My colleagues are taking advantage of the free Tuesday night opening tonight in state museums to visit the Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee), part of the monumental complex of the Church of San Lorenzo. Unfortunately I can't be with them to show them the incredible sculpture and architecture by Michelangelo so I'm going to jot down a few points to help them with their visit - and I figure this can be of use to you, too. Am I right?When you enter the Medici Chapels, you'll enter first a large crypt space and then a very gaudy marble-encrusted chapel known as the Chapel of the Princes. Make no mistake, this space has nothing to do with the comparatively austere work by Michelangelo that you'll meet next. Begun by Matteo Nigetti in 1604 under the rule of Ferdinando, this octagonal space is a masterpiece of marble inlay or pietre dure work of which Ferdinando was a major patron. It took a long time - work continued until 1737, with some decoration lasting into the early 19th century. Go up to the altar to see some more intricately designed panels (not all of them are marble because it wasn't finished, as you can read in this post about the recent exhibit "Ferdinando I de’ Medici 1549-1609 Maiestate Tantum"). Continue down a hallway to the New Sacristy, designed by Michelangelo to mirror the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo by his great predecessor Brunelleschi. If I've never blogged about this space before, it's because it's too complex - but I said the same of the Laurentian Library before too. So before we start talking about what's IN there, we need to cover...
A bit of history
As you know, the Medici family were very powerful in Florence, and they also produced a few Popes. Pope Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici) succeeded Julius II (the patron of the Sistine Chapel ceiling) in 1513. Leo X wanted to honour the Medici family with some great works by Michelangelo in Florence. He commissioned Michelangelo to work on the facade of the church of San Lorenzo, but if you've glanced at that recently you can see he didn't get very far. That's because of a series of deaths in the Medici family that changed the Pope's priorities: in 1516 Giuliano (brother of the pope) died in 1516, and then the pope’s nephew, Lorenzo the younger, who was Duke of Urbino, died in 1519. And that was the last legitimate heir of the Medici Family.Times like these call for a good tomb. Michelangelo began work on the design in November 1520 and probably started working on the sculptures in 1524; there were supposed to be at least 24 life-sized sculptures in this space, plus the architectural framework. But not much of this got done because of changing political tides. The Sack of Rome in 1527 weakened the pope, of course, and the Florentines took advantage of this moment to form their very last Republic (after that the Medici Dukes never let go again). In all this turmoil, art, as you can imagine, is not a priority. In 1534 the artist left Florence for good, and the Chapel remained unfinished. What you see now is how Vasari arranged it.
The Medici family members buried in this chapelIt's important to get straight which Medici family members are buried here. The pope wants to build a burial monument for two Dukes...
1) Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, who was a cleric for the pope in florence
2) Lorenzo the younger, Duke of Urbino and chief of the papal troops… as well as members from the older generation of the family:
3) Lorenzo il Magnifico (died 1492)
4) Giuliano, Lorenzo’s the magnificent’s brother, who was killed in the Pazzi conspiracy.