The stunning Rucellai tomb in Florence

This little visited tomb within the Rucellai Chapel in Florence is a jaw dropping treasure for any student of Renaissance art.

The chapel is a section of a former Florentine church, San Pancrazio, that was deconsecrated and turned into a marvelous home for the Marino Marini collection. I’ll be writing a post about Marini Museum soon.

To see the chapel and tomb, you enter through the main doors of the Marini museum. You purchase a ticket and go left to view an excellent 10 minute video about the tomb and its maker, Alberti. After that, you get to behold this stunning work of art.

Below is the back of the tomb, which is the first thing you see nowadays when you enter the chapel from the museum:

Below is the front of the tomb. Notice the small door that leads into the mausoleum itself on the left side.

What I hadn’t known until yesterday when I visited this marvel for the first time ever (why did it take me so long? it’s been on my list of things to see for decades!) is that the wooden door is actually pierced with openings and so it is possible to see inside the tomb. The inner walls and vault of the sepulchre are entirely frescoed, work that one author has attributed to Giovanni da Piamonte.

The interior is hard to photograph with the door closed, but I did my best. See the next 4 photos:

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File:Cappella del santo sepolcro,tempietto, interno 04.JPG
Created: 22 April 2009

The outside of the tomb itself is what I wanted to see. It didn’t disappoint.

Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai commissioned the noted theorist and Renaissance architect, Leon Battista Alberti, to design and build his own tomb in imitation of the Holy Sepulchre in the Anastasis in Jerusalem. The tomb was very well received by Giovanni Rucellai and he and members of his family are all buried within.

It was not surprising that Rucellai chose Alberti, for the architect had already designed the facade for the elegant Rucellai palazzo in Florence (1446–51), which is just a hop, skip and a jump from San Pancrazio. Rucellai also paid for the new facade for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1448–70, the commission for which he gave to Alberti. With its green and white marble inlay, the Santa Maria Novella church looks like the big brother to the tomb. Both the church facade and the tomb pay homage as well to the Florentine baptistry and the famous church of San Miniato al Monte.

Alberti’s work on the Rucellai Chapel and on the sepulchre within it probably began in about 1458; the origins of the chapel date to 1417, when the walls of the nave of San Pancrazio were built. According to the inscription above the door, the Sepulchre was completed in 1467.

The next photo shows the inscription on the tomb. Roughly translated, it says:”Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, in order that his salvation might be prayed for from where, through Christ, the resurrection of all was achieved, had this temple built in the shape of the tomb in Jerusalem [in] 1467″.

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File:Tempietto, formelle 01 (iscrizione).JPG
Created: 22 April 2009

The other inscription on the monument, that encircles to top, reads as follows:


Roughly translated, that reads as: “you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified; he rose, he is not here; this is the place where they put him”.

The amazing resource, Wikipedia, provides the following chart which clearly includes all of the many inlaid designs:

I took photos of some of my favorite patterns and here they are:

Once can’t always get up close to a work of art, but here you can and I enjoyed looking at every inch of the mausoleum. The carved pilasters glowed like alabaster (though they are the whitest marble).

Such elaborate capitals sit atop the pilasters.

To end, here are a couple of shots of the exterior of the former church of San Pancrazio. The lower section on the left houses the Rucellai chapel. As always, you’d never suspect, innocently strolling by this facade, that such wonders lie inside!

La Maremma, 2

As is the case with so many small Tuscan towns, each has its own distinctive decoration for the house numbers.

Let’s start with a little more discussion about the largest town in Maremma:

Grosseto is both a city and a only comune in the central Italian region of Tuscany, the capital of the Province of Grosseto. The city lies 9 miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the center of an alluvial plain on the Ombrone river. It is the most populous city in Maremma, with 82,284 inhabitants. There was once a marine gulf nearby, but by the 16th century, it had became a lagoon filled with marshes and cane thickets.

The towns from the Etruscan period such as Vetulonia and Roselle reveal the prosperity of the zone, a prosperity that continued under the Roman Empire.

Grosseto began to expand about 935, after the devastation Roselle experienced at the hands of the Saracens. The origins of Grosseto as we know it today can be traced back to the High Middle Ages. It was first mentioned in 803 as a fief of the Counts Aldobrandeschi.

