London, Henry S. King & Co., 1877; Transcribed and Photographed, Carolyn Carpenter




Chapter XXXVII:  Santo Spirito

The earliest Church and Monastery of Santo Spirito was built in 1292 by the Augustinians, who received such liberal contributions from the citizens that they were enabled to raise a temple of considerable size, which they adorned with paintings by Cimabue, Simone Memmi, and Giottino.  After the expulsion of Walter de Brienne, Duke of Athens, in 1343, when the city was divided in quartieri – quarters – in place of the old division of sestieri, this important Augustinian monastery gave this quarter the name of San Spirito.  The church, however, soon was found too small for the increasing population, and in 1433 a new edifice was commenced under the auspices of Filippo Brunelleschi.  He proposed that the church should face the Arno, with a large Piazza before it; but the Capponi family, whose houses were along the river, made objections, and the plan was therefore altered.  As Brunelleschi died in 1446, the building was not far advanced, and a calamity which occurred in 1470 caused a still further delay.  Galeazo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, that year paid a visit to Lorenzo de' Medici, when a grand display of ceremonials was arranged for Easter Sunday in the Church of Santo Spirito; but, from the carelessness of some of the workmen, the building caught fire and was wholly consumed.  It was recommenced according to the original design of Brunelleschi, which was followed as closely as possible.

A contemporary anonymous author records that Brunelleschi was in the habit of only making a rough model of his architectural compositions, leaving the details vague and uncertain, and giving his directions to the masons as the work proceeded, altering and modifying his design.  This fact must account for various defects in Santo Spirito, which some critics have attributed to one Antonio Manetti, a workman who had been a pupil of Brunelleschi, but who later set up as his rival, and ventured to disparage his designs. The church, nevertheless, is a noble example of Brunelleschi's compositions.  The erection occupied above twenty years.  The cupola was built after a design by Salvi d' Andrea, and was only finished in 1482, in which year, according to the diary of Luca Landucci, a Florentine citizen, a sermon was preached here.  The sacristy was added in 1488, after a design by Giuliano di San Gallo, and the beautiful little vestibule which connects the sacristy with the church and cloister, was the joint work of Simone Pollajuolo, surnamed Il Cronaca and Giuliano di San Gallo.  The sculpture within was executed by Sansovino (Contucci).  The cupola of the sacristy was designed by Antonio del Pollajuolo.  The belfry, which has been much admired for its perfect proportions, was the work of Baccio d' Agnolo.

The interior of Santo Spirito is very grand from the immense space, the extreme simplicity of the architecture, and its beautiful proportions.  It is in the form of a Latin cross, 315 feet long, and 191 feet across the transepts.  The aisles are carried round the nave and transepts by a line of handsome columns, of pietra-serena, with Corinthian capitals. The chapels are raised two steps above the pavement, a defect which Brunelleschi is said to have copied from the little Church of the SS. Apostoli, which he so greatly admired, that he refused to admit an error in the composition.  The Torrigiani Chapel, to the right of the entrance, contains the Virgin of mercy, with saints, arresting the plague, by one of the school of Piero di Cosimo.  The second chapel contains a copy of Michael Angelo's Pietΰ at Rome, by his pupil, Nanni di Baccio Bigio.  The third has a wooden statue of San Nicolς in Tolentino, by Sansovino:  the angels on either side are by Franciabigio, the friend of Andrea del Sarto.  The rest of the chapels on this side of the nave contain nothing of importance.

In the right transept, however, are several interesting pictures.  One, in the second or Capponi Chapel, is in a dark position, and represents a nun enthroned, supposed to be Santa Monaca, the mother of St. Augustine.  She is giving the rules of her order to twelve other nuns; angels kneel on either side.  Cavalcaselle considers this picture to be in the style of the Pollajuoli, although not one of the best specimens.290  The nuns, who have very marked countenances, are portraits of ladies of the Capponi family.

