Resurrection of Lazarus follows, and the Noli mi tangere; lastly, a monkish legend of the life of Mary Magdalene. The story of the Virgin is told with peculiar grace and truth to nature; but that of the Magdalene is perhaps superior in variety and interest. In the lunette where the Saviour, addressing Simon, points to the Magdalene at his feet, the attitudes of Simon and of the two Apostles, who have stopped eating to listen, are easy and natural; all the compositions are well ordered and the figures animated; where Mary is seated at the feet of Jesus, Martha is seen reproaching her, and pointing to the kitchen, where she is again represented occupied over the fire. In the Resurrection of Lazarus the painter descends to details which might as well be avoided, because unnecessary, and diverting the thoughts from the principal object of the picture: two of the disciples drag Lazarus from the grave, and the spectators hold their noses. The concluding legend is as follows: - Mary Magdalene, with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, were set adrift in a shop by the heathen, and their vessel was driven to Marseilles, where, soon afterwards, arrived a certain prince with his wife, who came there to sacrifice to the heathen gods. They were, however dissuaded from the act by the preachings of Mary Magdalene, and were finally converted to Christianity. Through her prayers, their wish for progeny was granted; but on their road to visit St. Peter at Jerusalem the princess died, after giving birth to a child. The prince left her body on a rocky island, with the infant beside it. Two years afterwards, when he had been confirmed in the Christian faith by the preaching of St. Peter, he quitted Jerusalem, and on his homeward way, landed on the island where he had left his dead wife and her child; he was surprised to find the child living, preserved by the prayers of Mary Magdalene; and his wife suddenly rose as he approached, and stretched out her arms to him. They all returned to Marseilles, where they were baptized by the Magdalene, and all the people of Marseilles and of the country around became Christians.
The altar-piece in the Rinuccini Chapel is also by Giovanni da Milano, and is a good specimen of the master; both that and the frescos bear the date of 1379. The predella represents the Magdalene in the Wilderness, St. John in the Island of Patmos, the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism, and St. Francis receiving the Stigmata.
Returning to the church, the first chapel to the left of the apse was once richly adorned with paintings by Giotto, all of which, however, have perished. It once belonged to the Tosinghi family, from whom it passed to the Spinelli, who bestowed a large portion of their wealth on the Monastery of Sta. Croce. Within the last few years it was purchased by the late Cavaliere Françesco Sloane, who so generously contributed to the façade of the church.
The second chapel is dedicated to St. Anne, and contains the remains of a celebrated composer and violinist, Pietro Nardini, born in Leghorn in 1725, and who died in Florence, 1796. The third chapel belongs to the Ricasoli family, and is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. The walls are painted in oil by the modern painter Luigi Sabatelli, and by his two sons, Françesco and Giuseppe. The subject is the Life of St. Anthony, a Portuguese and Franciscan monk, who taught Divinity at Padua. He boldly remonstrated with the tyrant of Padua, Eccellino; and after a time resigned the Professorship of Divinity to preach to the people.
At the entrance to the Ricasoli Chapel is a heavy stone, fastened by a chain to the wall, which is said to have fallen from the roof of the Church in 1698, without causing any injury; which miracle was attributed to the intercession of the Saints.
The adjoining chapel, dedicated to St. Lawrence and St. Stephen, belonged to the Pulci and Berudi families. The frescos were painted in the middle of the fourteenth century by Bernardo Daddi, who was a contemporary of Jacopo da Casentino, and disciple of Spinello Aretino, and was admitted into the company of Florentine Painters in 1355. “The only remaining frescos of Daddi that have been preserved are those of San Stefano, which represent the martyrdom of San Lorenzo and San Stefano, and have been injured by time and retouching.198 They betray the weakness of an artist of a low order; not ignorant, however, of the laws of composition as they were known to most inferior Giottesques.”199
The fifth chapel belonged to the Conti Bardi, and is dedicated to St. Sylvester.
According to tradition, Sylvester was born at Rome in the fourth century, when the Emperor Constantine was still unconverted. He had been chosen Bishop of Rome, but fled from persecution, and dwelt for some time in a cavern near the summit of Monte Calvo. Whilst he was there, Constantine was seized with leprosy, and having refused to follow the advice of his false gods, who desired him to bathe in a bath of children’s blood, St. Peter and St. Paul appeared to him in a vision, and bade him send for Sylvester, who would show him a pool in which, if he dipped three times, he should be cleansed from his leprosy. And when Sylvester came to the emperor, he explained to him who were Peter and Paul, and Constantine became a Christian from that day. Sylvester was then invited by the emperor to dispute with the Jewish rabbis, in order to clear away the doubts of his mother, the Empress Helena, who was then inclined to Judaism. One of the rabbis defied Sylvester to prove his faith by an exhibition of the power of God; and he whispered in the ear of a fierce bull, when the animal instantly dropped down dead. He then bade the Jew restore the bull to life, which he tried, but could not; upon which Sylvester made the sign of the Cross, bidding the bull rise, and go in peace, and the beast accordingly rose tame and docile. Then the Jews who were present believed, and were baptized. Some time afterwards, the priests of the heathen complained to Constantine, that since he had been baptized a great dragon had appeared in the moat of his castle, which had destroyed more than three hundred men by his envenomed breath; but Sylvester descended into the moat and exorcised the dragon in the name of Christ, and thus delivered the people from the double death of idolatry and the dragon.
