Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A hidden gem: The Chapel of Eleonora of Toledo in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio.

Like most other places in Europe that have been centres of power in the past, Florence has two main buildings, now attractions: one that represents the Church Il Duomo and another that represents the secular authority Il Palazzo Vecchio, the latter is perhaps the most amazing civic building in the whole world, hosting an incredible number of works of art that couldn't possibly fit into one post. I have therefore decided to write about one of the smallest, yet, more charming hidden treasures of the whole building: the Chapel of Eleonora of Toledo.

Bronzino's portrait of Eleonora of Toledo in the Uffizi

She was the daughter of the Viceroy of Naples and in 1539 she married Cosimo I, the Duke of Florence and first Grand Duke of Tuscany. Perhaps a wedding gift, the chapel, designed by Del Tasso, was created from an extension of the Green Chamber of the Palazzo, the home of the Dukes at the time. The decoration of the chapel was executed by one of the greatest artists of the time, Agnolo Bronzino, the greatest artist who was in Pontormo's workshop. Florence was the leading artistic centre of the time and while Europe was still Gothic, the rest of Italy Renaissance, Florence was having the most refined expression of Mannerism and this chapel is one of the most stunning works in this style.

The frescoes celebrate the Medici dynasty through a unique iconographic scheme based on the theme of the Eucharist, which is Christ being the salvation of mankind. The ceiling evokes the Apocalypse, the central altarpiece represents the Deposition, and like in the Sistine Chapel, but this time on both walls, there are stories from the life of Moses, anticipating Christ's sacrifice. The deposition exalts the link between Old and New Testament and the Eucharistic theme.

The ceiling was the first part to be decorated, as it happens, between 1540 and 1541, in the centre is a representation of the Trinity, the Vultus Trinfons, with a coat of arms "Medici-Toledo", sadly almost-lost. The different parts of the ceiling are separated by festoons and cherubs: Saint John the Evangelist penitent at Patmos, Saint Michael triumphing over the Demon, Saint Francis receiving the stigmata,  Fra Leo and Saint Jerome in penitence. The pendentives are decorated with personifications of the virtues of Temperance, Justice, Strength and Prudence.

The walls are decorated with biblical episodes, in the centre is the altarpiece with the Deposition of Christ, around it are the two parts of the Annunciation: the Angel and Mary. In the upper part are David and Sybil Eritrea. 

The walls are decorated with the scenes from the life of Moses: 

Crossing of the Red Sea

Miracle of the Brazen Serpent

Gathering of the Manna

Miracle of the Spring

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