The construction of the Cappella Brancacci was commissioned in 1386 by Antonio Brancacci, member of a powerful Tuscan family of the age established in Florence, on bequest of his brother Pietro, who was dead in 1367.
His patron between 1422 and 1436 was Felice Brancacci, nephew of Pietro, a wealthy silk merchant related to politic, who had been Ambassador of Florence in Cairo until 1422.
The Chapel is situated in the right-hand arm of the transept of the Church. It was formerly designed with a cross-vaulted ceiling and illuminated by two narrow and very high stained glass windows.
In 1424 Felice Brancacci commissioned from the celebrated Tuscan painters Masolino da Panicale and Massaccio* the ornamentation of the Chapel.
They both painted a frescoes cycle- considered as a masterpieces from the early Renaissance - depicting the most important experiences of the life of St. Peter, headed on the opening jambs of the Chapel, by the “Original Sin” and “The Expulsion of Adam and Eve”, in order to connect the teachings of the Old Testament to the apostolic labour of St. Peter.
Masolino da Panicale (1400-1447, byname of Tommaso di Cristoforo) founded in 1423 the union of Florentine painters. As he was then associated with the younger Massaccio (22 years old) both of them were involved in the decoration work of the Brancacci Chapel.
The artistic contribution of Masolino in the Chapel ended in summer of 1425, probably due to his work commitments in Hungary. The Massacio one concluded in 1427 ca. as he moved to Rome and died there at once.
Furthermore the outstanding frescoes by Masolino in the Brancacci Chapel: “The Temptation” (related to the a.m. “Original Sin”); “The Raising of Tabitha” and “St. Peter Preaching”, he painted in Italy other great frescoes in the Church of San Clemente in Rome and in the Church of S. Agostino in Empoli.
On the other hand, two of his earliest masterpieces, painted on wood, are currently displayed in the Kunsthalle in Bremen (“Madonna and Child”, from 1423) and in the National Gallery of Art in Washington (“The Annunciation”, from 1426 ca.).
Whereas the exceptional frescos by Massaccio in the Brancacci Chapel are: “The Expulsion from the Garden” (related to the a.m. “Expulsion of Adam and Eve”); the “Tribute Money”; the “Baptysm of the Neophites”; “St. Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow”; and the “Distribution of Alms and Death of Ananias”.
In 1435, with the exile of the illustrious Florentine politic, banker, thinker and philologist Palla di Onofrio Strozzi (1372-1462) who together with Rinaldo degli Albizi was the main opponent of Cosimo the Elder, Felice Brancacci who was then his father in law felt from grace. He was accused of political intrigue and he also exiled himself, being declared a rebel in 1458. Because of that, the Florentine authorities ordered to erase from the frescoes painted by Masolino and Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel the figures of all the persons who could have any relationship with that lineage.
Between 1481 and 1482, the celebrated Tuscan painter Filippino Lippi (1457 ca.-1504) was commissioned to complete the frescoes cycle in the Brancacci Chapel, as well as to restore the ones by Masolino and Massaccio which had been damaged.
Flippino Lippi was the son and pupil of the famous painter Filippo Lippi, who died when Filippino was 12. He kept on studying with Sandro Botticelli, becoming one of his most advantaged disciples and assistants.
Nevertheless, the style of Filippino, even if particularly delicate and lyrical, is more vigorous than Botticelli’s one, being up till now considered as a mannerist from the late 15th century. Among other illustrious persons of his time, Filippino Lippi was also one of the preferred painters of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Moreover than his outstanding work in the Brancacci Chapel, created when he was only 24, one of the major paintings from his youth is the “Annunciation” (1483 ca, in the Museo Civico of San Gimignano).
Among his frescoes, the most important probably are: the fresco cycle depicting some episodes of the life of St. Thomas Aquinas (1488-1493, in the Carafa Chapel, Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, in Rome) and the one representing the lives of St. John Evangelist and St. Phillip (1495-1502, in the Strozzi Chapel, Florence’s Duomo).
Many paintings by Filippino Lippi are actually displayed in the main museums of the world, such as: “The Nativity” (Johnson Museum, Philadelphia); “The Annunciation” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York”); “S. Girolamo” (Uffizi Gallery, Florence); “Portrait of a musician” (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin); the “Madonna del Mare” and “Madonna and Child”(both in the Accademia Gallery, Florence); “Madonna and Child” (National Gallery, London); “Madonna and Child with angels” and “The Interment of St. Stephan“ (both in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland) and “The Vision of St. Agustin” (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).
The wonderful frescoes by Filippino Lippi in the Brancacci Chapel are: “St. Paul Visiting St. Peter in Prison”; “Peter Being Freed from Prison”; “Disputation with Simon Magus and Crucifixion of St. Peter”, as well as the completion of “Raising of the Son of Theophilus and St. Peter Enthroned” which Massaccio left unfinished.
On the Altar of the Brancacci Chapel there is the panel called “Madonna of the People” (unknown painter from the 12th century). In the big lunettes of the vault: “The Madonna del Carmine” by the renowned Florentine painter Vincenzo Meucci (1699-1766).
In 1765 Meucci painted as well some frescoes previously created by Masolino and Massacio, so seriously damaged, or even cancelled, as to be irreparable. With the major consideration for both of them, Meucci reproduced the original episodes from the life of St. Peter Apostle formerly there located.
The Cappella Brancacci is opened to the public from 10 am to 5 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday it is opened from 1 to 5 pm.
It is closed on Tuesday.
The entrance ticket is: 4.00 euros
Oltrarno Side of Florence
The Cathedrals : Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Cappella Brancacci, Santo Spirito
Main Monuments : Palazzo Pitti, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio
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