WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XXIV: Sta. Maria in Campo – Banca Nazionale – San Michele dei Visdomini – Palazzo Dino Campagni – Hospital Sta. Maria Nuova – Sant’ Ambrogio
In the Via del Proconsolo, between the Via degli Albizzi and the Piazza del Duomo, is a small church, Sta. Maria in Campo, so called from having been built on a field outside the first circuit of walls. The name is also said to have been derived from the site having been that of Campus Martius of the Florentines. Until 1216 the church belonged to the bishops of Fiesole, and a miraculous image of the Virgin was brought hither from the Cathedral of Fiesole in 1529; but Sta. Maria in Campo was claimed likewise by Florence, and was a constant subject of dispute between the Fiesolan and Florentine diocesans. On the northern side of the little piazza, a house formerly belonging to Vannini family was the scene of a curious custom on the Feast of St. John the Baptist: a man in a costume to represent the Baptist was led on a car throughout the city, and stopped before this house, from the window of which was lowered a basket with wine, bread, and confectionery. This custom ceased in 1749, and the car only carried a banner, which was presented to the victor at the races held on St. John’s Day.
Turning to the right, on leaving the Via del
Proconsolo, the first street is the Via dell’ Orivolo, or
Sun-Dial. The large palace recently built on the
foundations of what was the Palace of the Pazzi, where the
conspiracy against the Medici was hatched, is the Banca
Nazionale of Florence, built after a design by Professor
Cipolla, a Roman architect. The sculpture over the doors
of putti, or boy-genii, is from a design by Girolamo
Bastiniani, a Florentine, and are spirited and
well-executed. Here, when a palace of the Pazzi, the
members of the Accademia degli Apatisti, a literary club, were
in the habit of meeting to discuss absurd and trivial
questions, which, a described by Goldoni, were only calculated
to display much idle pedantry; the Abate Giovanni Lami was,
however, once the president, and the Grand-Duke Cosimo III.
took to society under his special protection. In 1783 it
was merged in the Accademia della Crusca.
The Vicolo Folco Portinari, formerly Via de Pappe, conducts to the Via San’ Egidio, and the Hospital founded by the father of Dante’s Beatrice. At the farther end of the Via San’ Egidio is the small Church of San Michele dei Visdomini, near which stood the Porta dei Visdomini, and the Porta a Balla, in the first and second circuit of walls. There were formerly two paintings of Andrea Orgagna in this church, one representing Paradise, in which he introduced the most deserving citizens of the Republic; the other Hell, in a part of which he placed the Duke of Athens and his followers, a well a all who had acted contrary to the public interest; therefore a common gibe between Florentines was, “You are painted in the Inferno of San Michele.” The church was modernised in 1655.
The palace of the old chronicler Dino Compagni is in the Via San’ Egidio, and was inhabited by the late Commendatore Sloane. Dino Compagni was born in the middle of the thirteenth century; his "Chronicle" begins in 1280, and ends in 1312. It includes the history of the Bianchi and Neri factions, which commenced at a period when the Guelphs were predominant in the State, but who were thus divided among themselves. The Bianchi, who were inferior in numbers to the Neri, recalled the Ghibellines, in order to obtain equal power with their rivals; and it was when parties were thus evenly balanced that the Florentine Constitution was framed: the Arts or Guilds were formed, and the Priors were chosen from the most influential citizens. Just as peace appeared possible, Charles of Valois arrived in Florence, ostensibly to reconcile contending parties, but really to sow dissension by adopting the side of the Neri, and banishing the Ghibelline supporters of the Bianchi, among whom were the fathers of Petrarch and of Dante.
On a tablet, in a house of the Via San' Egidio, now the Archivio of the Hospital of Sta. Maria Nuova, is recorded that here Lorenzo Ghiberti cast the bronze Gates of the Baptistery in 1403.
