The stunning Rucellai sepulchre 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:

CC BY 2.5view terms
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!

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