A Renaissance Gem In Need Of Restoration

The Pazzi Chapel is a landmark of architecture in the city that was once the cradle of the Italian Renaissance: Florence. Located in the Santa Croce church complex (the largest Franciscan church in the world), the chapel was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi - the goldsmith-turned-architect who dedicated his life to engineering the dome of Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore. It is "a prime example of 15th-century architectural decoration in grey pietra serena sandstone, colourful maiolica, and terracotta."

550 years have taken their toll on this structure and its decoration. Concern for the state of the loggia of the chapel is now so great that the non-profit institution in charge of the church’s administration - the Opera di Santa Croce - have raised 50% of the funds needed to carry out a restoration, set to begin in early 2015. They are now looking to crowdfunding to source the remaining half ($95,000) and, in so doing, are inviting people from around the world to become part of the 720-year-long history of Santa Croce.

The Pazzi Chapel, Santa Croce (Florence)

Pietra serena, the grey sandstone of which the chapel is built from is, by its very nature, vulnerable to both time and erosion. This has led to "extensive damage" of the open loggia. According to the Opera, "every effort has been made to preserve the loggia in the past." Recently, there have been two interventions to ensure safety in the area: restorers have removed decorative elements that were in danger of falling off, carefully numbering and diagramming them and putting them into storage. Before this, the entire chapel and the loggia were subject to a major restoration at the end of the 19th century.

They believe that the time has come to do a complete restoration that will involve careful cleaning (restorers will use cotton swabs and purified water for this, one centimeter at a time), re-integration of the removed parts, and final protection. They believe that "this intervention will be complete but also conservative – the building will not look new, nor out of place. But the loggia will be preserved for future generations in a condition that will permit us not only to admire its beauty, but to continue to study and understand the architecture and society of the Renaissance."

Brunelleschi's inner dome. Image © James Taylor-Foster

About the Pazzi Chapel

"The cloister, or courtyard, located to the right of the façade of Santa Croce, provides access to the communal spaces once used by friars that are now part of the Museum of Santa Croce. This area dates to after 1423, when a fire destroyed an earlier structure. In 1429, Andrea de’ Pazzi commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to build this chapel, which was to act as the chapter house, a meeting room for the friars. Brunelleschi died in 1446 and we are unsure exactly how much of the chapel was complete at that time. A number of artists are cited as having contributed to finishing the building, including Michelozzo, Rossellino, Giuliano da Maiano and Antonio Manetti Ciaccheri."

"The loggia is the arched structure in front of the chapel, open on three sides. The structure has six columns that create a large central opening and two side openings, reflecting the interior floor plan. The columns support a frieze of cherubim (winged angel heads). Above, the façade is divided into geometric shapes that have been interpreted as crosses, a reference to the Church of Santa Croce itself. Under the loggia, there are finely decorated vaults. Two barrel vaults are covered in high-relief sculpted rosettes in pietra serena, and the central dome’s underside is a floral maiolica explosion attributed to Luca della Robbia, with the Pazzi coat of arms at the centre."

"These decorations are the most visible object of this restoration; their age and media require them to be attended to by specialists who can carefully clean and conserve them. Beyond being a prime example of 15th-century architectural ornament, the authorship of the loggia is still a subject of debate by art historians, and the decoration is a major key to this mystery, making it ever more important to preserve it."

Support the Pazzi Chapel Kickstarter campaign here.

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About this author
Cite: James Taylor-Foster. "A Renaissance Gem In Need Of Restoration" 19 Nov 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/568854/a-renaissance-gem-in-need-of-complete-restoration> ISSN 0719-8884

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