Monday, April 1, 2013

HIDDEN CHAPEL OF THE PAINTERS

Artists in the renaissance didn’t have their own guild as what they did wasn’t a profession; it was considered a menial trade and was not an organised body in society. However, it was necessary that they belonged to some type of economic organisation in order to pay dues, taxes etc. The goldsmiths belonged to the silk guild - arte della seta (the connection being that the silk merchants used gold thread) and the painters belonged to the apothecaries and spice merchants guild - arte dei medici e speziali (the painter’s pigments and apothecary’s ingredients were sometimes the same) but the stoneworkers and carpenters did have a guild - arte di Maestri di Pietra e Legname. Because of this lack of any sort of real representation on the whole, the artists (artisans) created, in 1339, the Compagnia di san Luca, a confraternity dedicated to Saint Luke, as a sort of anti-guild, their own club or society where they could converse, pray and the talk shop. Their patron saint was Luke, chosen because he was a colleague. Saint Luke the Evangelist was supposedly a painter.

The Compagnia di san Luca was given new life when in 1562 a sculptor, Giovannangelo Montorsoli, obtained a space in the cloisters of the much loved Santissima Annunziata monastery, to make a chapel for the artists and reignite the confraternity.


The current position of the altar since the early 1800s with a fresco of Saint Luke painting the Madonna by Giorgio Vasari

Montorsoli was a servite friar in the Santissima Annunziata church, this order founded by seven wealthy Florentines in the thirteenth century who called themselves the servants of Mary. Montorsoli had been hired by Michelangelo to help on the Medici tomb commission in the new sacristy in San Lorenzo church (he had worked on saint Cosmas). He renovated the chapel for the artists inside the church, paying for the work himself. The chapel was inaugurated in 1562, on the day dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in the presence of forty-eight artists, amongst whom were Benvenuto Cellini, Bartolomeo Ammannati, Giorgio Vasari, Francesco da San Gallo and Michele Ghirlandaio.  On the day of inauguration they ceremonially brought the remains of Jacopo Pontormo to the chapel (he had previously been in the cloister of the Madonna close by) and laid him to rest in the crypt below.

The marble floor tomb cover leading to the crypt where the artists rest in peace.

 Pontormo, who had lived close by and had worked on the atrium of the church Santissima Annunziata on the chiostrino dei voti during the second decade of the fifteenth century, was greatly revered by the artists in Florence. Pontormo is not the only one who is here, Cellini, Franciabigio and Montorsoli also. Legend has it that they are placed seated as if in conversation with one other.

The current altar has a fresco by Giorgio Vasari above, of Saint Luke painting the Virgin Mary (who looks as though she is giving him a few pointers on how she would like to be represented!) depicted in the photo above. This however, wasn’t the original placement of the altar. Initially, the entrance of the chapel was from the left wall upon entering and the Bronzino/Allori fresco of theTrinity (now on the right wall from the altar upon entering) was above the altar. 

Fresco of the Holy Trinity by Bronzino/Allori on the right hand side wall upon entering, the position of the original altar and this was the original altarpiece.

This initial entrance however was walled up and the current one from the chiostro dei morti was opened, when the chapel was given for use to the Bishop of Nancy during the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s. There is now a fresco by Pontormo Madonna with saints, on the walled up original entrance. This fresco came from the now destroyed church of Saint Ruffillo.

The fourth fresco (opposite the current altar) is by Santi di Tito of either Constantine oversees the construction of the first Christian basilicas (or, also thought to be The building of the temple of Solomon).

The Accademia del disegno was created two years after chapel’s inauguration, in 1564. This was the first Accademia of the arts formed in modern times. The creation of the academy meant that artisans had now become artists and no longer was the apprenticeship/workshop the only way to learn the ‘trade’, now students were trained formally like when learning the liberal arts.

The chapel of the painters is not available to the public.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this clear description of the chapel and brief history on how it came to be. it will be a valuable resource for my students. As a college art instructor is there a way to petition to view the chapel?
    Kind regards

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