The 'Capelle Medicee' are part of the Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze in Florence, Italy. The exterior of the chapel and the basilica are unprepossessing—the façade has never been completed. Inside, however, the beauty of both the basilica and the chapel is undeniable. The basilica is one of Florence's largest churches and is located at the heart of the city's largest market district.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze was consecrated in the year 393. For three hundred years was the city's cathedral, serving as the Florentine Bishop's seat and the central church of the diocese of Florence. The basilica was also the Medici family's parish church, one of the most powerful and influential families in Florence between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. No less than three Popes were members of the Medici family and several of Florence's rulers and members of English and French Royalty.
The Medici family is also famous for their cultural influences and are noted for having helped usher in the Italian Renaissance, a period of history in which art, music, and other cultural elements of society flourished. The history of Florence, the basilica, and the Medici family are therefore closely intertwined. The Medici Chapel (or Chapels) are a testament to the close nature of this relationship.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze interior is decorated in the Renaissance style—it is a vast space that is light, airy and cool, with an ornate ceiling and columns and lined with many chapels. The most well-known and richly-decorated of these is the Medici Chapel, located in the church's apse. Nearly fifty members of the Medici family are buried in the lower crypt, and in the octagonal domed hall called the Chapel of the Princes, the dukes of the family are buried.
The exterior of the Medeci Chapels
The chapel's construction began after the deaths of Guiliano and Lorenzo de'Medici, two young heirs of the family, in 1516 and 1519, respectively. Funerary monuments for the Medici Chapels were commissioned by Pope Clement VII (formerly Cardinal Cuilio de'Medici) in 1520. They were designed and constructed by one of the greatest Italian Renaissance artists, Michelangelo, between 1520 and 1534.
The twin marble sculptures of Day and Night and Dawn and Dusk are among Michelangelo's most famous works. These were constructed between 1520 and 1527. One sculpture sits atop curved based on each of the tombs of the young heirs—Day and Night on the tomb of Guiliano, and Dawn and Dusk on the tomb of Lorenzo. These allegorical sculptures were unique for the period in which they were constructed, and according to Michelangelo himself, they represent the inevitability of time and death. In-wall niches behind each tomb are sculptures representing the Medici heirs, portrayed as young soldiers. Other works of sculpture created and placed during this period include depictions of several saints and the altar of the basilica itself.
In 1527, work on the Medici Chapel was halted—Florence revolted against the Medici family, and Pope Clement fled. Interestingly, Michelangelo was the principal designer of fortifications and defensive structures erected at this time. The Medicis rule was re-established in 1530, and Michelangelo then returned to work on the chapels until 1534. Having been called upon by Pope Clement VII to paint The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo did not remain long enough to complete the work he had begun in the Medici Chapel, and at least one piece of sculpture depicting the Madonna remained incomplete.
The Medici Chapel is open to visitors from 8.30 am to 5 pm almost every day—the chapels are closed to visitors on the first and third Monday and the second and fourth Sunday of every month, as well as December 25 and January 1. As part of the Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze, they are easy to locate in the city center. Admission is between two and fifteen Euros depending on who you book your ticket with and whether you choose to take advantage of a guided tour.