Ognissanti, Firenze

The moon shone brightly last night (which was Thanksgiving night, in the United States) over the Renaissance city.

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Earlier today I posted about a concert I once heard at the Franciscan church called Ognissanti.  As luck would have it, I had the chance to spend some time last night admiring the interior of the church when it was beautifully lit up in the early evening.

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Ognissanti has a harmonious Baroque facade, as seen from the piazza that separates it from the Arno river. The chiesa was originally built in the 1250s by the Umiliati, but it later became a Franciscan church.  It was renovated c. 1627 in the Baroque style, by architect Bartolomeo Pettirossi.

Here’s how it looks in the daytime:

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In 1637 the church was given this façade, based up designs by Matteo Nigetti. Fortunately, the glazed terracotta lunette depicting the Coronation of the Virgin and placed over the central doorway was conserved. While the lunette resembles the work of Luca Della Robbia, it is now attributed to Benedetto Buglioni. Buglioni was almost the only artist working in the glazed terra-cotta style made famous by the Della Robbia workshop after that enterprise ended.

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Ognissanti was among the first examples of Baroque architecture to penetrate this Renaissance city. Its two orders of pilasters enclose niches and windows with elaborate cornices. The campanile, of  late 13th and early 14th-century construction, sits back from the front of the church, on the east side.

The church’s interior is equally grand and richly ornamented.  It received the same Baroque style remodeling as the exterior in the early 17th-century, when the apse was rebuilt with a pietre dure high altar and, later, in 1770, the incredible sotto in su perspective painting was added to the vaulted nave ceiling.

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To start with the perhaps the most important aspect of this venerated church, we turn to Giotto’s celebrated Madonna and Child with Angels (c. 1310), which was painted for the high altar of this church.

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This outstanding painting by Giotto was completed in Florence. Today, if you wish to see the masterpiece, you will find it in the collection of the Uffizi.  Giotto’s capolavoro is not only one of the finest works in the Uffizi, but it shows the exact moment when painting in Italy turned from Gothic to a proto-Renaissance style.

Cimabue_-_Maestà_di_Santa_Trinita_-_Google_Art_Project  In the Uffizi galleries, Cimabue’s celebrated altarpiece (above), which was created for the same type of setting and dealing with the same subject matter as Giotto’s altarpiece, one can witness the changes in artistic approach.

But, although the Ognissanti is missing its famous and beautiful altarpiece, it is fortunate to have another work now attributed by Italian scholars to Giotto: the large crucifixion. Giotto painted this large-scale (15 feet tall) cross c. 1315 for the Umilati friars who then held this church.

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The Crucifixion is displayed under the Medici coat of arms in the left transept of the church.

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Only recently was this Crucifixion recognized as a work by Giotto. For decades it sat, unappreciated, in the storerooms of Ognissanti. There was a rumor that it was by Giotto, but no one was certain.  But then, it was restored!

The restoration of Giotto’s Ognissanti Crucifix was started by Paola Bracco in 2002. The majestic tempera on panel, now believed to have been painted by Giotto and his workshop around 1310-1320, had been sadly neglected for centuries. Kept in the sacristy of the church of Ognissanti, it was rarely seen and the vigorous modelling of the flesh tones of the figures, and the many precious details of the pictorial surface, were hidden by layers of varnish from previous “restorations” and centuries-old grime.

Fortunately, this monumental work is now back in the Florentine church, after a careful 8-year restoration.

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In the Crucifix (painted in egg tempera), Christ is represented as Christus patiens, suffering, about to expire. The tension in the muscles of the arms is treated with delicacy, and the ashen flesh colors are very impressive. The body hangs on a very decorative Cross, an overflowing mosaic of starred crosses, squares and ellipses. The ‘beams’ of the Cross are painted in bright, but deep and intense blue, the precious lapis lazuli inlaid with greater or lesser amounts of lead white, as in the sloping pedestal to which Christ’s feet are pinned (by a single nail). The blue is crossed by thin red lines, cinnabar blood with more purplish glazes. On the forehead are a few drops of “pure red lacquer,” the color of blood, which springs from Christ’s flesh in response to the crown of thorns.

Here are some other fascinating artifacts from Ognissanti:

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Last night I discovered that Sandro Botticelli is buried within the church, near his beloved Simonetta Vespucci.

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Botticelli who is buried in the church near his beloved, Simonetta Vespucci.

Amerigo Vespucci is also interred here:

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Here’s an unusual funerary monument found within the church.  I am not certain whose head this portrays…

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And I end this long post with a photo of a significant Neoclassical funerary monument, found within the center of this important church.

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One thought on “Ognissanti, Firenze

  1. Pingback: Digging deeper: Ognissanti, Firenze. Botticelli, Ghirlandaio & Amerigo Vespucci | get back, lauretta!

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