Santa Croce
Church and Museum
 
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Giotto
Baroncelli Polyptych - Coronation of the Virgin - 1365

 

 

The present basilica, traditionally attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, was built from 1295, on the site where, around 1210, the first Franciscan friars to arrive in Florence had a small oratory. Santa Croce is planned as an Egyptian cross, with an open timber roof; there are many tomb slabs set into the pavement. The nave is wide and well-lit, with massive widely-spaced piers supporting pointed arches. On entering the basilica, in the Florentine gothic style, our attention is immediately drawn to the east end, where the tall narrow stained glass windows pierce the walls beneath the vaulting.

A fundamental feature of early Franciscan churches was the frescoed narration, in simple and clear terms, of the stories of Christ, of St. Francis and of other saints. Several of the great Florentine families, including the Bardi, the Peruzzi, the Alberti, the Baroncelli and the Rinuccini, acquired the patronage of chapels in Santa Croce, thereby assuming the honour of decorating and furnishing them. Some of this 14th-century decoration has survived down to our own time, including that painted by the great Giotto, who frescoed the chapels of the banking families Bardi and Peruzzi (1320-25), respectively with Scenes from the life of St. Francis and Scenes from the lives of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. Giotto’s closest followers, Taddeo Gaddi, Bernardo Daddi and Maso di Banco painted frescoes in the chapels patronised by the Baroncelli, the Pulci and Berardi, and the Bardi di Vernio. From the mid-14th century the walls of the aisles and the Sacristy were frescoed by Andrea Orcagna, Giovanni da Milano, Niccolò di Pietro Gerini and Agnolo Gaddi. The 14th century decoration was crowned by Agnolo Gaddi’s frescoes for the Chapel of the high altar, commissioned by the Alberti and illustrating the Story of the True Cross.

The Sacristy, which includes the Rinuccini Chapel, is reached from the south transept. Its well-preserved frescoes and original 14th-century furnishings give a good idea of how the whole church must have looked in the 14th century when it was completely covered with paintings. In the following century Santa Croce received some important architectural additions. In 1429 Andrea de’ Pazzi undertook the construction of the Chapter House (known as the Pazzi Chapel), which was designed and begun by Filippo Brunelleschi, but not completed until long after his death. It is one of the most harmonious buildings of the Florentine Renaissance, and is decorated not by frescoes but by glazed terracotta roundels, made by Luca della Robbia and his followers.

The Chapel of the Noviciate, which Michelozzo built around 1445 for Cosimo de’ Medici, has a glazed terracotta altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia, of the Madonna and Child with Saints.
The wooden Crucifix in the Bardi di Vernio Chapel in the left transept, and the stone Annunciation (commissioned by the Cavalcanti) in the right aisle, are both by Donatello.
The pulpit carved in relief by Benedetto da Maiano (c. 1475), with Scenes from the life of St. Francis, is one of the most beautiful in Florence.
It is significant that Santa Croce, which was to become the resting-place of so many great Italians, has the first truly renaissance funerary monument: the tomb of Leonardo Bruni, Chancellor of the Republic, sculpted by Bernardo Rossellino (1444). Bruni’s successor, Carlo Marsuppini, is buried in another fine renaissance tomb on the other side of the nave, by Desiderio da Settignano (c. 1455), which follows the same scheme. From then on, the history of the Santa Croce is marked by its tombs.

Michelangelo, who died in Rome in 1564, was buried here beneath a monument with allegorical figures of Sculpture, Architecture and Painting, designed by Giorgio Vasari. Michelangelo’s tomb served as the model for others, such as the tomb of Galileo, who died in 1642 (his monument was made by Giovanni Battista Foggini). Funerary monuments continued to be added to the interior, including ones to Niccolò Machiavelli, Vittorio Alfieri, Gioachino Rossini and the cenotaph to Dante Alighieri (1829). Ugo Foscolo, who died in England, was reburied here in 1871; in his celebrated Sepolcri he had written of the Santa Croce tombs as ‘urns of the strong, that kindle strong souls to great deeds’, and had thereby given rise to the secular view of the basilica as a Pantheon of civic memories. In the 19th century the church received a new bell tower (by Gaetano Baccani, 1847) and a marble façade (designed by Nicola Matas, 1853-63), in the neo-gothic style.



 
The facade of Santa Croce
designed in 1863 by the architect Nicolò Matas
 
Piazza Santa Croce
 
On the main door
Lunette by Giovanni Dupré
The Triumph of the Cross
The nave
The Basilica of Santa Croce
is the largest Franciscan church in the world.
The left aisle
 
Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels
Frescoes by Giotto
In the first half of 1700 the frescoes were
covered with lime, rediscovered only in 1850.
 
Baroncelli Chapel
Frescoes on the life of Our Lady
by Taddeo Gaddi
 
Bardi Chapel - Giotto - Death of St. Francis
 
Bardi Chapel
Maestro della Croce
St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata
and Histories of St. Francis - c. 1250
Bardi Chapel
Giotto
Scenes from the Life of St. Francis - Detail
 
Peruzzi Chapel
Giotto
Scenes from the Life of St. John the Baptist
Birth and Naming of the Baptist
Fresco - 1320
Peruzzi Chapel
Giotto
Scenes from the Life of St. John the Baptist
Annunciation to Zacharias
Fresco - 1320
 
Medici Chapel
Medici Chapel
Luca della Robbia
Madonna Enthroned
 
Four frescoes in the sacristy of the Basilica of Santa Croce
Top: Ascension by Niccolo di Pietro Gerini
Right: Resurrection also by Gerini
Center: Crucifixion by Taddeo Gaddi
Left: Ascent to Calvary perhaps by Spinello Aretino (1350 - 1410)
Pulpit carved by Benedetto da Maiano
with scenes from the life of St. Francis
1472 - 1476
 
Donatello
Annunciation Cavalcanti
Sculpture in Pietra Serena stone - c. 1435
Antonio Rossellino
Madonna with Child - c. 1470
 
Giorgio Vasari
Grave of Michelangelo
Gianbattista Foggini
Grave of Galileo Galilei
 
Antonio Canova
Grave of Vittorio Alfieri
Donatello
Statue of St. Louis of Toulouse - 1433
 
Desiderio da Settignano
Grave of Carlo Marsuppini - c. 1462
Bernardo Rossellino
Grave of Leonardo Bruni - 1450
Tombstones on the floor of Santa Croce
Tombstone on the floor of Santa Croce
 

Bronze statue of St. Francis
in the Holy water font

Antonio Bortone
Grave of Gino Capponi
 
Angelo Bronzino
Descent of Christ into Limbo
Francesco Salviati
Deposition from the Cross
 
Museum - Triptych by Nardo di Cione
Madonna and Child with St. Gregory and St. Job
The Crucifix of Cimabue - c. 1280

In 1966, the Arno flooded a large part of Florence, and Santa Croce. The water penetrated with mud, dirt and oil into the church. The damage to buildings and art treasures was severe and it took several decades to repair the damage.

 
The old facade of Santa Croce
The cloister
 
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