Between the years 1285 and 1288, Folco Portinari was engaged in founding the Hospital of Sta. Maria Nuova. The building originally occupied the space a little in advance of the present Hospital, to the left of the church. Among the archives there still exists the contract, dated 1285, by which Folco Portinari became the owner of land beyond the walls of the city, which he had purchased in the parish San Michele dei Visdomini, and on which he proposed to build his Hospital. According to tradition, the good work was first suggested to him by his servant, Monna Tessa, or Madonna Tessa, who had already begun it by receiving and nursing the sick in a room of her master's house. Folco Portinari was soon obliged to increase the size of his Hospital from the number of afflicted persons who applied for admittance. At his death, in 1288, the Signory ordered the honours to be paid to him as to one of themselves, and his merits are recorded on a tablet near the high altar of the church attached to the Hospital. A relief, inserted in the wall of the cloister, leading from the outer porch to the office-room of the Commissary, is supposed to represent Monna Tessa. In the year 1300, part of the adjoining Monastery of Sant' Egidio was added to the Hospital, and assigned to male patients, whilst that part which had been built by Folco Portinari was reserved for women. During the Plague of 1348, large gifts and rich legacies were bestowed on this institution, which, according to Villani, added at that time twenty-five thousand golden florins to its funds. The building was altered to its present form by Buontalenti and Giulio Parigi in 1641. The loggia had been already built by Buontalenti in 1612.
The church was consecrated by Pope Martin V. in 1458. Over the central door is a Coronation of the Virgin in high relief by Dello, an artist of the fifteenth century; the angels on either side were painted much later by the scholars of Pomarancia. To the right of the door is a fresco by Lorenzo de' Bicci, the same artist who was employed in the Cathedral. This painting represents Michele da Panzano, Governor of the Hospital, attired in a black monastic dress, kneeling at the feet of Pope Martin V. to receive the confirmation of those pontifical privileges which had already been granted to the Hospital. The Venetian cardinal, Antonio Cordera, is seated with the other cardinals in Consistory; and Pope Eugenius IV., likewise then a cardinal, is attired in the blue dress of the Canons of San Giorgio in Alge. To the left of the door, another fresco represents the same governor, Michele da Panzano, receiving a Brief from Pope martin V., in front of the Church of Sta. Maria Nuova. Panzano kneels and kisses the pope's hand; he wears a priest's vestments; behind him are the officials belonging to the Hospital, all in the monastic habit. The Panzani were a branch of the Ricasoli family, and were called Panzano, after a stronghold in their possession. They must have been people of importance in Florence when Michele was made the first Governor of Portinari's Hospital; one of the family fought in the battle of Montaperti. The daughter of Firidolfi da Panzano married a Ricasoli in 1818, thus renewing the connection between the families, after an interval of eight hundred years.
The frescos in the rest of this compartment, under the loggia or porch in front of the Hospital are by Antonio della Pomerancia, a painter of the sixteenth century. The fresco at the farther extremity is an Annunciation by Taddeo Zucchero, of the same period, but is much damages.
Within the church, to the right of the entrance, a plain monument marks the spot where Folco Portinari was buried. Over the altar is a Crucifix, attributed to Giovan Bologna; the Missal has admirable miniatures by Cosimo Rossetti, painted between 1460-1470. The Hospital contains about two thousand beds, and is attended by twelve medical professors; it possesses a library of five thousand volumes, commenced by the celebrated mathematician, Vincenzio Viviani, the pupil of Galileo. Among its treasures are some interesting manuscripts relating to the history of Florence, one of which is the original autograph copy of the works of Scipio Ammirato.207
The pictures formerly in the church, including the remains of a fine fresco from the gardens of the Campo Santo, or burial ground, have been removed to the hall of the Archives, in the Via Sant' Egidio, where Ghiberti once had his studio. A fine picture by Hugo Van der Goes has on the doors or wings portraits of the Portinari, who were patrons of Flemish art,208 which they introduced into Italy, and which had considerable influence on Italian painting, including the school of Perugino. There are here, likewise, a most lovely Madonna and Child, with Angels (No. 23), by Filippo Lippi; a good picture by Raffaello di Garbo (No. 22), and Sant' Egidio discovered in his Cave by the King of France, by Giunto Gemignano. Sant' Egidio, who first displayed his piety by healing a sick man, is an appropriate saint for an hospital.209 In a further room are as follows: a good picture by Cosimo Rosselli; and a Madonna and Child by Fra Angelico; on the opposite wall, the fresco from the Campo Santo, with a copy in crayon. The subject is the Last Judgment; it is painted by Fra Bartolommeo and Mariotto Albertinelli; and the drawing, expression, and movement of the figures that remain, are full of life and beauty and grace. The Saviour is seated above, surrounded by cherubim. On either side are the Apostles, also seated in a half circle, and grandly composed. St. John, on the right, is singularly beautiful. St. Peter and the Virgin are nearest the Saviour; the archangel Michael stands with his sword drawn; he looks upwards (not done as in the copy), as may be traced in the ruined fresco. A kneeling angel holds the Cross and the instruments of the passion, whilst two others blow their trumpets. The idea of rapid movement in their descent is given by their outspread wings and flying drapery. The lowest part of this fresco is, as usual, divided by the accepted and rejected; among the last, one gazes upwards in despair, and another with his hands raised is powerfully drawn. Some reliefs in the small entrance to these rooms are worthy of notice – a good Luca della Robbia, and a wood-carving of Donatello, with several others.
