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Church of San Leone in Pistoia

Places of worship

Discovering Pistoia's Sistine Chapel, between baroque and neoclassicism

The Church of San Leone in Pistoia is one of the most important Baroque jewels in Tuscany and is also called Pistoia’s Sistine Chapel because of its magnificent frescoes.
The building dates back to 1379 when it was the seat of the oratory of the congregation of the secular priests of the Holy Spirit of Pistoia. The prestige of the congregation grew over the centuries, and their economic fortunes prospered to the extent that in the 18th century they expanded the property by purchasing adjoining land. Later the brothers decided to enlarge the structure of the church and decorate it anew to make it richer and closer to the taste of the time. The works were entrusted to Raffaello Ulivi from Pistoia, and later, between 1753 and 1764, Vincenzo Meucci worked on it, alongside Giuseppe Del Moro.

The frescoes of the Church of San Leone
The frescoes of the Church of San Leone - Credit: @makemake_rc.

In 1764 the decorations were completed by an artist from Bologna, Mauro Tesi, who marks the transition between Baroque and Neoclassical with the refined honeycomb faux coffered vaulting and faux bas-reliefs depicting episodes taken from the Gospel where the Holy Spirit intervenes.
The interior space was completely embellished with faux colored marble painting of all the architectural frames, and this finely deceives the eye of the viewer who has the illusion of being in an elegant aristocratic hall.

The paintings on the two side altars of the nave, still present today, date back to the 17th-century and depict on the left the Ascension by Stefano Marucelli for the Bronconi family, and on the right the Resurrection of Christ by Giovanni Lanfranchi for the Arfaruoli family. The coats of arms of the two commissioning families are visible in the plinths of the altars.

In 1773, after 400 years of existence, the congregation was transferred and the oratory passed to the episcopal seminary: it was at this time that the church assumed the dedication to St. Leo the Great, the patron saint of the seminary.

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