This edifice, which was erected in 1294, by Arnolpho Lapo, offers, in its interior, specimens of the earliest manner, on the first revival of the arts, mingled with portions of the most finished order of the Grecian architecture. The space is divided into three aisles, formed by acute Gothic arches; the pilasters and supporting columns are of the rudest work; while the side-chapels, which, contrary to the usual custom, are not enclosed, but spread out like arched doors upon the walls, were re-built in the sixteenth century, and at that period marked the progress of the arts. The light, dimly penetrating through high narrow windows of painted glass, strikes obliquely against the walls and pillars, leaving a long and dark void below, gloomy and dim, but yet not unpropitious to the grandeur of general effect. The chief sources of interest in this church arise from its paintings and monuments; it may be styled a national depository, sacred to the memory of celebrated men.
Among these there are a few paintings of consider-able merit; as also monuments; and some noble works in sculpture. I shall merely mention a very few of the paintings most worthy of notice, and then, in the same cursory manner, take a survey of the monumental and sculptured objects.
The Crucifixion, by Santo di Fito, is very fine; the drawing good, the style full and broad, and the draperies grand.
The Deposition from the Cross, by Cigoli. Our Saviour received into the arms of our Heavenly Father, attended by angels. The composition is simple, touching, and beautiful, the execution masterly, and the colouring pleasing.
The Martyrdom of San Lorenzo, by Ligozzi; a noble picture, of much character and action.
The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, by Allori; also a most superb painting, although the composition is somewhat injured by the crowding of the figures in the foreground.
A picture, by Cigoli, of God the Father, attended by St John and St Mark; simple and beautiful in its characters; but the colours, though fine, are too much in the manner of Giotto, laid quite flat, on a blue and yellow ground.
Bronzino’s Liberation of Souls from limbo. This painting has obtained a name, and is generally mentioned with distinction; an advantage, however, which, I should be inclined to believe, arises chiefly from its imposing bulk. Our Saviour is represented with Adam, Eve, and Isaac and the fore-ground is filled by Rebecca, and other members of Isaac’s family. The countenances of the females are portraits, and extremely beautiful; but this, in my opinion, forms the sole attraction of the picture. The figure of our Saviour is ill drawn, and the forms are without dignity; while the personages who occupy the space on the other side, are formal, large, and heavy. The whole manner, tone, and colouring, is tame and flat.
I shall conclude this short list, chosen from among the number of paintings contained in this church, with the designs in fresco of the ceiling in the Chapel dei Ricardi, which are exquisite, especially some small designs, representing our Saviour’s sufferings and crucifixion, singularly beautiful, and executed with the most touching simplicity, which, though found here, on the ceiling of a small side-chapel, are yet worthy to adorn a royal cabinet.
Among the monumental works, I would particularly distinguish the tomb of Machiavelli, as a noble specimen of the antique style, and a most simple and chaste composition. A statue, representing the combined character of the historian and politician, reclines on his sarcophagus. The whole is after a design of Innocenzio Spinozzi.
The sepulchre of the poet Marzuppini, by Desiderio Settignano, is beautiful, the taste and workmanship exquisite, as well as the figure supposed to represent the poet himself, which reposes on the sarcophagus.
The monument of Alfieri, by Canova. This is a work claiming particular attention, not only from the feelings excited by the memory of him to whom it is sacred, but also from the interest inspired by a display of the talents of a living artist.
The effect and composition of this work are brilliant. I cannot, however, entirely approve of the manner, which, in my opinion, wants simplicity. Instead of a fine antique square sarcophagus, the whole is in oval forms, one curve rising above another; while the figure of weeping Italy is bulky, and yet wanting in grandeur.
The sepulchre of Michael Angelo is a grand piece of sculpture. His bust, the work of B. Lorenzi, is finely executed, and esteemed a perfect resemblance of the artist. The three mourning figures, representing the sister arts, are the work of his disciples.
Of the great names among the remains deposited in this church, that of Galileo bears a distinguished place.
This great man, though late, yet at length obtained the honours due to his high talents. This tomb was erected by the gratitude and respect of one of his pupils, and the whole accomplished at the private expense of a noble Florentine family. His bust is placed on the sarcophagus, which is supported by two figures, representing the sciences of astronomy and geometry.
Among these monuments there is none more deserving of notice than the sepulchre of Leonardo Bruni, a noble Florentine, by Bernardo Rossillini; the whole composition and manner being in the finest antique style.
I am also led to mention a sculpture in the chapel styled dei Cavalcanti. We find here two figures representing the Annunciation, executed in vitrified earth, by Donatello; as also the Crucifixion, in wood, by the same artist. This last was the first distinguished work by which his talents were made known. We have an interesting account of this fact in his life, where we learn that, in order to surprise Brunelleschi, he pursued his labour in secret, and when it was finished, he asked him carelessly to step in, as he was passing by, to survey his works, when he offered this specimen to his view. On beholding it, Brunelleschi uttered an exclamation of surprise and delight, that thrilled the heart of the artist. This warm, honest, and simple expression of admiration, being the more admirable in Brunelleschi, as the idea of the work had been originally conceived by Donatello, with the avowed intention of surpassing a de-sign of his on the same subject.
In the Chapel dei Nicolini, we find five statues in marble, the work of Francavilla, well deserving of notice. These represent Aaron, Moses, Grudence, Humility, and Chastity. Aaron is a noble work, and grandly designed. He is represented in a meditating posture, fine as the Lorenzo of Michael Angelo, and exquisitely rich in every part of the drapery. Moses is also fine, although inferior to Aaron; the beard, especially, is caricatured, falling in voluminous rolls to his girdle, so as to produce something of a grotesque effect. The personification of Grudence has considerable merit; the hands (and it is perhaps allowable) are rather large and strong; but the composition, on the whole, is good.
The figure of Humility is very beautiful and well imagined, the countenance mild, and the forms and contour have a gentle and pleasing expression.
The fresco paintings of the ceiling of this chapel are well worthy of notice; they are by Volerrano. He has filled the circles between the windows with the four Sibyls, executed in a noble style-great prophetic forms, in the richest tones of colouring.