By the Via San' Egidio the visitor reaches a piazzetta in which meet the Via dell' Orivolo and the Via Pietra Piana, leading to the old Church of Sant' Ambrogio.
Sant' Ambrogio di Pietro Piana is one of the oldest churches in Florence. The convent attached to the church was the first containing nuns in Florence. They, as well as the monks of the Badia, were Benedictines, until during the French occupation of the last century, part of the immense building was destroyed, and the nuns were expelled. A few years afterwards the convent was bestowed on the nuns of the Sacré-Cœur, who still inhabit it. There are between forty and fifty Sisters, who never leave the walls, and are occupied with needlework, chiefly making priests' garments. Some have attained a great age; and even those in middle life have been twenty-eight years thus immured. There is nothing of artistic interest in the dilapidated building, except an old fountain in the Cloister, next the Refectory.
The Church of Sant' Ambrogio was rebuilt by Giov. Batt. Foggini; and Luigi Ademollo, a Milanese painter, within this century decorated the facade, nave, and choir with representations of the life of St. Ambrose and of our Saviour. Here Andrea Verocchio, the master of Leonardo da Vinci, was buried; but the greatest treasures of this church are the fresco by Cosimo Rosselli, and the marble altar by Mino da Fiesole, both of them in the Capella della Misericordia, to the left of the high altar. The fresco of Cosimo Rosselli is esteemed his finest work; it was painted in 1476, and represents a miraculous chalice, containing the sacramental wine, which was conveyed to the Archbishop's Palace after it had been converted into the real blood of the Saviour. Though much injured by a fire which took place in this chapel, enough of the painting remains to give an idea of its excellence. There is a great variety of movement, and many of the heads have the air of portraits. In a group to the left, the figure facing the spectator is said to be a portrait of Pico della Mirandola, whose likeness is also in the small room of Tuscan painters in the Uffizi Gallery. The head in this fresco appears to have been retouched. Pico was a younger son of the Lord of Mirandola, born in 1463. He acquired proficiency in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and Chaldee, besides various sciences; and, after visiting the universities of France and Italy, settled in Florence, where he devoted himself to the study of religion and Platonic philosophy. He died in 1494. The female figures in Rosselli's fresco are dignified and graceful, and some of them, as well as the children, very lovely. The different impression made by the miracle, on the young and old, is admirably given.
The paintings on the ceiling of the chapel are almost wholly destroyed.210
The richly carved marble altar to the right is that by Mino da Fiesole. The Infant Saviour is represented standing in the cup; adoring saints are on either side. The arch above is covered with delicate foliage, interspersed with the heads of cherubs; the Eternal is seen above. The gradino, or predella of small figures below the altar, is almost concealed by the table with candles and decorations in front. In the centre a priest holds up the chalice, and worshipping multitudes are on either side.
