New: Dante vivo || White Silence
London: Henry S. King & Co., 1877; Transcribed and Photographed, Carolyn Carpenter. CD, Florence in Sepia, contains full-scale images, and several other Victorian e-books on Florence, and is available from Julia Bolton Holloway




Chapter VIII:  San Lorenzo (Continuation). Sagrestia Vecchia. - Sagrestia Nuova. - Mausoleum.

In the southern transept of San Lorenzo, to the left of the high altar, is the Old Sacristy - Sagrestia Vecchia - which was commenced after a design by Brunelleschi, by order of Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, but only finished after his death.  The chamber is twenty braccia square, and is adorned by fluted pilasters of the Corinthian order at each corner; above, there is a beautiful architrave and frieze; the cornice, with winged heads of cherubim in medallions, is copied from the mosaic in the Baptistery.  On the vaulted ceiling are reliefs in stucco of the Evangelists by Donatello, who likewise executed the four statuettes in terra cotta, which stand in shallow niches above two small doors leading to the lavatories.  These statuettes represent St. Stephen and St. Laurence, St. Cosimo and St. Damian.  Over the entrance to the Church is a terra cotta bust by Donatello, called St. Laurence, but  which has much more the appearance of a portrait, and is admirable for expression.  A very characteristic profile of Cosimo Vecchio Pater Patriæ is suspended against the eastern wall, of which there is a very faithful copy in one of the MS. of the Laurentian library.  Several pictures are hung around.  St. Laurence, seated with St. Stephen and St. Leonard, bears the date MDXI.  This picture has been attributed to Perugino, the master of Raffaelle, but Cavalcaselle supposes it to be by Raffaellino del Garbo.  Others again give it to Mariotto Albertinelli - an opinion which receives some confirmation by the original design for the figure of St. Laurence having been found among the drawings of Albertinelli in the Gallery of the Uffizi.  Another picture is with more certainty attributed to Raffaellino del Garbo, and represents the Virgin adoring the Child; it is very sweet and expressive.

In the centre of this sacristy is a monument by Donatello, raised by Cosimo Vecchio to his parents, Giovanni and Piccarda.  It is, however, disfigured and concealed by a large unsightly marble table.  The sides of the monument are decorated with putti, or boy-genii, bearing garlands, which are finely executed.  On the death of Giovanni, in 1428, his body, borne to the grave on an uncovered bier, was followed by his sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo.  They were attended by twenty-eight members of the House of Medici, attired in mourning, and by all the foreign ambassadors and distinguished persons in Florence.  Pope Eugenius IV., who was much attached to Giovanni, assisted at the mass for his soul, which was performed by the Bishop of Valois, whilst Poggio Bracciolini delivered a public oration in his honour.
On the side of the sacristy nearest the transept is a monument to Giovanni's grandson, Piero, il Gottoso - the Gouty - the son of Cosimo.  Piero was a man of feeble character, and only illustrious through his father, and his sons Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Giuliano, who fell in the Pazzi conspiracy.  Piero's younger brother Giovanni, Cosimo's favourite child, died prematurely, without children.  Andrea Verrochio executed this monument by order of Lorenzo and Giuliano, whose remains, as well as those of their father, Piero, repose here.  Singularly enough, there was at one time an uncertainty where Lorenzo's body had been laid, until the Abate Moreni, a canon of San Lorenzo, satisfied public curiosity by inserting an inscription in marble on the walls of the sacristy.  The porphyry sarcophagus, which contains the earthly remains of the three Medici, rests on four bronze pedestals supported by tortoises; it is decorated with foliage of the most elegant and rich design, enclosed by a grating in thr form of a cordage, with festoons of exquisite workmanship.

The altar of the Sagrestia Vecchia stands within a handsome marble screen.  The cupola is decorated with grotesque representations of the constellations.  The bronze doors leading to the lavatory on the left are by Donatello; they are divided into compartments, with figures of the apostles and martyrs in very high relief, executed with much spirit.  Above the lavatory until recently was an eagle grasping a ring and scroll, boldly sculptured, but this with other works of art has been removed.

