WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XXX: Palazzo Rucellai – San Pancrazio – Via Tornabuoni – SS. Trinita – Palazzo Corsini – Piazza Sta. Maria Novella
Opposite the Palazzo Strozzi, a corner house between two streets bears a shield, with the lion rampant. Here lived and died Robert Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, the son of Queen Elizabeth's favourite, the Earl of Leicester, and of Amy Robsart, the unhappy heroine of Sir Walter Scott's "Kenilworth." As his mother's marriage was never acknowledged, and he was not allowed to bear his hereditary title, although his possessions were restored to him, he quitted England in 1612, and sought a refuge in Tuscany at the court of the Grand-Duke Cosimo II., who appointed him chamberlain to the Grand-Duchess, sister of the German Emperor Matthias. At her request the Emperor created Dudley a Duke of the Holy Empire, with the title of Duke of Northumberland. He was a man of great learning and accomplishment; his chief studies were mathematics and nautical science, and he designed the Mole at Leghorn, besides publishing works of value on navigation, &c.
The narrow street to the left is the Vigna Nuova, in which is the Palazzo Rucellai, with its beautiful Loggia on the opposite side of the way. The family Rucellai are descended from a certain Alemanno, a wealthy cloth merchant, who, when trading in the East, discovered a fine purple dye for wool, produced from a plant called orchel – Lichen roccella, Linn.: and thence, on his return to Florence, he obtained the name of Oricellai, or Rucellai. A descendant of Alemanno, Giovanni Rucellai, excited the jealousy of Cosimo de' Medici – Pater Patriæ – by his great wealth: he built the beautiful palace in the Vigna Nuova, as well as the Loggia in front, after designs by Leon Battista Alberti, whom he likewise employed to build the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, in the neighbouring Church of San Pancrazio, and also the façade to Sta. Maria Novella. Giovanni's son, Bernardo, was a distinguished historian, and on the occasion of his marriage with a daughter of the house of Medici, a splendid banquet was given in the little Piazza before the palace. Bernardo and his son Cosimo were members of the Platonic Academy, who then held their meetings in the Rucellai Gardens, which had been laid out for the family by Leon Battista Alberti, on a piece of ground some little distance from the palace. The Rucellai had become ardent supporters of the elder branch of the Medici, but the representative of the family in the sixteenth century opposed the election of the Grand-Duke Cosimo, and was therefore sent into exile.
The palace contains a fine collection of pictures. The most remarkable is that of the Assumption of the Virgin, who lets down her girdle to St. Thomas, by Françesco Granacci, 1469-1543. The artist has treated the same subject in his picture now in the Uffizi Gallery, but Cavalcaselle considers the Rucellai picture the most favourable example of Granacci's manner. St. Thomas, St. John, St. James, St. Laurence, and St. Paul, stand below. According to Cavalcaselle, "There is soft gravity in the deportment of the saints conversing by the tomb, and the drapery is grand in the breadth of its cast. Two angels supporting the glory of flaming rays, almost embody the grace of Filippino. But the muscular type and energetically forced motion of the St. Thomas rising from his knees to take the girdle handed down to him by the Virgin, as well as the enamelled surface of the panel, and its minute laboriousness, are derived from Michael Angelo, in emulation, perhaps, of the Madonna at the Uffizi, which seems to date from the first years of the sixteenth century."241 The picture was painted for the church of San Piero Maggiore; it is in oil on panel, and the figures are life-size. A Holy Family, by Granacci, in this gallery, appears to have been executed after the artist had studied the works of Raffaelle. There are, besides, a Madonna by Michael Angelo, and pictures by Carlo Dolce and other distinguished artists.
The loggia before the palace, though walled up, and used as a magazine for pictures, has not lost the beauty of the original design. Beneath its arches one of the Rucellai arranged the marriages of three of his daughters at once; for it was the simple custom of those old Florentine merchants to transact public and private business in the appendages to their palaces, as well as to sit under their shade in the hot days of summer, to play chess and watch the gambols of their children.
By the Via del Moro we arrive at the Via della
Spada, running parallel to the Vigna Nuova, and meeting where
the house of Robert Dudley forms an angle opposite the Palazzo
Strozzi. In the Via della Spada, behind the Palazzo
Rucellai, is the former old Church of San Pacrazio, now used
for courts of law. San Pacrazio was founded in 1078,
when it stood beyond the first circuit of walls. In 1488
it was rebuilt by the Rucellai and Federighi families.