The fifth chapel in this transept belongs to the Nerli family, and contains a very beautiful picture by Filippino Lippi, painted in the artist's best manner.  The Virgin is seated on a throne within a shrine, supported by pilasters, and adorned by lovely cherubs.  The Christ-child on her lap is singularly beautiful; one hand clasps his mother's fingers; the other rests on a cross offered him by the little St. John, who appears full of earnest devotion.  The finest part of the picture is St. Martin, who wears a bishop's stole, and presents the donator of the picture to the Virgin.  The donator was Tanai de' Nerli, who belonged to one of the most distinguished families among the Florentine citizens; he was frequently employed on diplomatic missions, and made himself conspicuous by his persecution of Girolamo Savonarola; he even caused the bell of San Marco, which had been rung to rouse the citizens the night  when Savonarola was seized, to be taken from the convent, and carried to San Miniato on an ass's back, as a sign of opprobrium.  This fierce persecutor of a good and wise man is here represented kneeling humbly, and his countenance, as well as the action of his hands, express well the mingled wonder and reverence with which he approaches the mother of our Lord.  On the opposite side of the picture St. Catherine presents the wife of Tanai de' Nerli to the Virgin, who turns her head to the Saint.  In the landscape background is the gate of San Frediano, and Tanai, dismounting from his horse, gives the reins to an attendant, and kisses his little daughter who has come to the door of the house with a servant girl to meet her father.  Cavalcaselle observes that no portraits of this time are more admirably real than these of the Nerli family – "Filippino never approached nearer than here to the ideal of simple and grand drapery.  His precision in defining form is admirable, his ability in depicting popular life in distance astonishing for its realistic truth:  his colour is a little raw but pleasant still, and modelled with great breadth and success."291

The adjoining chapel has a copy of Perugino's picture of St. Bernard appearing to the Virgin, the original of which is in the Munich Gallery.  At the angle of the transept, opposite the Capponi Chapel with the altar piece of Santa Monaca, there is another chapel, likewise belonging to the Capponi, and containing a marble monument behind an iron grating, to the memory of the first Gino Capponi, and erected by his son Neri, who is also buried here, as well as Piero, the grandson of Neri, celebrated in Florentine history.  Gino was born in 1360, and rendered his name famous by the part he played in a war against Pisa, which city he conquered for the Florentines in 1404, and, when appointed governor, he gained the affection of the Pisans by his gentle behaviour.  His son Neri, whose profile in basso-relievo by Simone di Betto is on this monument, was distinguished in the war carried on by the Florentines against the Duke of Milan, and by his spirited defence of the republic from the encroachments of Cosimo de' Medici.  He died lamented by all his fellow-citizens in 1447.  His grandson Piero was the champion of Florentine liberty, when threatened by Charles VIII. of France; and his spirited reply to that monarch's insolent declaration that if the treaty he had dictated were not signed he would sound his trumpets – "Then we shall sound our bells," will never be forgotten in Florence.292  Piero Capponi was killed in 1496 in an assault against the Pisans; his remains were brought up the Arno in a funeral barge, and deposited in his house near the bridge of the SS. Trinitΰ, from whence they were borne to the Church of Santo Spirito, accompanied by the magistrates and a vast multitude of the citizens.  The church was lighted by innumerable tapers, and lined with four ranges of banners, bearing alternately the arms of the Florentine magistracy and of the Capponi family.  A funeral oration was delivered over the coffin, proclaiming, in words of the highest praise, the distinguished life of the deceased, and the deep sorrow felt for the loss of the valiant soldier and eminent citizen.  His remains were then deposited in the same tomb which his grandfather Neri had caused to be constructed for his illustrious great-grandfather Gino Capponi.293  The opposite monument is that of Cardinal Luigi Capponi, a lineal descendant of Piero, who died in 1659.

In the second chapel, within the apse, there is an altar-piece with saints by Agnolo Gaddi.  In this chapel is buried Piero Vettori, a literary critic of some reputation, born in 1499 at Florence.  Although the Medici were the constant theme of his satire, the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., who had a just estimation for talent in every form, appointed him, in 1538, Professor of Classics; his lectures were attended by a vast concourse of students, who spread his reputation.  He died in 1565.

The next altar-piece of a Madonna enthroned with saints on either side, is in the manner of Botticelli.  Over the adjoining altar are Martyrs, by Alessandro Allori.  The seventh altar has an Annunciation by Sandro Botticelli, difficult to see from the window being above the picture on this dark side of the church.  The first in the left transept is a Madonna and Child, with two angels, St. Bartholomew, and St. John the Evangelist.  The third altar contains a good, though damaged, picture of the Madonna enthroned, with angels, and with St. Thomas and St. Peter, bearing the date 1482.  Cavalcaselle supposes these pictures to have been the joint production of Piero di Cosimo and Cosimo Rosselli, and he observes that "the styles of Ghirlandaio and Filippino are mingled with that of Cosimo Rosselli in both pictures."

