Cappelle Medicee

So, I always say this and the one time I say this, you will visit and say, “it’s packed,” because every time I have visited the Medici Chapel, there has never been a long queue, and I mean never. Why is this? I don’t know because behind the Chapel walls are some of the most beautiful treasures you are ever likely to see in your lifetime. You are queuing for no less than 10 minutes, usually in glorious sunshine but there is shade in the Piazza so if it’s too hot or starts raining you will be sheltered.

You enter through a very unassuming doorway from Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini (A mouthful, I know). €9 entrance fee for an adult, put your bag through the scanner, (Ladies & Gents make sure those shoulders are covered and shorts are presentable as the Museum officials are very serious and my wife and daughters have not been allowed into some churches for this very reason).

And boom, you are in, and in my humble opinion you are in one of the most beautiful spaces in the world. I do not know about you, but I am too excited to look at all the artefacts and relics on the ground floor, so I just want to head straight to the new sacristy and all things Michelangelo.

The entrance to the Crypt is cavern like with stone walls and obviously reinforced architectural design. The Crypt is the underground portion of the Chapel of the Princes, containing the bodies of the Medici grand dukes and their family. The Crypt also contains the wooden model of the chapel of the princes. To the right are the steps leading you to the main Chapel where all the Medici Princes are buried. When you walk up the stairs you are greeted by the most beautiful green marble scenery.

The Octagonal shaped Mausoleum houses the cenotaphs of the Grand Dukes (Cosimo I, Francesco I, Ferdinando I, Cosimo II, Ferdinando II, Cosimo III). The sarcophagi are large arks of porphyry and grey granite, on each of which rests a pillow with the grand ducal crown. Every niche was supposed to contain a sculpture but only two remain, that of Ferdinando I by Pietro Tacca and that of Cosimo II by Pietro and Ferdinando Tacca.

In the Cupola (pictured at top), Pietro Benvenuti painted figures and episodes from Genesis and the New Testament. The Gold is highlighted by the light from the windows and it compliments the green marble perfectly. The Altar is the a 1937 reconstruction with Panels in semiprecious stones from various periods. There are a few chairs around the chapel that you can sit in and enjoy the spectacle or indeed say a prayer. It is worth noting the room is nice and cool with so much marble and a welcome oasis from the Florentine heat.

Just a note at the back of the Altar are rooms with some beautiful relics if you are interested in fact, they are well worth seeing.

Staff, Hat, and Relics to be found at back of main Chapel.

So, I cannot wait any longer, I have to go the New Sacristy (Heart skips a beat even when writing it down). It is well sign posted just through a few small corridors and as you walk in the first thing that hits you is the light and the White. It is important to remember it is a chapel and I have always found people are so respectful to observe as much silence as is possible. The perfectly shaped Dome in the centre of the Chapel and the soaring ceilings and windows scattered throughout. I am always struck by the fact that at night-time a single priest would say mass alone in the Chapel praying solely for Lorenzo the Magnificent, His brother Giuliano, the Duke of Nemours, and the duke of Urbino, that’s right an entire mass for four people.

The Dome of The New Sacristy.

Michelangelo, initially considered a single funerary monument in the middle of the room, but later decided on the solution of the wall tombs. The monuments to Lorenzo and Giuliano are flanked by the statues of Dawn and Dusk, and Night and Day, whose mighty weights seems

The tomb of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, (1478-1516), he was the brother to Pope Leo X, and he is portrayed by Michelangelo as a military captain holding a staff of Command. On the Volutes of the Sarcophagus lie the reclining statues of Day (right) and Night (left), which recall the inexorable passing of time. Day is portrayed as a powerfully built man with an unfinished face. Night is a young, sleeping woman with a smooth sleek body drenched in Lunar Light.

Tomb of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours

Directly behind facing one another is the Tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino sculpted by Michelangelo. He was the nephew of Pope Leo X, during his last years in Florence between 1531 and 1532. The prince is portrayed immersed in thought, and his pensive temperament is in line with the Allegories of time placed at either side of his sarcophagus. Dawn seems to be waking from the torpor of sleep, while Dusk, in the abandon of painful inertia, seems to be about to fall asleep.

Tomb of Lorenzo, duke of Urbino

The Sepulchre with the mortal remains of Lorenzo the magnificent (died in 1492) and of his brother Giuliano (killed during the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478) is surmounted by three sculptures. The one in the middle is the Madonna and Child, an autograph work by Michelangelo in 1521. On the left is saint Cosmas by Giovan Angelo da Montorsoli while on the right is Saint Damian by Rafaello da Montelupo. Vasari had the sculptures placed there in 1554.

Lorenzo the magnificent and his brother Giuliano’s tomb

On the sixteenth century altar of the sacristy stand two monumental candelabra designed by Michelangelo but made later. The one on the right was made by Silvio Cosini in the sixteenth century, while the one on the left dates to the eighteenth century and is the work of Girolamo Ticcciati. The altar decoration is completed by a bronze crucifix of fine workmanship, attributed to Giambologna, and four seventeenth-century brass candlesticks.

The Altar in the new sacristy

Behind the Altar it gives you a bird’s eye view of what that single priest would have seen as he prayed there every evening and the splendours of the new sacristy. In 1975 they discovered forty-seven sketches and studies by Michelangelo under two layers of white paint.

Sketches discovered in 1975.

So, I spend a lot of time contemplating and relaxing at the back of the altar, there is a pew. I spend more time there than I usually do in any church chapel or museum because it overwhelms me. There are no crowds waiting for me to vacate the seat and you can simply take a breath. I always remind myself Michelangelo walked and worked in this very Chapel that I am sitting in now.

I was born in a council estate, and we did not have much. I am a tradesman who has worked hard physically and manually all my life, but I have one passion and that is Art. From the age of seventeen I dreamt of seeing the Medici chapel after reading about the Medici and Michelangelo and Irving Stones Agony and the Ecstasy. This chapel was built for Princes of the Medici family, and here I am too….

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Alan O’Neill

Alan is an avid Art Gallery visitor here in Europe. I would think I have visited approximately 33 Art related galleries(churches with works of Art also) in Europe. He has a bucket list of approximately 14 left to visit (obviously there's always more).