Florence is home to an endless number of marvels, easily comparable, if not superior, to those of any European capital. Of course, Fiorenza was also the home of the Renaissance.
One of the many gems of the city can be found in the Chapter House of the former convent of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, here is a rare example of Umbrian Renaissance in the heart of Florence, an incredible combination; in this room Perugino, who resided in Florence for about two years from 1493, when he married Chiara Fancelli, his muse for many works, and was also Raphael’s master, eventually decorated the main wall of the room with a famous fresco representing the Crucifixion of Christ, his workshop, in the same room worked on a fresco of Saint Bernard collecting the body of Christ from the Cross. Now the Chapter House is part of an ancient high school of Florence, guess not every school can boast a room with Renaissance frescoes.
This is by far the largest fresco work of the few Perugino ones in Florence, the other being the Last Supper, it was executed when the convent was still under the Cistercian order and was commissioned by the Pucci family (who are still around today, like many other Italian families). Sources provided in the Libro di Antonio Billi show that the date of the commission is 20 November 1493 and the recipient is Mastro Piero della Pieve a Chastello Perugino, signed by Dionigi and Giovanna Pucci, the payment for the completion of the work (55 ducats) occurred on 20 April 1496. In 1628 the convent of Santa Maddalena dei Pazzi was taken by enclosed nuns and the fresco was forgotten until 1867 when the nuns abandoned the convent and the fresco was rediscovered, causing a great interest among scholars. Today the chapter house belong to the Polo Museale Fiorentino, together with the Uffizi, the Bargello, the several Last Supper frescoes and many other treasures, it can be visited by accessing the Liceo Michelangelo (the school) through the main gate on Via della Colonna.
In the space where the east wall meets the Renaissance rib-vault of the Chapter House, Perugino set the scene of the Crucifixion, divided into three scenes by columns, the capitals are the original architectural ones, the central part of the columns are painted in a rather innovative game of perspective, creating an imaginary loggia. On the north wall is a smaller fresco portraying Saint Bernard in the act of collecting the body of Christ from the Cross. The two frescoes have a common background, appearing beyond the painted loggia, a rather idyllic Renaissance landscape of central Italian woods, hills and lakes, very common in Perugino’s works. In the central section is the Christ on the Cross, still undead and looking downwards, above him the sun shines through rose clouds, Mary Magdalene, patroness of the convent, is just below him, praying at his Lord in penitence. In the other two sections, from left to right are: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order, Our Lady, in a Renaissance emotion-less pose, this is no more Mary, this is now the Mother of Our Lord, on the other section are Saint John the Evangelist, together with Mary, always present at the Crucifixion and at his side Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order of which the Cistercians are part of. On the left, on the north wall is the Saint Bernard deposition from the Cross, that shows the incredible and profound mysticism of the Cistercian order. Despite the dramatic subject the scene appears rather serene, this was very much the case in Renaissance spirituality, a sense of peace pervades the fresco and this could certainly be the intention of the author; behold your God, your Lord, in transcendental peace and awe, a scene of death with a pathos revealing the resurrection - the fulfilment of God's mission, yet hidden in our hearts. Surely a great idea, perhaps the author wanted to create a peaceful atmosphere in the Chapter House, thinking of those canons arguing all day long! This great work is a monumental triptych of about the size of one of the many Last Supper frescoes of Florence, but being for the Chapter House instead of a Refectory, this theme was chosen. This is an incredibly rare example of a Perugino work, an Umbrian, here in Florence. It is quite important as a testimony that proves how good an artist he was to be called here in the cradle of the Renaissance. This is indeed one of Florence’s hidden gems.