- Type: Religious Sights
NileGuide Expert Says:
An incredibly silent and serene chapel.
NileGuide Expert tip:
Read up on the meaning of each tomb, very interesting stories.
When Michelangelo built the New Sacristy between 1520 and 1533 (finished by Vasari in 1556), it was to be a tasteful monument to Lorenzo the Magnificent and his generation of fairly pleasant Medici. When work got underway on the Chapel of the Princes in 1604, it was to become one of the world's most god-awful and arrogant memorials, dedicated to the grand dukes, some of Florence's most decrepit tyrants. The Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes) is an exercise in bad taste, a mountain of cut marbles and semiprecious stones -- jasper, alabaster, mother-of-pearl, agate, and the like -- slathered onto the walls and ceiling with no regard for composition and still less for chromatic unity. The pouring of ducal funds into this monstrosity began in 1604 and lasted until the rarely conscious Gian Gastone de' Medici drank himself to death in 1737 without an heir -- but teams kept doggedly at the thing, and they were still finishing the floor in 1962. The tombs of the grand dukes in this massive marble mistake were designed by Pietro Tacca in the 17th century, and off to the left and right of the altar are small treasuries full of gruesome holy relics in silver-bedecked cases. The dome of the structure, seen from the outside, is one of Florence's landmarks, a kind of infant version of the Duomo's.
Michelangelo's Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy), built to jibe with Brunelleschi's Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo proper, is much calmer. (An architectural tidbit: The windows in the dome taper as they get near the top to fool you into thinking the dome is higher.) Michelangelo was supposed to produce three tombs here (perhaps four) but ironically got only the two less important ones done. So Lorenzo de' Medici the Magnificent -- wise ruler of his city, poet of note, grand patron of the arts, and moneybags behind much of the Renaissance -- ended up with a mere inscription of his name next to his brother Giuliano's on a plain marble slab against the entrance wall. Admittedly, they did get one genuine Michelangelo sculpture to decorate their slab, a Madonna and Child that's perhaps the master's most beautiful version of the theme (the other two statues are later works by less talented sculptors).
On the left wall of the sacristy is Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo, duke of Urbino (and Lorenzo the Magnificent's grandson), whose seated statue symbolizes the contemplative life. Below him on the elongated curves of the tomb stretch Dawn (female) and Dusk (male), a pair of Michelangelo's most famous sculptures, where he uses both high polish and rough cutting to impart strength, texture, and psychological suggestion to the allegorical works. This pair mirrors the similarly fashioned and equally important Day (male) and Night (female) across the way. One additional point Dawn and Night brings out is that Michelangelo really wasn't too adept at the female body -- he just produced softer, less muscular men with slightly elongated midriffs and breasts sort of tacked on at funny angles.
The Master's Doodles -- On the walls around the small altar in the Medici Chapels are some recently uncovered architectural graffiti that have been attributed to Michelangelo. Even more important are some 50 charcoal drawings and sketches the master left on the walls in the sepulchral chamber below. The drawings include a sketch of the legs of Duke Giuliano, Christ risen, and the Laocoön. Michelangelo found himself hiding out here after the Medici reconquered the city in 1530 -- he had helped the city keep the dukes out with his San Miniato defenses and, probably rightly, feared a reprisal. You need an appointment to see the sketches; ask at the ticket office.
- © Frommer's 2013
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Ask Florence Locals about Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels)
- Highly Recommended 2010
- visit website
- tel: 055-238-8602
- Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6
- Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini (behind San Lorenzo, where Via Faenza and Via del Giglio meet)
- Florence, Tuscany 50123
- Daily 8:15am-5pm
- User Rating