Santa Maria del Carmine
and The Brancacci Chapel
Piazza del Carmine
The Carmelites were one of the original four 13th-century mendicant (begging) orders, along with the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians, all of whom founded large churches in Florence radiating out far from the centre. Work on the Carmelite convent and church here begun in 1268, using funds provided by Agnese, the widow of merchant 'Cione Tifa di Ranieri Vernaccia from the Santa Felicita quarter'. But the church was not consecrated until 1422, with work on the Brancacci Chapel frescoes beginning almost immediately. The convent complex, much of which remains, was enlarged in 1328 and 1464. Interior modifications to the church by Vasari in the late 1550's resulted in the removal of many medieval frescos and panels.
There was some rebuilding in the 17th century then more extensive work in the 18th, covering the old trussed ceiling. Before this work was completed the church was largely destroyed by fire on 28/29th January 1771, but the Brancacci Chapel was spared, although the frescoes were heavily damaged and restored.
The interior was rebuilt by 1782 in bog-standard baroque style, to designs by Giuseppe Ruggieri, resulting in its current appearance. The unfinished fašade, begun in the early 15th century, remains.
The main church is surprisingly vast, and has vertigo-inducing ceiling paintings by Domenico Stagi, who did the trompe l'oeil architecture, and Giuseppe Romei who did the paintings - the ceiling has the Ascension of Christ and in the dome is The Trinity and the Virgin in Glory with Saints.
There's a stained-glass window with a panorama of Florence in the fašade (see photo right).
There are shallow side altars down the nave - they're more niches really - and very deep transepts, with the Brancacci Chapel at the end of the right-hand one.
The Corsini Chapel is at the end of the left one (see below). It contains the remains of Saint Andrew Corsini, a Carmelite friar who became Bishop of Fiesole, from 1349 until his death in 1374, and was canonized in 1724. He was venerated for his miracles. (see Image cults below). The chapel was designed by Pier Francesco Silvani and was decorated between 1675 and 1683 with frescoes in the dome (The Transfiguration of Saint Andrew Corsini) by Luca Giordano and marble reliefs by Giovanni Battista Foggini depicting scenes from the Saint's life. (Giordano added the figures in the pendentives, however, on his return to Florence in 1682.) During this process a Saint Peter by Masolino and a St Paul by Masaccio, frescoed on the outside pillars of the chapel around 1425, were destroyed.
The Brancacci Chapel
The Brancacci Chapel is one of the glowing gems of the early Renaissance. If you've studied Renaissance art, formally or for pleasure, you'll have read much about these frescoes, especially Massacio's, but coming here is essential if you're a lover. They depict The Life of Saint Peter, the name-saint of the donor. The patron was Felice Brancacci, who commissioned the work in memory of his uncle, silk merchant Piero di Piuvechese, who had left the money to build the chapel in his will. Building work was completed in 1389. The decoration was begun by Masolino in 1424, with the vault and the upper panels. He was joined by Masaccio until 1425. Masolino then went to work in Hungary and Masaccio continued on his own, but himself went to Rome in 1428 and the work halted. He died in Rome later in 1428 at the age of 27. Masolino outlived his pupil, dying around 1435. The identification of the division of work between Masaccio and Masolino has long bothered art historians. Each artist's scenes often include considerable contributions by the other. Their styles are best appreciated by looking at their representations of Adam and Eve, Masolino's elegant but softer and flatter scene of the temptation contrasting with Masaccio's more emotive and solid banishing (see below right). Since Vasari it has been noted how Masolino's figures' feet don't seem convincingly planted on the ground. Felice Brancacci drew up a will after the work had finished instructing his heirs to get the decoration completed, but he fell into political disgrace for supporting Palla Strozzi (his father-in-law) and was banished in 1436. The chapel was renamed and the part of the fresco that featured the Brancacci patrons was destroyed.
The frescoes were completed 50 years later by Filippino Lippi, from 1481 to 1485, following the rehabilitation of the Brancacci family in 1474. He finished the lower scenes begun by Masaccio and added his own, The Crucifixion of Saint Peter and The Disputation with Simon Magus. Filippino's figures wear darker-coloured robes, and may have replaced disgraced Brancacci scratched out after their banishment.
Between 1746 and 1748 Vincenzo Meucci frescoed the ceiling, with The Virgin Giving the Scapular to Saint Simon Stock, and so destroyed Masolino's Evangelists. (Meucci was also the man responsible for the 'restoration' work on Rosso's Marriage of the Virgin in San Lorenzo which resulted in a sludgy over-varnished appearance, only reversed during restoration in 2014.) The enlargement of the window at this time also resulted in the destruction of parts of frescoes. Restoration work in the late 1980s resulted in the colours again shining forth, and the removal of the baroque altarpiece frame, thereby revealing the damage to the fresco panels on the back wall. For a photo of the chapel before this work see below.
The altarpiece here, the Madonna del Carmine (also known as the Madonna del Popolo) is the earliest of such MaestÓ painted for churches in Florence and is one of very few remaining in a church and not removed to a museum. It was painted for the original church around 1270, probably for the high altar, but was in this chapel by 1460, having been moved here when the chapel was renamed in its honour following the exile of Felice Brancacci. It is possibly the work of Coppo di Marcovaldo. But another theory says it was brought from Mount Carmel, where the Carmelite order was said to have been founded.
Feast day performances
Many churches in Florence were famous for putting on, often spectacular, performances on particular feast days, involving hoists, machinery and fireworks. Here it was the Ascension, enacted by the Compagnia di Sant'Agnese, which saw a Christ figure rising with the help of ropes and pulleys. He would ascend from a 'mountain' on the rood screen diagonally to 'heaven', situated over the Cappella Maggiore. This festa was performed here from at least the 1390s to 1497.
The church 9.00 -12.00, 4.30- 6.00
Oltrarno :: Fiesole