The adjoining monastery was at one time inhabited by monks
from Vallombrosa, whose residence here is commemorated by a
fresco in the cloister by Neri de' Bicci, in which Giovanni
Gualberto, the founder of the order, is seen seated amidst
bishops and saints. The fresco is a fair specimen of
Neri de' Bicci's work. The Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
was built, a before mentioned, by Giovanni Rucellai, who
employed Leon Battista Alberti as his architect, and sent one
of his own retainers to Jerusalem to obtain the exact
measurements. It is entered from the Via della Spada.
The Via Tornabuoni, the fashionable street of Florence, with its gay shops and Jockey Club, received its name from a family, whose history contains little remarkable, except that a lady of the house, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, noted for her literary attainments, became the wife of Piero de' Medici, and the mother of Lorenzo the Magnificent; and that Nicolò Tornabuoni, Bishop of Borgo San Sepolcoro, in 1560 introduced the use of tobacco into Tuscany, which was first known as the Erba Tornabuona.
In the centre of the Piazza S. Trinità is an ancient Roman column from the Baths of Caracalla, which was presented to the Grand-Duke Cosimo I. by Pope Pius IV. The statue of Justice, in porphyry, is the work of Françesco Ferucci, called Il Tadda, and was placed here to commemorate the final discomfiture of Cosimo's greatest enemy, Piero Strozzi, at the battle of Marciano, in 1554. It was probably not without intention that Cosimo, who had caused the murder of his father Filippo in the Fortezza del Basso, celebrated his triumph over Piero in the vicinity of the Strozzi Palace, and in front of the church where their ancestor, Palla Strozzi, lay buried.
The Church of the S. Trinità is one of the most ancient buildings in Florence, and is supposed to have been commenced in the ninth century. The monks of Vallombrosa possessed a monastery here in 1091. The nave of the church was formerly divided into five aisles, but one on either side was enclosed in the thirteenth century, and broken up into chapels, when the entire building underwent alterations after a design of Andrea Pisano. In 1395 the belfry was added. The façade was the composition of Bernardo Buontalenti, who lived in the latter half of the sixteenth century, and removed the ancient mosaics which decorated the building, to make room for his own tasteless design. Above the principal entrance there is a small bas-relief of the holy Trinity, by Giovanni Coccini, who also executed a good statue of St. Alexis over the door nearest the Arno. This statue is popularly believed to be the portrait of a pilgrim, who suggested the means by which the column in the Piazza was raised. St. Alexis, whom it is really intended to represent, belonged to the fifth century, and is said to have quitted a wealthy and luxurious home to live and die a beggar, and he thus earned the honour of canonisation.
Within the church, to the right of the central door, is a shrine of white marble, resting on columns, carved with the most delicate arabesques and flowers, the work of Benedetto da Rovezzano, 1490-1550. In the first chapel of the right aisle is a bronze Crucifix of some merit, presented to the city of Florence by the religious confraternity of the Bianchi. The fifth chapel has a beautiful iron grating, behind which is an important picture by Lorenzo Monaco, considered, by Cavalcaselle, the best specimen of the master. The subject is an Annunciation: "The angel kneels, whilst the Virgin presses her right hand to her bosom, and raises her head to listen. Her form is long and slender, and her parted lips and the soft expression of her countenance, have an air of timid inquiry. The figure of the angel recalls one by Agnolo Gaddi, at Prato. The drapery has a certain breadth in the folds." The predella of the altar-piece is likewise described by Cavalcaselle as most carefully executed.242
At the end of this aisle is a lateral door, opening into the Via Parione, and a second door leading to the Sacristy, built in 1421 by Palla Strozzi. It contains his monument, which consists of a sarcophagus beneath an arch. Palla Strozzi was an accomplished scholar, who was banished to Padua with the Medici, with whom he likewise returned to Florence in 1434, and he built the first Palazzo Strozzi in the Piazza della Cipolle. Close to the door of the sacristy, and to the right of the high altar, is the chapel belonging to the Sassetti family, long since extinct, and which contains the monuments of Françesco Sassetti and his wife Nera Cosi, by Giuliano di San Gallo. They are simple black sarcophagi, under an arch of white marble, ornamented with delicate sculpture, bas-reliefs, &c., representing below classical subjects. The most remarkable works of art in this chapel are the frescos on the walls by Domenico Ghirlandaio, some of which are still in fair preservation, although, from their situation in the church, they can only be seen on a very bright day. Next the altar are the portraits of Sassetti and his wife kneeling. Above are painted incidents from the life of St. Francis. In the three lunettes nearest the ceiling are represented the saint resigning his patrimony and assuming his serge dress and cord; Pope Honorius confirming the Rules of his Order; the saint in the presence of the Sultan. In the frescos below, St. Francis receives the Stigmata near his monastery of La Vernia in the Casentino. The Saint performs a miracle on a child of the Sassetti family, who had fallen from a window and was restored to life. The background represents the Palazzo Spini, and the bridge of the SS. Trinità. The funeral of the saint and the four sibyls, who are supposed to have predicted the advent of the Saviour, conclude the series. Beneath the portrait of Sassetti and his wife is the following inscription: "A.D. MCCCCLXXXV. XV."
