The Basilica of San Lorenzo is considered a milestone in the development of Renaissance architecture. The basilca has a complicated building history. The project was begun around 1419, under direction of Filippo Brunelleschi, Lack of funding slowed the construction and forced changes to the original design. By the early 1440s, only the sacristy (now called the Old Sacristy) had been worked on as it was being paid for by the Medici.
In 1442, the Medici stepped in to take over financial responsibility of the church as well. Brunelleschi died in 1446, however, and the job was handed either to Antonio Manetti or to Michelozzo; scholars are not certain. Though the building was “completed” in 1459 in time for a visit to Florence by Pius II, the chapels along the right-hand aisles were still being built in the 1480s and 1490s.
By the time the building was done, aspects of its layout and detailing no longer corresponded to the original plan. The principal difference is that Brunelleschi had envisioned the chapels along the side aisles to be deeper, and to be much like the chapels in the transept, the only part of the building that is known to have been completed to Brunelleschi’s design.
The most celebrated and grandest part of San Lorenzo are the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) in the apse. The Medici were still paying for it when the last member of the family, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, died in 1743. Almost fifty lesser members of the family are buried in the crypt. The final design (1603–1604) was by Bernardo Buontalenti, based on models of Alessandro Pieroni and Matteo Nigetti. Above is the Cappella dei Principi(Chapel of the Princes), a great but awkwardly domed octagonal hall where the grand dukes themselves are buried.
The style shows Mannerist eccentricities in its unusual shape, broken cornices, and asymmetrically sized windows. In the interior, the ambitious decoration with colored marbles overwhelms the attempts at novel design (Wittkower, R. p. 126). At its centre was supposed to be the Holy Sepulchre itself, although attempts to buy and then steal it from Jerusalem failed.
For more information on the work of Filippo Brunelleschi click here.
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