Basilica di San Lorenzo Overview
BASILICA DI SAN LORENZO
The Basílica of San Lorenzo is the church and the hub of a monumental religious complex in Florence. The religious complex includes as well the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) and the Biblioteca Mediceo- Laurenziana (Medicean-Laurentian Library).
It is located in Piazza San Lorenzo, in the neighbourhood of the Mercato di San Lorenzo, the busiest and most popular Florentine food market.
In Piazza San Lorenzo, near the entrance to the Basilica, there is a wonderful monument devoted to Giovanni delle Bande Nere, father of Cosimo I de Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany. The statue was sculptured by the eminent Florentine artist Baccio Bandinelli in 1540.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo was consecrated by Saint Ambrose in 393. At that time the church was situated outside the city walls. It had been the Cathedral of Florence in the antiquity until the Bishopric moved to the Church of Santa Reparata, built in 420-30 ca. to honouree the saint after its name, who it is said that favoured the victory of the troops of the already Christian Emperor Flavius Augustus Honorious over the army of Radagaiusus, king of the Ostrogoths, in the battle held on August 405 ca.
The Basilica of San Lorenzo was rebuilt into Romanesque style in 1060 ca.
In 1419, Giovanni de Bicci de’Medici commissioned its reconstruction into a Renaissance design from the great Florentine architect and sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446).
Since then and until the extinction of the Medici dynasty the Basilica has been the parish church of the most noted and powerful Florentine family.
Brunelleschi began his artistic career as a goldsmith. In 1404, he started working as an architect in the construction of the Duomo (the current Cathedral) and his involvement with its outstanding cupola, projected and built without scaffolding, positioned him for his inventiveness and his command of mathematics among the better architects and, obviously, engineers of his age, being considered by the experts as the father of the Renaissance architecture.
Around 1430, the work of the Basilica of San Lorenzo was still uncompleted.
In 1459 (thirteen years after Brunelleschi’s decease) except the chapels along the right-hand aisles, the work was almost finished; just in time for a drop in by Pope Pio II in occasion of his visit to Florence.
In 1518, Pope Leone X (born Giovanni de Lorenzo de Medici, second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) commissioned from Michelangelo Buonarotti the design of the façade, but it was never brought to an end, appearing uncompleted from the outside. Michelangelo designed also the internal façade, which includes three doors placed between two pillars splendidly ornamented with oak and laurel garlands and a balcony supported on two Corinthian columns
The very long rectangular nave of the Basilica di San Lorenzo is divided from the aisles by columns with Corinthian capitals in soft dark stone. The plant of the Basilica is crowned with a lower-level panel ceiling with a profusion of coffered rosettes.
The indoors of the Basilica are decorated by relevant art works and masterpieces. Among them it houses: two bronze pulpits created by Donatello (1463-1466); the exquisite marble tabernacle by Desiderio da Settignano (1460 ca.); “The Annunciation” by Fra Filippo Lippi (1440 ca.); “The Martyrdom of San Lorenzo” by Agnolo Bronzino (1539 ca.) and “The Marriage of the Virgin” by Rosso Fiorentino (1529); the wooden crucifix by Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1460-1470 ca.) preserved in the south transept chapel.
The celebrated fresco called “St. Joseph and Christ in the Workshop” by the famous Milanese painter Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988) is probably the only modern masterpiece up till now displayed in an historical church in Florence.
Close to the Main Altar is buried Cosimo the Elder, the founder of the Medici dynasty. The tomb is excavated under the floor and is simply covered by a head-stone, according to his unpretentious last willing.
In the internal of the Basilica are also buried: Donatello (dead in 1466), probably the most brilliant sculptor of the early Renaissance. His sepulchre is in the north transept.
In the south transept: Bernardo Cennini (dead in 1498), the Florentine goldsmith, sculptor and printer who published in 1471 the incunabula “In tria Virgilli Opera Expositio” an essay on Virgil works written by the Roman grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus (late 4th century). It was the first book printed in Florence with the technique invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1449, which procedure was thoroughly investigated by Cennini.
In the south aisle: Francesco Landini (dead in 1397), the celebrated Florentine composer as well as chaplain and organist in the Basilica. In the north transept: Niccolò Martelli (dead in 1555), the celebrated Florentine grammarian and poet who founded the Accademia Fiorentina in 1541.
The worldwide famous Cappelle Medicee (the Medici Chapels) are the marvellous funerary rooms of the main members of the Medici family since the mid 15th century until the 18th one.
Those Chapels constitute an exclusive museum situated in the indoors of the religious complex.
Brunelleschi designed and built as well the Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) between 1419 and 1428, which is the most ancient structure in the architectonical complex. It is located at the back of the left transept. The Old Sacristy is composed of four quadrangle rooms, a small apse with the altar and two tiny lateral sacristies. The rooms are covered by a dome and the apse unfolds towards one of the walls. Between 1435 and 1443 Donatello modelled into the medallions and the lunettes of the Old Sacristy some impressive scenes from the life of St. John Evangelist, as well as the portraits of the Four Evangelist. He also created its bronze doors and the stucco relieves above them. One of the rooms contains the refined sarcophagus of the twin Piero and Giovanni de Medici -the new born sons of Lorenzo the Magnificent- made by Andrea del Verrocchio in 1472.
The largest room includes the imposing marble sepulchre of Giovanni de Bicci de’ Medici (deceased in 1429) and his wife Piccarda Bueri, made by Andrea di Lazzaro Cavalcanti, with the collaboration of his assistants, from a design by Donatello made between 1429 and1433.
North Side of Florence
The Cathedrals : Basilica di San Lorenzo, Basilica di San Marco
Main Monuments : Palazzo Pucci, Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Main Museums : Accademia Gallery, Museo Archeologico
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