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 Essential Architecture-  Florence

Church of San Spirito


Filippo Brunelleschi


Florence, Italy


1434 to 1482


Italian Rennaisance


masonry Cross plan 


  Interior of the basilica.
  Giovanni Stradano (1523-1605) Festa popolare in Piazza Santo Spirito

The Church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito ("St. Mary of the Holy Spirit") is one of the main basilica churches in Florence, Italy. Usually referred to simply as Santo Spirito, is located in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name.

Main fašade.
Main fašade.

The church
The current church was constructed over the pre-existing ruins of an Augustinian convent from the 13th century, destroyed by a fire in 1471. Filippo Brunelleschi has began designs for the new building as early as 1444, as a basilica with a nave and two apses annexed to the convent. After his death in 1446, the works were carried on by his followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole e Salvi d'Andrea; the latter was also responsible of the construction of the cupola (1479-1481). The fašade actually constructed result rather different from that conceved by Brunelleschi, as well as the ceilings of the nave and the transept.

The church was completed at the end of the 15th century. Later, a Baroque baldachin with polychrome marbles was added by Giovanni Caccini and Gherardo Silvani (1599-1608) over the high altar. The church remained undecorated until the 18th century, when the walls were plastered. The inner fašade is by Salvi d'Andrea, and has still the original glass window with the Pentecoste designed by Pietro Perugino.

The bell tower (1503) was designed by Baccio d'Agnolo.

The church has 38 side chapels, which contain a noteworthy amount of artworks. The most significative is the Bini-Capponi Chapel, housing the St. Monica Establishing the Rule of the Augustinian Nuns painting by Francesco Botticini. The Corbinelli chapels works by Andrea Sansovino, Cosimo Rosselli and Donnino and Agnolo del Mazziere.

In the chapels of transept are frescoes by Filippino Lippi. Also in the transept is a choir from which the Frescobaldi Marquisses could participate to the rites without being seen by the crowd.

The sacristy, preceded by a monumental vestibule by Simone del Pollaiolo, was designed by Giuliano da Sangallo in 1489, and has an octagonal plan. It is home to a devotional painting by Alessandro Allori (1596) commissioned by Christine of Lorraine, Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici's wife.

Michelangelo's Crucifix.
Michelangelo's Crucifix.

Michelangelo's Crucifix
Michelangelo Buonarroti was guest of the convent when he was 17 y.o., after the death of his protector Lorenzo de' Medici. Here he could make anatomical studies on the corpses coming from the convent's hospital; in exchange, he sculpted a wooden crucifix which is placed over the high altar.

The cloisters and the Cenacolo
The convent had two cloisters, called Chiostro dei Morti and Chiostro Grande ("Cloister of the Dead" and "Grand Cloister"). The first takes its name from the great number of tombstone decorating its walls, and was built around 1600 by Alfonso Parigi. The latter was constructed in 1564-1569 by Bartolomeo Ammannati in a classicistic style.

In the former convent also survives the great room of the mess hall (Cenacolo di Santo Spirito), with a large fresco portraying the Crucifixion over a fragmentary Last Supper, both attributed to Andrea Orcagna (1360-1365). It is one of the rare examples of Late Gothic Art which can still be seen in Florence. The room also boasts a collection of sculptures from the 11th-15th centuries, including two low reliefs by Donatello, an high relief by Jacopo della Quercia (Madonna with Child) and two marble sculptures by Tino da Camaino (1320-1322).