The origins of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Impruneta are shrouded in legend. It was founded after the discovery of a miraculous Madonna icon. The story says that, once the idea to construct a temple honoring Mary came about, walls that had been erected by day were dismantled overnight. Stones were then loaded onto a cart, and when the oxen stopped and kneeled down, they began to dig, uncovering a sacred image. This story is retold in a 15th-century bas relief attributed to Pasquino da Montepulciano, an iconographic prototype of all engravings dedicated to the Virgin. Even today, the Madonna of Impruneta is still at the core of a very substantial sacred community, so much so that this church is probably the oldest of the Marian Shrines in Italy.
The interior of the church has a late 16th-century aesthetic, with a single nave and four separate pietra serena altars. To the left of the entrance, there is an elegant marble font donated by Florence’s Compagnia dei Tavernieri e Cuochi in 1542. Once you have moved past the Baptistery, on the first altar to the left, turn your eyes toward a painting of the Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, a work by Jacopo Chimenti (1606). On the second altar to the left is a depiction of the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, attributed to Matteo Rosselli (1578–1650). Further ahead is a tempietto (small temple) to the Virgin Mary, based on a model of the one in Santissima Annunziata, and created based on a design by Michelozzo, Pagno di Lapo Portigiani and Maso di Bartolomeo. The ornamentation, from the skillful hands of Luca della Robbia, is all finely decorated. The altar of the Madonna has a silver ciborium at its centre, depicting the Discovery of the Sacred Image.
The high altar features a Polyptych depicting the Madonna with the Christ Child and Saints. The polyptych and the Della Robbia decorations from the two tempietti were reduced to tiny fragments during World War II bombings; however, the quality of repairs that took place in the post-war restorations is truly impressive. The tempietto to the right of the altar was originally supposed to hold the Holy Sacrament: at the centre of the tabernacle is a dramatic Crucifixion by Luca della Robbia, between Saint John the Baptist and a Holy Bishop (Saint Romulus or Saint Zenobius). In the adjacent choir is a magnificently ornate bronze grating, decorated with emblems of the Passion and completed by granducal goldsmith Cosimo Merlini the Elder in 1636. In the first chapel to the right, the altar holds a bronze Crucifix attributed to Pietro Tacca (1577–1649). On the two altars on the righthand walls of the nave you’ll find two standout paintings: The Nativity of the Virgin by Domenico Cresti, known as Il Passignano (dated 1602), and The Martyrdom of Saint Laurence, attributed to Cristofaro Allori (1577–1621).
The first sacristy, which dates to the 15th century, features a walnut-finish counter completed between the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century and some paintings, including Mariotto di Nardo’s Trinity. The second sacristy holds 17th century cupboards: on the central counter you’ll see an interesting bronze and wooden crucifix from the workshop of Pietro Tacca, with two angels in painted terracotta, from the first decades of the 16th century.
[For more information: www.basilicaimpruneta.org]