My friends in Florence, Italy are up to something pretty special, and I’m using this month’s ArtSmart Roundtable to tell you about it. The theme for our roundtable is art and nature, and I’m taking you yet again to my favorite city, Florence, for a look at one of the city’s most interesting places, the Pazzi Chapel. Despite not being well known to tourists, this chapel is perhaps the best example of Renaissance architecture anywhere. It’s here that we see how art can reflect the harmony and order of nature and the universe.
People who visit Florence know that it’s the city of the Italian Renaissance. When walking around the city, visitors may come to believe that all the art they see is the Renaissance, leading to a misunderstanding of what the Renaissance really was. Certainly the most famous church in Florence is Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, and its dome is one of the greatest accomplishments of the Renaissance. But the front of the church, one of the city’s most prominent sights, is NOT about the Renaissance at all.
While the 19th-century facade of the Duomo is like the most overdone wedding cake you can imagine, the Pazzi Chapel is the culmination of Renaissance architect Brunelleschi’s vision of harmony and simplicity. For a student of Italian Renaissance art history, walking inside the Pazzi Chapel was one of the experiences of my education.
The Pazzi Chapel was begun in 1433 and was commissioned by the Pazzi family, a wealthy Florentine family who became rivals of the ruling Medici family. It sits in one of the cloisters of the church of Santa Croce.
The Renaissance was all about proportion and the going back to the geometric shapes from Classical Greece and Rome. The Pazzi Chapel shows Brunelleschi’s ultimate vision of Renaissance architecture in its use of geometry, with the repeated shapes of rectangles, squares, and circles, all laid out in perfect ratios.
There is very little color–just white stone and the gray of pietra serena (“serene stone”) and the decoration of circular medallions. Like the Pantheon in Rome, the Pazzi Chapel has an oculus, which makes a connection between the interior and exterior–both nature (the sky) and God.
The stripping down of a sacred space to simple elements in complete harmony allow for a feeling of peace and unity, and, as art historian Frederick Hartt states, “the sublime order of the cosmos.” This was a total contrast to Gothic architecture of Medieval cathedrals but perhaps gave the visitor a more intimate connection to the divine.
However, the Pazzi Chapel was not left completely alone; it was finished after Brunelleschi’s death, and an elaborately decorated loggia was added that contrasts with the simplicity of the chapel. It’s actually this loggia that is the center of a new campaign in Florence.
You see, the loggia is falling apart, and funds are being raised for its restoration through a crowdfunding campaign.
When I was last in Italy, I was quite surprised to hear of the severe lack of preservation of important monuments such as Pompeii, and it seems that this loggia is just another example. And now the power of social media and the Internet is being used to fund the restoration of a piece of the past.
The Opera di Santa Croce–with the help of the newspaper The Florentine and art historian Alexandra Korey (behind the blog ArtTrav, a personal favorite)–are aiming to raise $95,000 by December 19 to make this restoration a reality. They’re almost half way there, and by the way, there’s an array of rewards for donors to receive. For more information about the project, see the short video below.
Head on over to Kickstarter to donate, or consider sharing this post with the hashtag #CrazyforPazzi. I personally think a donation in a friend’s name would be a great holiday gift! 🙂
For this month’s other ArtSmart Roundtable posts about art and nature:
Reading Totem Poles & Their History in British Columbia from Wanderfull Traveler
A Vision of Nature: The Designs of William Morris from Daydream Tourist
AND YOU? Have you been to the Pazzi Chapel? Do you know of other historic monuments in dire need of restoration?