Descending the church on the same side with the Chapel of the Misericordia, there is a finely carved wooden statuette of St. Sebastian by Leonardo Tassini. Along the whole length of the nave, on either side, is a series of shrines or arches of carved stone, beneath which are pictures and altars. In the third from the entrance, a painting on panel is likewise by Cosimo Rosselli; the Madonna in glory surrounded by cherubim and angels; the Eternal above, and below, St. Ambrose and St. Francis, with a landscape background. The picture is wanting in force, but the predella is extremely beautiful. It represents scenes from the life of St. Francis: the Confirmation of his Order, by Pope Honorius III.; St. Francis receiving the Stigmata; his Death, surrounded by his disciples.
In a shrine on the opposite side of the nave is a Descent from the Cross, by Giottino, according to Burkhardt. The expression of the Magdalene, who receives the body of the Saviour from Nicodemus, is full of beauty, in spite of exaggeration. The Virgin, St. John the Baptist, and St. Catherine, stand passively by, as spectators.
In the next shrine is a picture by Agnolo Gaddi, as Burkhardt also believes. It is called the Madonna del Latte, as the Virgin is suckling the Child. To the right is St. John the Baptist; to the left St. Bartholomew with his knife. There is a certain dignity in this composition, and the picture is in tolerable preservation. In the third shrine is a much-damaged picture, but good in drawing and composition. The subject is St. Benedict, who is attired in black, and seated; an angel leads to him the youthful Tobit, symbolical of the human pilgrim; St. Nicholas on the left has his three balls in his hand.
In the Via de' Pilastri, nearly opposite the Church of Sant' Ambrogio, is a house which in 1639 was the scene of one of the most horrible tragedies of Florentine history. In the reign of the Grand-Duke Ferdinand II. there lived here an elderly Florentine gentleman, Giustino Canacci, who had been twice married, and his second wife, Caterina, was celebrated for her beauty and virtue. Jacopo Salviati, Duke of San Giuliano, was among her admirers, which excited the jealousy of his duchess, Veronica Cibo, a Princess of Massa. She determined to get rid of one she thought a rival, and Caterina, having unfortunately incurred the hatred of her step-son, Bartolommeo Canacci, he consented to guide three assassins, hired by the duchess, to this house, where Caterina was one evening entertaining some of her friends. Here they murdered her, with her maid, who remained beside her mistress when the rest of the party had taken flight. Caterina's head was then cut off and carried to the duchess, who concealed it in a bason of clean linen, which it was customary to place in her husband's apartment on the first day of the year. The duke uncovered the bason, and nearly fainted away on seeing its contents. Though the crime was of so heinous a nature, Bartolommeo Canacci alone suffered punishment; he was seized and beheaded, whilst the rest of the culprits escaped; the duchess left Florence, in greater dread of the fury of the populace than of the justice of the tribunals. Crime in high places had little to fear, when Ferdinand himself entertained and employed the assassin Fra Paolo go get rid of troublesome persons.211 A well in the Via de Pentolini still exists into which the body of Bartolommeo Canacci is said to have been thrown.
Cosimo Rosselli b. 1416 – d. 1484
Dino Compagni began his "Chronicle" 1280
Dino Compagni ended his "Chronicle" 1312
Ferdinand II. 1621-1670
Hospital of Sta. Maria Nuova built 1285-1288
Hospital Church of Sta. Maria Nuova, consecrated by Pope Martin V. 1456
Mino da Fiesole b. 1431 – d. 1486
Pico della Mirandola b. 1463 – d. 1494
Plague of Florence 1348
Sta. Maria in Campo belonged to the Bishops of Fiesole until 1216
Sta. Maria, Miraculous Image brought to 1529
San Michele dei Visdomini modernised 1655
Verocchio, Andrea b. 1432 – d. 1488
207 This book's
original owner, Ellen Orton, who visited Florence in May 1880,
has added the following note: "There is a curious arcade
or covered passage near the church."
208 See Kugler, "German and Dutch Art," p. 80. Also, Lord Lindsay, "Christian Art," vol. iii., pp. 310-317.
209 See "Legends of Monastic Orders," by Mrs. Jameson, p. 31.
210 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. ii. p. 183.
211 See Bargello, part ii.
Chapter XXV: The Protestant Cemetery – Sta. Maddalena de' Pazzi – The Panciatichi Gallery – The Capponi Gallery – Game of Palla e Maglio
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