The Sagrestia Nuova - New Sacristy - of San Lorenzo, built after a design by Michael Angelo, and containing some of his noblest works, is of much later date than the Sagrestia Vecchia.  The history of its erection was as follows: - Giovanni de' Medici, the son of Lorenzo, was created a canon of San Lorenzo and a cardinal at thirteen years of age - 1490.  In 1512 he assisted in this church at the feast of St. Cosimo and St. Damian, which was celebrated with extraordinary magnificence; the following year he was chosen pope, under the name of Leo X., and the prior of San Lorenzo hastened to Rome to offer his own congratulations and those of his canons on the auspicious event.  Two years later Leo returned to Florence, and resolved to place a façade on the Church of San Lorenzo.  He accordingly sent for Michael Angelo, who was then engaged on the monument of Pope Julius II. at Rome, and who obeyed the more unwillingly, as he was expected to compete with other artists for the design of the façade; though among these artists was Raffaelle da Urbino, the others were men of inferior note, such as Baccio d' Agnolo, Giuliano di San Gallo, and the brothers Andrea and Jacopo Sansovino.  Leo, however, insisted on giving Michael Angelo the commission, and sent him to Carrara to select his marbles.  Six years of discussion and delays followed, 1516-1521, during which time all Michael Angelo's works were suspended, as the Pope obliged him to dissolve a contract he had nearly made for the purchase of marbles for statues to be placed on the monument of Julius II., and ordered him to direct his exclusive attention to the façade of  San Lorenzo.  It happened that certain quarries of fine marble were just then discovered at Monte Altissimo, above Serravezza, and Leo sent Michael Angelo thither; but many months were consumed in the mere construction of the road, as the spot amidst those wild mountains was nearly inaccessible.  Michael Angelo blocked out six columns, one of which reached Florence, but two were left by the sea-shore, and three on the mountain side.  Meantime, the funds intended for the façade had been used to defray the expenses of a war with Lombardy; after the death of Leo X. the project was abandoned, and the new pope, Clement VII. - Giuliano de' Medici, and cousin of Pope Leo - desired Michael Angelo to construct instead the Sagrestia Nuova to contain the tombs of the Medici family.  He accordingly commenced this great work in 1523, 2hich occupied him twelve years, during which period Florence sustained the memorable siege by the Imperialists, and fell a sacrifice to the ambition of Pope Clement, and the treachery of Malatesta Baglioni of Perugia, who had undertaken the defence of the city.  Although the talents and scientific knowledge of Michael Angelo were required to strengthen the fortifications of the city against the invaders, he continued to work secretly for San Lorenzo; but after the city had been betrayed to the enemy, he lay concealed in the Bell Tower of San Nicolò until Clement VII., eager for the completion of the monuments to his family, issued a proclamation of pardon, with the promise that the great sculptor should receive his usual salary, provided he would resume his work without further delay.
The plan of the Sagrestia Nuova does not essentially differ from that of the Sagrestia Vecchia of Brunelleschi, though the proportions are more perfect.  The two marble statues by Michael Angelo to the right and left of the altar were erected to the memory of the Dukes Giuliano and Lorenzo de' Medici.  The monuments are celebrated for their singular beauty, rather than as portraits of these two scions of the House of Medici, who, but for Michael Angelo, would hardly have occupied a place in history.  The sculptor himself acknowledged that he did not attempt a faithful likeness of either duke, remarking, "Who would appear a thousand years hence to prove that they looked otherwise?"

Giuliano, the youngest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the brother of Piero and of Cardinal Giovanni - Pope Leo X. - is represented to the right of the altar.  Giuliano was born in 1478.  He was elected chief of the Florentine Republic in 1512; in 1513 he was created Duke of Nemours by Francis I. of France, and died at the age of thirty-eight, in 1516.  He was a man of thoughtful character, averse to the crimes perpetrated by both his brothers in the prosecution of their ambitious schemes, and seems to have been early weary of life.  In a sonnet he composed in defence of suicide, he expresses his sense of the hopeless shame and sorrow which had clouded his youth.  Michael Angelo has here represented Giuliano in the costume of a Roman general, seated on a height, and looking down on his fighting soldiers; he has the bâton of command across his knees.  This statue is seen to most advantage in profile from the side next the altar.  Perfect repose is expressed in the easy relaxation of the limbs and entire figure.  The face is youthful, the head small, and the throat long and slender.

