The Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito, typically just called Santa Spirito, is on the other side of the Arno River and not too far from the Palazzo Pitti and the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. It makes a nice stopover if you are on that side of the river visiting the Brancacci Chapel.
We visited this church to see the architecture and a sculpture – both by great artists of the Renaissance. The church itself was designed in a Latin cross plan by Filippo Brunelleschi, the same architect that designed the dome of the Cathedral. Unlike his plan for the Church of San Lorenzo, this church was built after his death.
The interesting feature of the plan is that the side aisles go around the transept, rather than stopping at them. This was a bit odd for Brunelleschi, who usually preferred very clear interiors.
As we entered the church, we first noticed a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta in Rome. It is smaller than the original and was done by Nanni di Baccio Bigio in 1547.
The other reason we came to see this church was a crucifix that has been attributed to a young Michelangelo. We were not able to get close to it as it was guarded in the Sacristy on the left side of the church, but we were able to see it from a distance. There are records of Michelangelo completing a crucifix for the church as a thank you for giving him cadavers to dissect (his secret to really understanding the human body). Often those who died without money to be buried would be given to Michelangelo to study. Ironically, the wooden crucifix used to be on above the altar and disappeared only to later turn up stored in the attic! When visiting the town of Michelangelo, this is an important stop in learning about this great Renaissance sculptor, painter, and architect.
Open daily 9:30am – 12:30 Closed on Wednesdays.
Our class was dismissed from the front steps of the church, giving me some time to explore the market in the piazza in front of the church - the Spirito Santo Market.
Santo Spirito was founded in 1250 but received it present form in the 15th century, when it was built according to the design by Brunelleschi who had conceived it as a twin to San Lorenzo. The facade of the church was never finished , it is only a rough plastered wall. The dome was also designed by Brunelleschi, while the bell tower by Baccio d'Agnolo was added in 1503. The interior of the church, however, is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture. It is said that the Crucifix behind the high altar nay be an early work by Michelangelo. There are two fine cloisters in adjacent to the church, one of this built by Ammannati.
I’d come to Basilica di Santa Maria del Santo Spirito to see a crucifix executed by a very young Michelangelo when he was rooming in the attached convent’s hospital and allowed access to deceased patients for self-taught anatomy lessons. He carved the crucifix for the church’s high altar in thanks, and the photos I’d seen were of a slender Christ - very different than the muscular figures the 17 year-old artist would produce later - notable for the lack of a loincloth that was standard in most executions. But the thing had been moved to a side chapel which was inexplicably blocked to visitors so I had to settle for a wander through the rest of the church.
It is a pretty basilica, though; the great Brunelleschi’s 15th-century design was not completed before his death but carried out to the letter by successive architects, and has 38 chapels with paintings by a few notable Florentine masters such as Filippino Lippi and Cosimo Rosselli. The elephant in the room is a Baroque-era baldachin that is rather too large and interrupts the graceful flow of the original plan.
Open roughly 9:30-12:30 and 4:00 - 5:30. Free
On our way to the church of Santo Spirito, we found a really nice local market in the piazza in front of the church on the evening we were there. It looked more like a flea market and has reasonable prices; vendors were selling just about everything! It didn’t pack up until after dark, which by the time we arrived was quickly approaching.
The Santo Spirito market is held every day except Sunday for produce and clothes. Also, on the third Sunday of each month an organic food market is held; and every second Sunday of the month is an antique market from 0900-1900.
Because we were there at dusk and by the time we exited the church it was dark, the market was in the process of dismantling. However, during the bit of browsing we did have time for we saw some nice things for sale.
After seeing Masaccio’s work at the Brancacci Chapel this evening, I was excited to see his other famous and inspiring work at the Church of Santa Maria Novella, which we visited the next morning.
This is Brunelleschi's last work. this church has a very plain exterior which hides an extravagent interior. The church was redone by Bruneleschi in 1428 over the ruin sof a 13th century convent.