Link to other Florence pages

Artists of the Italian Renaissance


 Ghirlandaio's Capella Sassetti (1482-85)

in SS Trinita (Firenze)


self portraits of Ghirlandaio


link to Florence Last Suppers by Ghirlandaio and others

link to Florence Restaurant listing



The bland facade of SS Trinita, which was slapped onto a much more attractive blind arcaded Romanesque job by an architect misnamed Buontalenti in 1593, opens into an equally undistinguished  looking and usually untouristed church.  The church backs onto old Vallombrosan monastery buildings which still house the office of the Abbot General of the now tiny Vallombrosan Order.


The church has several interesting works of art, but the piece de resistance is without doubt one of the finest and most complete remaining Renaissance chapels - Ghirlandaio's Capella Sassetti.  Take plenty of loose change with you to work the voracious light meters (unless like the Dom you are lucky enough to find a camera crew and lights already at work!).  Ghirlandaio was the numero uno of the visual biographers of Renaissance Florence - all the participants would have had real life identities (indeed have probably paid to be there), though sadly all but the most famous are now anonymous.  It is also great to see a chapel where the movable stuff - like the painting of the nativity scene, has not been flogged off to or stolen by a museum (worse still, a foreign one).





The Sassetti Chapel was frescoed between 1482 and 1485 by Domenico Ghirlandaio.  The restored chapel (in 2007 framed in full on scaffolding) is not only a gem, it is one of the only places of its type where significant components have not been disappeared ....... for example, the main altar painting for Ghirlandaio's Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella is now in Munich, whilst the rear panel is in Berlin.


Francesco Sassetti had become very wealthy over many years as the partner running the Medici Bank in Avignon and then Genoa.  He was later briefly Chairman of the bank in Florence.  To ensure that he was remembered appropriately here and in the next life he purchased the rights to decorate a chapel in Santa Maria Novella.  The idea foundered when the Dominican monks there discovered that the chapel was to be covered with frescoes about the life of their mortal rival Saint Francis.  Injunctions and writs flew, and eventually Francesco told them where they could put their chapel and decamped to SS Trinita where the Vallombrosans were only too glad to welcome anyone with lots of moolah and the Medici and Ghirlandaio in tow.


The cycle starts with the conversion of Saint Francis on the top left panel.  Other events follow, with, as one would expect from the leading narrative frescoist of the times, lots of fascinating detail about renaissance life and built environments (all from Tuscany - no room for Rome, Umbria etc in this environment - anyway, they all knew that Florence was the new Rome -  as evidenced by the granite monolith Column of Justice you can still see in the piazza opposite the church of SS Trinita itself, which came from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome).  In the bottom right hand scene, fellow friars gather round the body of their founder.


The donor and his wife Nera are shown bottom centre kneeling on either side of a oil painted nativity scene, and their sarcophagi are in the side walls behind them.




This photo and the one below were taken from "Ghirlandaio" by Andreas Quermann - an out of print Könemann book which is still around second hand. 

Domenico with his usual modesty has cast himself as shepherd number one opposite a drop dead gorgeous Mary,

with Joseph distracted by the clatter of the Magi and their retainers riding over to join in, and wondering what he has got himself into.  



The top centre panel theoretically shows Pope Honorius III handing over the scroll bearing the rule for the Franciscan Order to Saint Francis, in a Rome which bears a strange resemblance to Florence's Piazza della Signora.  This scene has been relegated into the middle ground to make way for a foreground group dominated by Francesco Sassetti and Lorenzo de'Medici - this now being about the only contemporaneous portrait of Il Magnifico still around.


Climbing up the stairs towards their dad (below) are Lorenzo's children Guiliano (front - later helper of Leo X with the title Duc de Nemours), Piero (known later as Piero the Fatuous) and lastly the blond Giovanni (known later as Pope Leo X).  They are led by Agnolo Poliziano, their tutor who was credited with saving Lorenzo's life in the Pazzi Conspiracy in 1487.


What is the symbolism of the stairs you ask?  Well, none is the correct answer.  They were the only way Ghirlandaio, who was having to frequently rework the geometry as more and more people were nominated for inclusion "in the tent", could fit in all the faces clearly!


In the central panel ("Resurrection of the Boy") there are lots of friends and associates of the Sassetti and Medici families, with the artist himself standing by the pillar on the right and looking "at the camera".

Incidentally, fresco cycles relating the life of Saint Francis and his contemporary and fellow Franciscan Saint Anthony easily outnumber lives of other saints and apostles frescoed around Italy, and you'll be hard put to find many of San Domenico!


Francis renounces his worldly goods (left hand side)


Francis on Crusade (the 5th one) - our man challenges Muslim counterparts to walk with him through fire as a test of faith (right hand top)


For other Paradoxplace links visit the home page


Latest Updates Site Map Travel Services Insight Pages Artists Cathedrals Abbeys France Spain Portugal Britain Italy Venice,  N Italy Tuscany Umbria Rome, Central Italy Sicily, South Italy Book Pages Middle Ages-1350 Renaissance-1600 Map Pages Information


All original material © Adrian Fletcher 2000-2015 -  may not be hotlinked, or reproduced without permission