To the left of the altar is the statue of Giuliano's nephew, Lorenzo, Duke of  Urbino, the son of Piero de' Medici and Alfonsina Orsini.  This young man inherited the vices without the genius of his family, and was ambitious, unscrupulous, and dissipated.  His uncle, Pope Leo, after depriving De la Rovere, Duke of Urbino, of his hereditary domains, bestowed them, with the title of duke, on Lorenzo, whom he also made a general of the pontifical forces; in 1518 Leo united him in marriage with Maddalena de la Tour d'Auvergne, of the royal family of France, by whom he left an infant daughter, afterwards the celebrated Catharine de' Medici, queen of the French king Henry II.  The pensive attitude of the statue of Lorenzo, in which his brow is cast into deep shadow by the helmet, his cheek resting on his left hand, while his elbow is on a casket placed on his knee, has given it the name of "Il Pensiero."  Early in this year (1875) it was observed that the recumbent statue of "Twilight," beneath "Il Pensiero," threatened to slip from the sarcophagus on which it rests.  In order to ascertain the cause, and to refix it, the statue above was raised, and it was at the same time decided to lift the lid of the sarcophagus beneath, to ascertain which of the Medici - Lorenzo, or Giuliano - lay within; the question having been long a matter of dispute.  Two skeletons, or rather mummies, as there were traces of embalmment, were discovered, lying head to foot, and as it is a well-known fact that the murdered body of Duca Alessandro was buried beside that of his reputed father, Lorenzo, Duca d'Urbino, who died twenty years previously, there can remain no further doubt which Medici the statue "Il Pensiero" was intended to represent.  The body of Lorenzo was attired in black, that of the murdered man in an embroidered shirt, his head covered with a velvet cap, and resting on a white velvet cushion.  The bones were taken out for examination, but almost immediately re-committed to their resting-place, mingled together, with an utter absence of the respect usually paid to the remains of the dead, whatever their past lives may have been.75

The colossal recumbent figures beneath both these celebrated statues deserve equal notice and admiration.  Those beneath Giuliano are supposed to represent Night and Day, typical probably of Death and Resurrection; the figures beneath Lorenzo are Dawn and Twilight.  The majestic female figure of Night, or Death is wonderfully real.  She is crowned with poppies; an owl is at her feet, and beneath her pillow is a mask, symbolical of the body, from whence the spirit has departed.  Though not beautiful, there is such grandeur as well as repose in that queenly woman, that we can well comprehend how in a period of war and cruelty, treachery and injustice, when good men were harassed by doubt, and truth was shrouded in darkness, Michael Angelo must have found peace for a few hours whilst embodying the image of deep, if not dreamless sleep.  In contrast to Night, or Death, is the huge figure of Day, or Resurrection, rising from his rocky bed.  The muscles of the back, arms, and legs are strongly defined, and, with the action of the head and feet, denote the heavy movement of one wakening slowly to life.  This statue is only blocked out, as the artist left it; but there is a living power in the stone rarely to be seen in the more finished works of other masters.  Dawn, which is opposite the figure of Night, has suffering expressed in her contracted brow; Twilight, the male figure, sinks gently on his bed of repose.  Michael Angelo might have intended to represent in these four allegorical statues the times in which he lived, when those very Medici had brought shame, grief, and ruin on their country.  Dawn awakens to sorrow, Day rises wearily, Twilight brings repose, but Night alone is to be envied the calm of sleep; but she too must wake.  When Giovan Battista Strozzi wrote -

"La notte che tu vedi in sì dolci atti
Dormire, fu da un Angelo scolpita
In questo sasso; e perchè dorme, ha vita;
Destala, se nol credi; e parleratti."76

Michel Angelo replied -

"Grato m' è l'sonno, e più l'esser di sasso,
Mentre che il danno e la vergogna dura;
Non veder, non sentir, m' è gran ventura
Però non mi destar; de! parla basso."77

Mr. John Bell, in his Notes, thus describes these marvellous statues:  "Twilight, a superb manly figure, reclining, and looking down - wonderful breadth of chest, fine balance of the neck and shoulder, and the right limb, which is unfinished, is incomparable.  Aurora (Dawn), a female form of the most exquisite proportions; the head, a grand and heroic cast, and the drapery, which falls in thin transparent folds from the turban, is full of grace, while in her noble countenance a spring of thought, an awakening principle seems to breathe, as if the rising day awaited the opening of her eyes.  Day is much unfinished, little more than blocked out, most magnificent.  Night, in sleep and silence, is finely imagined, the attitude beautiful, mournful, and full of the most tender expression, the drooping head, the supporting hand, and the rich head-dress unrivalled in the arts."

