Friday, June 24, 2011

Brunelleschi: Piazza della S.S. Annunziata, San Lorenzo, Santa Trinita

Today we had Marco again for our guided tour. Yesterday afternoon he gave an extensive lecture on Brunelleschi's architecture and innovations and today, he took us to see some of the architect's main accomplishments.

To get ready for the day, I decided to invest in a breakfast at the hostel.
We began our tour in the Piazza Innunziata (where we saw the rock concert) and discussed the Foundling Hospital, one of Brunelleschi's earliest projects. The columns and rounded arches of the portico (porch) are one of the earliest Renaissance works in Florence. You can see from its columns and regularized design that it can go continuously past its end points and clearly takes inspiration from Roman architecture.
It makes me think of Roman Aqueducts.

 View of the Foundling Hospital from the Via Colonna (on my way to campus)
The hospital took in orphans and families who couldn't afford to care for their children and gave them to the institution. The children raised at the hospital were given the last name Innocente (Innocent) and to this day it is a very popular last name in Florence. On the architecture of the foundling hospital you can see little roundels with an image of a swaddled baby.

 Swaddled baby roundel decorations
The Piazza della S.S. (Santissima-most holy) Annunziata is one of the most important places in Florence.  The Annunciation of Mary is an incredibly sacred day to Florentines. Marco explained that traditionally the Florentine year began on March 25, the date believed to mark the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.
In the center of the Piazza is an equestrian statue (the one that you can see in the rock concert post). This is the Grand Duke Ferdinando Medici, who had as his personal emblem a queen bee surrounded by worker bees (guess who the queen bee was meant to represent?)

Equestrian Statue of Ferdinando

 Ferdinando's Queen Bee Emblem: Center of the Universe
From the Foundling Hospital we walked across the street to the church, which is one of the most sacred in Florence. There is a story that a fresco artist painting the Virgin on the interior of the church, could not paint the Virgin's face. He falls asleep and when he wakes up he sees that the face of the Virgin is already finished. One of the many miracles witnessed in the city that makes this church one of the holiest in the city.
We went into the courtyard and looked at some of the old frescoes painted there by Andrea Sarto.

Marco and Andrea Sarto

We did not go into this church on our tour, as Marco has a deep respect for this place of worship and wasn’t comfortable to take us into it as a group. He did encourage us to go on our own, which I plan to do. A bunch of classmates have said that it is incredible within.
From there we walked to San Lorenzo, the church of the Medicis. This is the church around which is the Mercato Centrale and the church with "the other" cupola (the Duomo precedes all in terms of landmarks, but S. Lorenzo's is visible too). Like some of the other places I saw on my first days in Florence, it always evokes a sense of happiness at my adventure here in Italy and I particularly like the fact that it doesn't have the traditional white and green marble facade.
Outside the church is another equestrian statue of Cosimo Medici. Here we saw a Medici coat of arms with a diamond ring and feathers above it. Another variation of the family emblem representing the hard and the soft natures of Cosimo. 

 The Medici Crest has raised circles on it (representing money as they were bankers). This crest is in every corner and potentially on every single street of Florence. 

I had already visited the cloister, but I hadn't been inside the church. Again photography was not allowed, but I can tell you some of what I learned. Commissioned by the Medici as their parish church, Brunelleschi's design is the first completely Renaissance architecture in Florence. Like the Duomo and Santa Croce, San Lorenzo was built over a very early 4th century church. Built in 1420, San Lorenzo followed its preceding structure a thousand years later. This church is giant and Brunelleschi, as Marco described, created a very minimalist space. 
As an architect, he was focused on mathematics and reason (very Florentine according to Marco) and tended to loath elaborate ornamentation. His lines are clear and crisp. He likes harmony. The interior is gray. The columns are made of gray marble mined outside of Fiesole. It is a place of rationalism and intellectualism, than breathtaking and elaborate in its art.
Marco explained it in the following ways: Brunelleschi’s space is not emotional or necessarily moving. It is self-contained, minimalist, rational, understood via reason, primary, elementary. Whereas Baroque architecture wants to move the viewer and is flamboyant. “You know, like Las Vegas!” Tee-hee! I’m starting to think of his off-hand comments as Marco-isms.

For me, the space felt a bit clinical and I think I prefer Santa Croce, with its amazing tombs, colorful frescoes and elaborate decor.

However there are things of great interest at San Lorenzo, like the tombs of the Medicis.

\The great Cosimo is buried here. Along with his parents and some of his children. As you approach the central altar, you see a marking on the floor. The circular inlaid marble is the top of a column that stretches beneath the ground. When you enter the basement level of the church through the cloister, you can see this column and Cosimo's tomb.

Here is a picture. Every once in a while, the crowd of our group and the wandering eyes of the guards, allows me to steal one.

The Tomb of Cosimo de Medici

Cosimo’s good friend and favorite artist Donatello is also entombed here, next to his greatest patron.
The other Medici have tombs in the sacristy to the left of the altar, designed by Brunelleschi and decorated by Donatello.
After San Lorenzo, we crossed the river to Santa Spirita, another church designed by Brunelleschi. This church was designed by him, but completed by other Florentine architects, who according to Marco broke the integrity of his original design and therefore betrayed him. Marco is sure that Brunelleschi would be angry at what was done to his design.

After our tour of the churches a bunch of us went out to lunch at a place that Marco recommended to me. It’s always good to ask an Italian who lives here for advice on where to eat. I ordered my first pesto pasta which was AWESOME and fizzy water. I was very surprised to receive sparkling water in a gigantic wine bottle. I was slightly terrified of its price, an unfounded fear :) It was a wonderful meal and relatively cheap!

The Piazza outside Santa Trinita

 My Fancy Fizzy Water

 My Pesto Ravioli! :)


  1. Yum pesto ravioli! More food pics please!

  2. That shot of the tomb really captures the expanse of the church. Way to go with the sneak shot!