In the Via del Parione, parallel with the river, is the entrance to the Palazzo Corsini, once forming part of the houses of the powerful Acciajuoli family, whose residences appear to have extended all along the Arno. The present building was after a design by Silvani.
The Corsinis were feudal nobles in the neighbourhood of Poggibonsi, when they removed to Florence in 1231. In 1342 the family were ruined by the failure of the Banks of Peruzzi, Bardi, and Acciajuoli. Tomaso Corsini, who a few years later was distinguished as a statesman, recovered the fortunes of his house, but, towards the end of his life, he retired to the Monastery of the Gaggio, beyond the Porta Romana, where he died in 1366, with a reputation for exalted piety. The father of the present Prince Corsini, Don Neri Corsini, Marchese Laiatico, whose monument is in Sta. Croce, is remembered by his countrymen for his patriotism in difficult times, and for his other virtues.
The palace contains a good collection of pictures. In the first room there is a fine portrait by Sustermans of Cardinal Neri Corsini, whose brother Bartolommeo was created Marchese di Laiatico, in 1644, by the Grand-Duke Ferdinand II. There are several small pictures of interest besides – the Baptism of our Saviour, by Santi di Tito, a good specimen of the master; Tobit and the Angel, a small but very beautiful picture, by Andrea del Sarto; the Suonatore, a replica, by Raffaelle (?), of his beautiful picture in the Sciarra Palace in Rome; a very fine head of a dead Christ, by Cigoli, painful from the realistic representation of great bodily suffering; Venus with the dying Adonis, by Annibale Caracci – a good example of the master; a Madonna surrounded by a garland of flowers, by Carlo Maratta.243
The second room contains the most interesting pictures of the collection – the original sketch by Raffaelle for his portrait of Pope Julius II., with holes pricked for conveying the drawing to the canvas; a Madonna and Child, by Carlo Dolce, nearly a repetition of that in the Pitti gallery. In a recess at the farther end of the room, facing the windows, is a large circular picture, by Filippino Lippi, the subject of which is a Holy Family, with angels who present flowers to the Child, whilst other angels sing from a scroll of music – the background is composed of a landscape with buildings; this is one of the finest and most agreeable pictures of Filippino; a Madonna and Child with angels, by Sandro Botticelli, though mannered, is sweet and tender; a fine head of Christ, in pastel, is by Cigoli – it was the study for an altar-piece in Sta. Croce; a Madonna and Child, in pastel, by Carlo Dolce, is very charming from the sweet modest expression of the Virgin; a Holy Family, by Mariotto Albertinelli, and another by Fra Bartolommeo, are most lovely – the hands in this last are beautifully painted; there is also a Holy Family, by Andrea del Sarto, and another by Sustermans. Within the room itself is a Holy Family, by Jacopo Pontormo, a good example of the master; another Holy Family, by Andrea del Sarto; and a St. Sebastian, by Carlo Dolce.
The room beyond is hung with family portraits – a charming group of children, by Cavaliere Pietro Benvenuti, the best Italian painter of the beginning of this century, represents the late Prince Corsini, his brother Don Neri Corsini, and their sister, an infant, seated on a dog. There is also a good portrait of Pignotti, the author of the "Fables," by Benvenuti.