Above: Palazzo Aldobrandeschi. Of medieval origins, it was almost entirely rebuilt in the early 19th century. It is now a Neo-Gothic edifice with ogival mullioned windows and merlons in the upper part of the walls. It houses the seat of the province of Grosseto. The architect was Lorenzo Porciatti.

Grosseto steadily grew in importance, until it was one of the principal Tuscan cities. Like many small city states in Italy, Grosseto would be beset by war with neighbors and foreign powers. In 1137, the city was besieged by German troops, led by Duke Heinrich X of Bavaria, sent by the emperor Lothair III.

In 1151, the citizens swore loyalty to the Republic of Siena, and in 1222 the Aldobrandeschi gave the Grossetani the right to have their own podestà, together with three councilors and consuls. In 1244, the city was reconquered by the Sienese, and its powers, together with all the Aldobrandeschi’s imperial privileges, were transferred to Siena by order of the imperial vicar. Thereafter Grosseto shared the fortunes of Siena. It became an important stronghold, and the fortress (rocca), the walls and bastions can still to be seen.

In 1266 and in 1355, Grosseto tried in vain to win freedom from the overlordship of Siena. While Guelph and Ghibelline parties struggled for control of that city, Umberto and Aldobrandino Aldobrandeschi tried to regain Grosseto for their family. The Sienese armies were, however, victorious, and in 1259 they named a podestà from their city.

But Grosseto gained its freedom and in the following year and fought alongside the Florentine forces in the critical and famous Battle of Montaperti.

Over the next 80 years Grosseto was again occupied, ravaged, excommunicated by Pope Clement IV, freed in a republic led by Maria Scozia Tolomei, besieged by emperor Louis IV and by the antipope Nicholas V in 1328, until it finally submitted again to its more powerful neighbor, Siena.

The pestilence of 1348 struck Grosseto hard and by 1369 its population had been reduced to some hundred families. Its territory, moreover, was frequently ravaged, notably in 1447 by Alfons V of Sicily and in 1455 by Jacopo Piccinino.

Sienese rule ended in 1559, when Charles V handed over the whole duchy to Cosimo I de Medici, first grand duke of Tuscany. In 1574 the construction of a line of defensive walls was begun, which are still well preserved today, composed of huge hexagonal ramparts. Cosimo I ordered the building of the walls in 1564, in order to replace those from the 12th-14th centuries, as part of his policy of making Grosseto a stronghold to protect his southern border. The design was by Baldassarre Lanci, and actual construction began in 1565. Until 1757, the exterior of the walls was surrounded by a ditch with an earthen moat. There were two main gates: Porta Nuova on the north and Porta Reale (now Porta Vecchia) on the south.

This area of the Maremma was also known as a swampy place, filled with malaria. Cosimo I began draining the swamps.

Above: Teatro degli Industri, located along via Mazzini, just beyond the palace of the Grand Hotel Bastiani but on the side facing toward the walls of Grosseto, it is an old building rebuilt in the 19th century. It is one of the main sites of the culture of Grosseto.

Grosseto, however, remained a minor town, with only 700 inhabitants at the beginning of the 18th century.

Under the rule of the House of Lorraine, Grosseto flourished. It was given the title of capital of the new Maremma province.

Below: Palazzo Tognetti, an Art Nouveau style building located at an angle along Corso Carducci just before Piazza Socci.

La Maremma, part 1. Grosseto

I’m very fortunate that in my adult life I have had the privilege of getting to know Italy pretty well. One region I had not yet visited, however, was Maremma. I’m happy to say, that changed this week! I had the opportunity to visit the city of Grosseto as well as the beautiful coastline of the region.

Today’s post will cover my visit to the interesting town of Grosseto. I was able to walk around inside the walls that the Medici dukes built, and pay a visit each to the duomo and the excellent archaeology museum. Grosseto was founded by the Etruscans, and they left a lot of evidence behind, as did the Roman Empire Romans. Both are well-covered in the museum.

First, a few words about Maremma:

The Maremma (/məˈrɛmə/, Italian: [maˈremma]; from Latin maritima, “maritime [land]”) is a coastal area of western central Italy, bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. It includes much of south-western Tuscany and part of northern Lazio. It was formerly mostly marshland, often malarial, but was drained by order of Fernando I de’ Medici.