The altar which follows is enclosed in a fine marble balustrade, the work of Andrea Sansovino.  Cavalcaselle attributes the picture in the fifth chapel to Raffaellino del Garbo; the subject is the Trinity, adored by St. Catherine and Mary Magdalene, who are on their knees.  "The predella contains some pretty things, representing the Nativity between the Communion of St. Mary of Egypt and the martyrdom of the Alexandrian Saint."294  The same author adds, that he considers the picture "a carefully handled and gay specimen of his (Raffaellino's) painting – not the best example."

Over the sixth altar is again the Madonna enthroned with angels, St. Bartholomew, and St. Nicholas with his three loaves, attributed to Antonio Pollajuolo, but believed by Cavalcaselle to be another production of Piero di Cosimo and Cosimo Rosselli.

The seventh altar has a Madonna between St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, and other Saints, by one of the school of Perugino.

The first picture within the nave is a Madonna enthroned, by Perugino; beyond the door of the sacristy is a Virgin and Child with St. Anna, by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.  Four saints stand, and St. Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine kneel.  The picture has been much damaged.  There are no other pictures deserving notice in this church.

The Ciborium and the Baldachino, or Canopy, though a marvellously rich display of marbles, is, as a whole, heavy and ugly, and disturbs the architectural beauty of the building.  It was placed her in 1599, during the reign of the Grand-Duke Ferdinand I., by the Senator Giovan Battista Michelozzi, already mentioned, who entrusted the work to Giovanni Caccini, the first artist in Florentine mosaic, or Pietra-Dura, a royal manufacture introduced and encouraged by the patronage of the Grand-Dukes Francis I. and Ferdinand I.  The arms of the Michelozzi family are introduced in various parts.  Though rich in sculpture, it is altogether in bad taste; the details, however, are worth studying.  The altar is finely decorated with mosaics and bronze statuettes, and the carved wooden seats, and marble and bronze balustrade and candelabra very excellent in their kind.

The cloister beyond the sacristy is surrounded by frescos, representing scenes from the life of St. Augustine.  An inner cloister is likewise decorated with frescos.  A painting by Agnolo Gaddi was once here, but has been lately  to the Bargello.295

It was in the Church of the Santo Spirito that Martin Luther preached when he came as an Augustinian friar to Florence, on his road to Rome.  His name was inscribed in the books of the Monastery, but the library was dispersed after the suppression of the monasteries by the French, towards the end of the last century.  Many valuable works were then lost, and among them the writings of Boccaccio, bequeathed by him to the Augustinian friars.



Allori, Alessandro 1535 – 1607
Brunelleschi, Filippo 1377 – 1444
Capponi, Gino 1360 – 1421
Capponi, Neri 1457
Capponi, Piero 1447 – 1496
Capponi, Cardinal Luigi 1659
Contucci, Andrea Sansovino 1460 – 1529
Cosimo, Piero di 1462 – 1528
D' Agnolo, Baccio 1462 – 1543
Franciabigio 1482 – 1528
Gaddi, Agnolo 1333 – 1396
Gallo, Giuliano di San 1443 – 1517
Garbo, Raffaellino del 1466 – 1524
Ghirlandaio, Ridolfo 1483 – 1561
Lippi, Filippino 1457 – 1504
Sforza, Galeazzo Maria 1444 – 1476
Spirito, Santo, founded 1292
Spirito, Santo, new church commenced 1446
Spirito, Santo, burnt 1470
Vettori, Piero 1499 – 1565


290 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. ii. p. 397.
291 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. ii. p. 441.
292 See "Savonarola and his Times," by Pasquale Villari, translated by Leonard Horner, vol. i. p. 226.
293 See "Savonarola and his Times," &c. vol. ii. p. 93.
294 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. iii. p. 417.
295 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. i. p. 472.

Chapter XXXVIII:  The Carmine – Porta Romana – The Annalena


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