In the last room is a wonderfully fine painting, by Sebastiano del Piombo – the Bearer of the Cross; this picture is cited by Vasari. A portrait of Pollajuolo, by himself, is one of the most valuable in this collection. There are two rooms to the back, but they contain nothing of interest.
From the Palazzo Corsini the Via Parione leads to the Via Borg' Ogni Santi, and, turning to the right, the Via del Fosso – a record of the ditch beyond the second circuit of walls – connects the Arno with the Piazza di Sta. Maria Novella. Before reaching the Piazza, we arrive at the Via Palazzuolo, in which is the old church of San Paolo, bearing the apocryphal date of A.D. 335. San Paolo was made a collegiate church in the tenth century, but in 1217 was bestowed on the Dominicans, who afterwards removed to Sta. Maria Novella. In 1516 Leo X. conferred the church on the dean and chapter of the Florentine Cathedral, with whom it continued until it finally became the property of the barefooted Carmelites. Some monuments of the Albizzi family, which had formerly stood in San Piero Maggiore, were carried hither, when San Piero was demolished in 1783. Beyond San Paolo, in the Via Palazzuolo, is the suppressed Convent of the Confraternità dei Vanchetone, so called because the members of this society were bound to walk silently in the religious processions which passed through the streets of the city – Vanno chetone – they go in silence. The confraternity was founded by a Cardinal Alexander de' Medici, in 1602, and was composed principally of artisans, especially silk weavers. The Medici arms are painted on the ceiling of their church, with subjects from the lives of the Saints, by Giovanni di San Giovanni. The church has a vestibule with two altars, one of which contains the image of the black Virgin of Loretto, presented by the Medici. It is spacious and elegant in form, but contains nothing remarkable, and has been recently appropriated for secular purposes by the municipality. There are some fine examples of wooden mosaic – intarsiatura – in the sacristy; cupboards with small columns, every one with a different capital, picked out with gold, the work of Pietro Libri of Padua; a head of the Saviour, by Carlo Dolce; and a second, probably by the same master, though attributed to Salvator Rosa. The skeleton of a distinguished member of the order, Ippolito Galantini, is preserved, dressed, and crowned with a garland of lilies in silver; his portrait is in the saloon, reserved for the members of the society. There are two beautiful busts of boys, by Donatello, within the church, on either side of the sacristy. A wooden Crucifix over the altar is finely executed, thought painful.
Nearly opposite the Church of San Paolo is the Hospital dedicated to the same saint, begun in 1451; the Porch or Loggia, in the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, facing the church, was built after a design by Filippo Brunelleschi; and the series of medallions above, are by Luca and Andrea della Robbia; Vasari mentions them as fairly executed – assai buono. The medallions at the end, near the corner of the Via del Fosso, contain the portraits of Luca and Andrea. It is supposed that Luca began the work which was finished by his nephews. On the site of the Loggia, the celebrated meeting between St. Francis and St. Dominick is said to have taken place, and the interview is commemorated in a relief by one of the scholars of Luca over a door at the end.
The hospital was at one time intended for the pilgrims, or Pinzocheri, of the third order of St. Francis; and as, before the Council of Trent, all monasteries had a nunnery at no great distance, so likewise here was a convent of Pinzochere, who assisted the friars in the care of the sick until the monastery was suppressed in 1500, when the whole charge devolved on the nuns. Disputes, however, arose between them and the governors of the hospital, which ended in the nuns being deprived of their privileges, and the Grand-Duke Francis I. converting the building into a convalescent hospital, to which were sent the patients from all the other hospitals of the city, who were allowed to remain there four days, and to partake of eight meals. Pietro Leopoldo afterwards assigned the Loggia di San Paolo for girls' schools, in which useful arts were taught, and all that might conduce to make good mothers of families. Near this Loggia was the house of the eccentric librarian Magliabecchia.
