Architecture Around the World

The Church of Santa Croce (Holy Cross)
Florence, Italy


Click on photos for larger view

Looking towards the main altar


The altar is a polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin signed Giotto, but more probably from his workshop

Polyptych detail

View from altar showing the front entrance



Pisan style striping

Two rows of acanthus leaves on Corinthian capital



Tomb of Michelangelo by Giorgio Vasari

Tomb of Michelangelo by Giorgio Vasari

Tomb of Michelangelo by Giorgio Vasari

Cenotaph in honor of Dante Alighieri (buried at Ravenna), by Stefano Ricci in 1830

Bardi Chapel: Giotto fresco

Bardi Chapel: Giotto fresco

Bardi Chapel

Bardi Chapel: Giotto fresco

Bardi Chapel: Giotto fresco



The interior

Santa Croce is a three-aisled basilica with an open roof, a transept, and a narrow chancel with five rectangular chapels on each side. The spacious nave is higher (34.5 m.) than Notre dame and almost as high as Reims.

The interior is a masterpiece of Italian Gothic architecture A high, unvaulted, open space, obstruction free, bright and serene, it was, and still is, an eminently public hall, inviting congregations of visitors, suiting perfectly the Franciscan ideal of a place for popular Christian worship

Though the Franciscans quarreled bitterly among themselves about the owning of property and the building of churches - Saint Francis had sternly forbidden both - by the fourteenth century the mingling of interests of the republic of Florence, its bankers, and the Franciscan order had arrived at a kind of patriotic harmony that permitted to all of them an elevation of status through architecture and art.

The interior is on an Egyptian cross divided into three naves by elegant pilasters and pointed arches, The ceiling, as in all Franciscan churches, has a covering of
uncovered roof trusses,

The walls were once completely decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his helpers, but Giorgio Vasari, at the order of Cosimo I in the XVI century, had them plastered over and altars of little value put on the walls.

In Santa Croce ten chapels flank the apse and choir. The Franciscan proprietors of the church were quite happy to have great banking families like the Bardi, Peruzzi, Alberti, and Baroncelli endow the chapels in honor of their special saints, making at the same time spiritual and financial investment for the salvation of themselves and their posterity, and for the honor of the order and of the city.

Bardi Chapel - "Death of St. Francis"

A fresco in the Bardi Chapel show the "Death of St. Francis" - restored in the nineteenth century, but now with the restorations removed. Fortunately, despite the removal of the restorations and the resultant gaps in the composition, enough of the original "Death of St. Francis" remains to give us an idea of the later style of Giotto.

It seems, indeed, as if the artist had watched the solemn obsequies from offstage. We see the saint, at center on his bier, flanked by kneeling and standing monks; the kneeling figures are seen from behind, in Giotto's fashion. Stately processions of friars in profile come from left and right, as they would be seen in actuality - not frontally, as in a Byzantine procession. The figures are accommodated carefully on an architecture-enclosed, stagelike space that has been widened and no longer leaves any doubt that the figures have sufficient room in which to move about. They are taller and have lost some of their former sacklike bulk; Giotto now makes a distinction between the purely form-defining function of the robes and the fact that they are draped around articulated bodies.

The impressive solemnity of the procession is enhanced by the omission of the casual and incidental beauties of the world so dear to Sienese and French Gothic painters. Giotto sees and records nature in terms of its most basic facts solid volumes resting firmly on the flat and horizontal surface of the earth He arranges his figures in meaningful groups and infuses them with restrained emotions that are revealed in slow and measured gestures. With the greatest economy of means, Giotto achieves unsurpassed effects of monumentality, and his paintings, because of the simplicity and directness of their statements, are among the most memorable in world art.


Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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