The frescos in the Conti Bardi Chapel represent the principal incidents of this legend, and are by Tommaso Giottino, who was born in 1324, and was the contemporary of Gaddi. The subjects to the right, beginning from above, are the Conversion of Constantine, the Miracle of the Bull, and the Victory over the Dragon. The Miracle of the Bull is the finest composition. Constantine sits enthroned in the centre; the Jews and other spectators are behind the balustrades on the right and left, and the bull is rising from his knees at the word of Sylvester. The story is well told, and the composition has been most happily adapted from one very frequently engraved on the Consular diptyches of the Romans.200
Within this chapel is the tomb of Ubertini, a valiant captain, probably by Giottino, who painted the legend of Sylvester; it is unique among the monuments of the fourteenth century. The architectural design is that of the Pisan school; instead of the usual marble effigy recumbent on the sarcophagus, the deceased warrior is represented rising from the tomb at the Resurrection: angels blow a trumpet and hold the instruments of the Passion. The sarcophagus is of marble, but the rest is painted in fresco; a rocky wilderness is represented in the background. Ubertini rises in armour, “a pale but composed countenance; his hands joined in prayer; feature and attitude alike expressive and sublime. It is a daring and bold idea, and one only regrets that it has not been entirely wrought out in marble; the drawing is somewhat hard, and the colouring paler than in the adjacent frescos; but in a subject like this, such a defect becomes a merit.”201
The Niccolini Chapel terminates the series at this extremity. It was here that the Company of the Laudesi, or Singers of Praise (to the Virgin), had their place of interment. The Company was composed of both men and women; and, in the early days of the Republic, they were in the habit of meeting near the Church of Sta. Reparata to sing hymns, as well as secular songs – laudi vulgari, as they were called; an inscription commemorating this custom is to be seen on the walls of the present Cathedral, on the side near the campanile. One of the latest members was Lorenzo de’ Medici, who composed some of his most licentious poetry for this society, which excited the animadversions of Savonarola, and thus contributed to its dissolution. This chapel was only transferred from the Laudesi to the Niccolini family towards the end of the sixteenth century. It is richly decorated with coloured marbles; the statues of Moses and Aaron, of Chastity, Prudence, and Humility are by Francavilla, a mediocre sculptor of the school of Giovan Bologna. He was a native of Cambrai, but educated in Tuscany. The Assumption of the Virgin in the cupola was painted by Volterano in the seventeenth century.
The Chapel of St. Louis and St. Bartholomew, founded
in the fourteenth century, occupies the northern extremity of
this transept, facing the Baroncelli Chapel. It contains
an old monument to one of the Bardi family, very similar in
style to that of Ubertini by Giottino. Over the altar of
this chapel is a crucifix by Donatello, one of his earliest
works, and associated with an anecdote related by
Vasari. Donatello, when young, studied painting under
Bicci di Lorenzo, and executed this crucifix, which
Brunelleschi, who ventured frankly to criticize the young
artist’s works, told him was more like a common peasant than
the Saviour of the world. Donatello, considerably
disconcerted, observed it was easier to find fault than to
make another as good; Brunelleschi made no reply, but shortly
afterwards invited Donatello to breakfast with him at this
studio; and as Donatello entered the room, with his apron full
of cheese and fruit from the market, the first thing he beheld
was the crucifix Brunelleschi had just finished; the eatables
fell to the ground, as he exclaimed with generous admiration,
“Brunelleschi is capable of forming a Christ, but I can only
make a peasant!”
Baroncelli Chapel built 1337
Brunelleschi, Filippo 1379-1446
Daddi, Bernardo, joined the Florentine painters 1355
Francavilla b. 1548 ….
Galileo d. 1642
Gaddi, Agnolo 1333-1396
Gaddi, Gaddo 1259-1332
Gaddi, Taddeo 1300-1366
Gherardo Starnina 1354-1406
Giottino alive in 1350
Giovanni da Milano alive in 1366
Luca della Robbia 1400-1482
Mainardi, Sebastiano alive in 1482
Margheritone di Arezzo …. 1236
Mino da Fiesole 1431-1484
Montaperti, Battle of 1260
Nardini, Pietro 1725-1796
Pisano, Andrea 1273-1349
Pisano, Nicolò d. 1278
Santi di Tito 1536-1603
Tafi, Andrea 1250-1320
Viviani, Vincenzio d. 1703
191 See “Crowe
and Cavalcaselle,” vol. i. p. 469.
192 See “Cavalcaselle,” vol. i. p. 306.
193 See “Cavalcaselle,” vol. i. p. 299.
194 See “Crowe and Cavalcaselle,” vol. i. p. 308.
195 See “Crowe and Cavalcaselle,” vol. i. p. 454.
196 The modern bust and monument to the Florentine sculptor Bartolini are worthy of notice.
But there I was alone, where every one198 Note handwritten in pencil by the book’s original owner, Ellen Orton, in 1880: “Very well restored & very quaint & interesting.”
Consented to the laying waste of Florence,
He who defended her with open face."
Chapter XXIII: Pia Casa di Lavoro – Borgo Allegri – Accademia Filarmonica – House of Michael Angelo – The Villani
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