The Piazza di Sta. Maria Novella was laid out in 1244, at the instigation of Pietro Martire, who wanted greater space for the multitudes who flocked thither to listen to his sermons; and as the open-air preaching of the Dominican Friars continued popular, the Piazza was still further enlarged at the expense of the city in 1331. The façade of the church, as has been already stated in this chapter, was built by Giovanni Rucellai, and his name is inscribed in large letters above the rose window. The Piazza was used on various festive occasions under the Republic. Chariot races were introduced here by the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., in 1563. The obelisks in the centre served for the gugli – goals – of the race. They were first made of wood, but the Grand-Duke Ferdinand I. ordered them to be rebuilt of mixed marble from Serravezza. The lily at the top and the tortoises on which they rest are by Giovan Bologna. In a small piazza to the right, facing the church, is the Croce al Trebbio, a granite column, the work of Giovanni Pisano, erected in 1308, to commemorate a battle which took place on this spot with the Paterini, or heretics, against whom the eloquence of St. Peter Martyr was directed in the Piazza di Sta. Maria Novella. The capital of the column supporting the cross, which is protected by a roof, is composed of rude images of the animals typical of the Evangelists, a favourite subject of the school, and of which there are examples in the pulpits of Pisa and Sienna. The column was at first crowned with a statue of St. Peter Martyr, as may be seen in a fresco in the large cloister of Sta. Maria Novella.
Between the Piazza Nuova and the Piazza Vecchia di Sta. Maria Novella, beside the church, is the Via degli Avelli, or the Street of Tombs, formed by a series of pointed arches, beneath which are burial places once belonging to some of the principal families of Florence. There is a tradition that the bones contained in these tombs were carried here from the cemetery around the Baptistery and Cathedral, when Arnolfo di Cambio levelled the ground of the Piazza del Battistero, and paved it with stone.
Alberti, Leon Battista b. 1398 – d. 1480
Albertinelli, Mariotto b. 1475 – d. 1520
Andrea del Sarto b. 1488 – d. 1530
Benedetto da Rovezzano b. 1490 – d. 1550
Benvenuti, Cavaliere Pietro b. 1769 – d. 1844
Botticelli, Sandro b. 1437 – d. 1515
Brunellesco b. 1377 – d. 1444
Caracci, Annibale b. 1560 – d. 1609
Cigoli, Ludovico Cardi b. 1559 – d. 1613
Corsini family came to Florence 1231
Corsini created Marchese di Laiatico 1644
Corsini, Tommaso d. 1366
Cosimo I., Grand-Duke b. 1519 – d. 1574
Dolce, Carlo b. 1616 – d. 1686
Dominick, St. b. 1170 – d. 1221
Dudley, Robert, Duke of Northumberland b. 1573 – d. 1639
Francis, St. b. 1182 – d. 1226
Granacci, Françesco b. 1469 – d. 1543
Julius II., Pope 1503 – 1513
Lippi, Filippino b. 1460 – d. 1505
Marciano, Battle of 1554
Maria Novella, Piazza di Sta., laid out 1244
Maria Novella, Piazza di Sta., enlarged 1331
Maria Novella, Piazza di Sta., chariot races 1563
Pancrazio, Church of San, founded 1078
Pancrazio, Church of San, re-built 1488
Paolo, Church of San 335
Paolo, Church of San, bestowed on the Dominicans 1217
Paolo, Church of San, Dominicans removed thence to Sta. Maria Novella 1516
Pinzochere Nuns of San Paolo suppressed 1500
Pius IV., Pope 1559 – 1565
Pontormo, Jacopo b. 1493 – d. 1566
Robbia, Luca della b. 1400 – d. 1481
San Gallo, Giuliano di b. 1443 – d. 1517
Sebastiano del Piombo b. 1485 – d. 1547
Sustermans b. 1597 – d. 1681
Tobacco introduced into Florence 1560
Trinità, Church of SS. 1091
Trinità, Church of SS., belfry built 1395
Trinità, Church of SS. Sacristy built 1421
241 See Crowe and
Cavalcaselle," vol. iii. p. 538.
242 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. i. p. 555.
243 The large Raffaelle in this room is the celebrated old Rinuccini copy, by a Fleming, of the Canigiani Holy Family, now at Munich. The Cherubim in the original (probably painted sketchily as those in the Madonna di S. Sisto) were effaced in cleaning. Those in this copy are evidently a late addition. See Passavant, "Rafael von Urbino," vol. ii. p. 70, and C. von Rumohr, "Italienische Forschungen," iii. § 65,
Chapter XXXI: Sta. Maria Novella
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