Opposite the altar is a statue of the Madonna and Child, likewise by Michael Angelo - a rare combination of strength, tenderness, power, and grace.  The child sits astride on his mother's knee opposite the spectator, and turns to look at her - a constrained attitude, which required all the skill of the great sculptor to avoid unpleasant angles or exaggeration of form.  The head of the Virgin is gracefully bent, and her hands are extremely beautiful; the Christ, muscular and robust as an infant Hercules, yet retains roundness of form.  The folds of the drapery, which follow the inclination of the body and limbs, is worthy of the best Greek period, whilst the contour of the group is equally agreeable to the eye, viewed in every direction.

On either side of the Virgin and Child are statues of St. Cosimo and St. Damian, executed by two of Michael Angelo's best scholars - Fra Giovan Angelo Montorsoli  and Raffaelle Sinibaldo da Montelupo.  That nearest the entrance of the sacristy is St. Cosimo by Montorsoli.  Perkins considers this the best work produced by any of Michael Angelo's scholars or imitators, and far superior to that of St. Damian, by Montelupo.78  The head is full of expression, and the whole work is sufficiently characteristic to indicate that Montorsoli executed the greater part himself.  He was a native of Poggibonsi, a small town not far from Sienna, and early showed talent for drawing.  When apprenticed to a stonemason near Fiesole, he attracted the notice of Andrea Ferucci the sculptor, and afterwards visited Rome, Perugia, and other parts of Italy; but he ended his days as a Camaldolese monk.  Montelupo was the son of a sculptor in the village of that name near Empoli, and he was apprenticed to a goldsmith in Florence.  He passed a varied life during a troubled period of history, and has left in his autobiography a curious account of the siege of Rome by the imperial army.

The Medici chapel, or Mausoleum of this family, is an octagonal building of great size surmounted by a cupola, and decorated with marbles and rich pietra-dura work.  An absurd story was currently believed at the time of its erection that it was intended to receive the sepulchre of our Lord, which had been promised by the Emir of the Druses to the Grand-Duke Ferdinand I.  the report was, however, encouraged by the court party, in order to reconcile the people to the lavish sums of money which Ferdinand sent to the Emir, with whom he concluded a treaty in 1608.  Ferdinand, who built the Mausoleum as a sepulchre for himself and his successors, was the second son of the Grand-Duke Cosimo I.  His elder brother, Francis I., died without children, and Ferdinand, who was a cardinal released from his priestly vows, ascended the throne of Tuscany.  The chapel was commenced in 1604, when Nigretti, a client of Giovanni de' Medici, the natural brother of the grand-duke, was appointed architect.  The whole interior was lined with a new kind of mosaic of inlaid marbles and precious stones, for which a manufactory was founded in Florence, under royal patronage.  The grand-duke himself made the general design for the edifice, and Nigretti worked out the details.  He was a man of mediocre capacity, and only imperfectly acquainted with his art; but he had ingratiated himself with the court by flattery and servility.  Vasari had already made a design allowing the same plan as that of Michael Angelo for the Sagrestia Nuova; but this was rejected, and the result of this royal architect and royal patronage is a building which, though grand in proportions, and remarkable for the display of gorgeous magnificence, is only imposing from its size, and is deficient in artistic merit and taste.

The Abate Domenico Moreni has given a detailed description of the construction of this chapel, in which he enumerates the marbles and precious stones imported from all parts of Europe, and gives a list of the monuments.  The arms of all the towns of Tuscany, in pietra-dura mosaic, decorate the lower part of the building.  Many interruptions occurred in the course of the work, and the cupola was only finished after Gian Gastone, the last of the Medicean grand-dukes, was laid in his grave.  The Electress Palatine, his sister, continued the work at her own expense, and left provisions by her will to carry on the Mausoleum; but after the accession of the Austrian grand-dukes the work was several times suspended.  During the reign of Ferdinand III., however, the marbles below the cupola were continued, and a new altar was erected after a design of the architect Caccielli.  In 1827, Leopold II. engaged Cavaliere Pietro Benvenuti (whose monument by Thorwaldsen is in the nave of the Basilica) to paint the cupola, at an expense of 36,000 crowns.  Nigretti and Don Giovanni de' Medici had intended that the cupola should be lined with lapis lazuli, and divided into cassetones with gilt roses, which would have been in unison with the rich variety of highly polished marbles on the walls; but the idea was rejected on account of the enormous cost and amount of labour which it involved.  Benvenuti took eight years to paint the cupola, which he divided into sixteen separate compartments, large and small.  The subjects he selected were taken from the Old and New Testaments.79

Around the chapel are ranged the Medicean cenotaphs, composed of granite, of the same fine workmanship with the rest of the building.  The first Ferdinand is represented by a gilt bronze statue of colossal size, by Pietro Tacca, the most famous caster in metal of that time.  Another colossal bronze statue of Cosimo II., is by Giovan Bologna, Cosimo was the patron of Galileo, and persuaded the philosopher to leave Padua for Florence.  Both statues are works of merit.

