The second church I visited was San Lorenzo. Consecrated in 393, it is considered as the oldest church in Florence, and it was the Parish church for the Medicis.
The Medici Laurentian Library
I was there at The Medici Laurentian Library when they held an exhibition of the antique books from Cosmos I di Medici. Apparently, it houses one of Italy’s most important collection of antique books. I was not really there to look at the old books, but rather to admire the interiors designed by Michelangelo in the mannerist style. It is well worth the 3 euros extra in entrance fee when the library is open, and the library is only open to the public when there are special exhibits on.
Bronzino’s The Martyrdom of St. Lorenzo
In the church itself, there are many artworks on both sides of the church. At the very end of the north aisle, there is a Bronzino’s The Martyrdom of St. Lorenzo. My jaw dropped when I laid eyes on it. Male nudes on both sides, drawing your eyes in perfect symmetry and perspective to the top end of the painting. San Lorenzo lies on a barbeque pit in the center, with women and children in the foreground. Everyone looks either anguished or annoyed except for San Lorenzo, who is being grilled and being pretty nonchalant about it. Either he was happy to be heading to heaven, or he must have read some serious Marcus Aurelius and was a convinced stoic.
While I was there, an American stood in front of me, blocking the shot I wanted to take. He explained to his friend that Lorenzo was ordered to be grilled alive, and when he was half grilled on one side, he asked to be turned over to the other. Apparently, he is the patron saint of cooks, chefs, and comedians. I hope he is the patron of foodies too.
Santa Maria Novella
The next church I visited was Santa Maria Novella that houses some late Gothic and early Renaissance frescos.
The Spanish Chapel
The frescos in the Spanish Chapel, mostly painted by Andrea di Firenze, are simply stunning. Perhaps just a tad rigid in composition, it is filled with incredibly human portraits in fabulous colors. Filling up the walls and the ceiling, it was delightful to just swirl around to take in all that beauty. I tried to take a video with my gimbal doing that, but I was not very successful with it. The tourists around me were looking at me funny too. That would have been a fantastic video if it turned outright.
Chiostro Verde Frescoes
Recently restored, Uccello’s Chiostro Verde Frescoes were severely damaged during the 1966 flood in Florence. I saw this work, and I got a sense of how late Gothic might have evolved into the early Renaissance. But then I am no art historian. Unlike typical Renaissance painting in all its colors, this work has an almost modern monochromatic feel with its use of mainly greens and browns. It is lovelily restored and rather awe-inspiring.
The last church I visited is Santa Croce. Among the four, it is perhaps the most historical as many of the Italian past greats were buried here.
Head towards the front of the church, with all the tourists, to where the tombs are located. Here you find the monuments dedicated to Galileo, Michelangelo and Dante. I find the fact that you find three of them buried here pretty amazing.
Bronzino’s Descent of Christ into Limbo
Go to the back of the church towards the right where you find a small art collection. Among the art collection is the delectable work by Bronzino’s Descent of Christ into Limbo.
Vasari’s The Last Supper
Vasari’s The Last Supper was severely damaged in the 1966 flood. It was recently restored and placed back in Santa Croce in 2016. There is now in place a winch system. With the press of a button, the painting is lifted 20 meters which is high enough to avoid a similar flooding to that of 1966.
These four churches in Florence is worth a full day. I have, however, split it up into three short mornings. If you found yourself in Florence and you found that you have a day to spare, go visit these four churches. I found them thoroughly enjoyable, and I have became a real Bronzino fan. Maybe you will too!