It was traditionally populated by the butteri, mounted cattle herders who rode horses fitted with one of two distinctive styles of saddle, the scafarda and the bardella.

Let’s start by looking at the interesting duomo of Gorsseto. Il Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, or the Duomo di Grosseto, is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the cathedral of the diocese of Grosseto and is dedicated to Saint Lawrence.

The brown and white striped facade is a late addition. Nevertheless, it is a striking feature of the lovely Piazza Dante.
Although the duomo campanile is almost completely rebuilt, the lower section still exists, with many medieval carvings. The plaque refers to the round window above it and states that in Rome the dome of St. Peter’s is illuminated by the sun at 12:00 p.m., while the bell tower of the Grosseto cathedral is illuminated at 11:54.39 a.m., or just before Rome!

Inside the duomo:

A close inspection of the brown and white marble piers revealed they are faced with wood that’s been painted to look like white and brown marbles. A column in a back corner of the church was original and was striped in the same manner, so that is obviously the source for the later renovated designs (including the facade).

The Romanesque cathedral, the main monument of the city, is named for its patron St. Lawrence, and was begun at the end of the 13th century, by architect Sozzo Rustichini of Siena. Erected over the earlier church of Santa Maria Assunta, it was only finished in the 15th century (mainly due to the continuing struggles against Siena).

The façade of alternate layers of white and dark brown marble is Romanesque in style, but is almost entirely the result of 16th century and 1816–1855 restorations: it retains some decorative parts of the original buildings, including Evangelists’ symbols. The layout consists of a Latin cross, with transept and apse. The interior has a nave with two aisles, separated by cruciform pilasters. The main artworks are a wondrously carved baptismal font from 1470–1474 and the Madonna delle Grazie by Matteo di Giovanni (1470).

The campanile (bell tower) was finished in 1402, and restored in 1911.

Construction on the Grosseto duomo began at the end of the 13th century, under the architect Sozzo Rustichini of Siena. Erected over the earlier church of Santa Maria Assunta, it was not finished until the 15th century (mainly because of the continuing wars against Siena).

The façade of alternate layers of white and black marble is Romanesque in style, but is almost entirely the result of restorations in the 16th century and in 1816–1855; it retains decorative parts of the original buildings, including the symbols of the Evangelists. The groundplan is a Latin cross, with transept and apse. The interior has a nave with two aisles, separated by cruciform pilasters. The main artworks are a wondrously carved baptismal font from 1470–1474 and the Madonna delle Grazie by Matteo di Giovanni (1470).

The campanile (bell tower) was finished in 1402, and restored in 1911.

Confessionals are always a big part of the furniture in Italy’s Catholic churches. Usually they are wooden, and sometime very elaborate carved. The duomo in Grosseto had many confessionals but they were interestingly all made of stone as above. I don’t recall ever seeing that before.
There’s a sundial and original Gothic style tracery around the windows and over the pilasters.
Next to the church is the town hall of Grosseto.

The Marino Marini Museum, Florence

Florence is so rich culturally speaking that it is almost impossible to wrap your mind around it. The Marino Marini museum is a modern gem in that cultural heritage.

Located within the deconsecrated church of San Pancrazio, which was built in the early Christian age, and documented from 931. According to the famous historian, Giovanni Villani, the church was founded by Charlemagne. Its adjoining monastery was created in 1157. The church was restored and enlarged from the 14th century. The church was modified in the 18th and 19th centuries. From 1808, it was the seat of the city’s lottery, then a tribunal, and then a tobacco factory.

San Pancrazio was transformed in the 1980s by architects Lorenzo Papi and Bruno Sacchi, who renovated the building in line with their “dynamic” reading of the works of Marini, creating a dialogue between historical and contemporary materials. The building is as notable for its successful marriage of contemporary and ancient architecture as it is for its collection.

Marino Marini (1901–1980) was one of the most important Italian artists of the twentieth century, especially as a sculptor. He was born in Pistoia, and studied art in nearby Florence, before moving to Monza as a teacher and finally arriving at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan. In the 1920s, he spent time in Paris, meeting such artists as Picasso, Maillol, and Braque. In the 1940s, he left Italy for Switzerland. When the war ended, marino returned to Milan, he reopened his studio and resumed his teaching.