In 1791 Ferdinand III. ordered the coffins containing the remains of the Medici family in the crypt beneath to be piled one above the other.  Some years later (1818) a rumour arose that these coffins had been rifled, and all the valuable articles they contained removed.  No examination, however, took place until 1857, when it was thought advisable to have the coffins arranged in some order.  Forty-nine of the pile were lifted down, and it was then discovered that most of them had been broken open and pilfered.  Such was the exhalation, however, which infected the air during the examination, that it caused the death of one of the men employed.  The head of Cosimo I. was found entire, with the remains of his red beard sprinkled with grey, below the chin.  The skeleton of his unhappy wife, Eleonora of Toledo, had still her yellow tresses fastened by a thick golden cord; but both coffins had been robbed of all the jewels they once contained.  The bones of Giovanni delle Bande Neri, the father of Duke Cosimo, lay in the midst of his armour, with the right leg amputated.  Many other remains of the Medici family were still recognisable from being in a marvellous state of preservation.80

The Basilica of San Lorenzo has witnessed many an event of historical interest.  From its pulpit Savonarola ventured to preach against the Medici, the patrons of the church; and his eloquence was such, that even some of the canons were persuaded to waver in their allegiance:  here also he preached one of his most stirring sermons, in 1498, a few months before his cruel execution.  At the altar of San Lorenzo the sacrifice of Florentine liberty was completed by the marriage of Alexander the Moor to Margaret, the natural daughter of the Emperor Charles V., who, left a widow within a few months by the murder of her husband, afterwards became the wife of Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma.  In the centre of the Basilica were exposed the corpses of various princes and princesses of the house of Medici, many of whom had met with untimely deaths at the hands of their own father, brothers, or husbands; among them was that of Grand-Duke Francis I., who, with his wife Bianca Capello, died in one day, as is supposed by poison.
On the threshold of the lower church are the remains of Donatello, who was buried here in accordance with his last request, near his friend and patron Cosimo, the father of his country.  In San Lorenzo were celebrated magnificent obsequies over the earthly remains of the immortal Michael Angelo, who died at Rome (1564) at the age of eighty-nine; and a solemn musical mass was performed here before the body was borne to its last resting-place in Sta. Croce.



Albertinelli, Mariotto 1474-1515
Bianca Capello died 1587
Mausoleum commenced 1604
Medici, Alexander de, the Moor, murdered 1537
Medici, Francis I., Grand-Duke, died 1587
Medici, Giovanni de', Leo X., Pope, died 1523
Medici, Giuliano de', Duc de Nemours 1478-1516
Medici, Giuliano de', Pope Clement VII., died 1534
Medici, Lorenzo de', Duke of Urbino, died 1518
Michael Angelo 1475-1564
Raffaellino del Garbo 1466-1524
Sagrestia Nuova begun 1523
Verocchio, Andrea 1435-1488


75 Mr. Charles Heath Wilson, who was present, from whom we have received these details, remarked that one of the cheek-bones of Alessandro bore traces of a stab - a further confirmation that the skeleton belonged to the murdered man.  This discovery attests the correctness of Vasari's statement.  (See "Vite dei Pittori," vol. xii. p. 208.)

Night in so sweet an attitude beheld
Asleep, was by an angel sculptured
In this stone; and sleeping, is alive;
Waken her, doubter; she will speak to thee.
Welcome is sleep, more welcome sleep of stone
Whilst crime and shame continue in the land;
My happy fortune, not to see or hear;
Waken me not - in mercy, whisper low.
78 See "Tuscan Sculptors,"; vol. ii. p. 98.
79 See "Notizie Storiche dei Lavori in Pietra Dura da Antonio Zobi."  Firenze, 1853.
80 See "Gius Pubblico Popolare dei Toscani," by the Cavaliere Commendatore S. Peruzzi.

Chapter IX:  San Lorenzo (Continuation) - Laurentian Library

: Dante vivo || White Silence