It is a beautiful church, of the finest proportions and richest architecture. It consists of a nave only, and is of a long form, in the manner of a cross, with superb pilasters of the finest marble, and gilded capitals of the Corinthian order, supporting a heavy cornice. The side chapels are arched towards the church, the prospect being terminated by a view of the high altar, seated in the great dome, and round which smaller chapels, bearing the same character of arches and of Corinthian pilasters, form a semicircle. The organ galleries, composed of beautiful white marble, are situated opposite to each other at the end next to the transept; fluted columns, with enriched Ionic capitals, support the tresses which carry each organ gallery, and those form a slight projection over the plane of the church with fine effect.
The forms of the interior of this edifice, with the style and manner of the decoration with which it is embellished, are in the most correct keeping; rich in varied marbles, in architecture, in statuary, in painting, as also in its chapels and its noble dome. The whole coup d’oeil is superb, yet the magnificence is without gaudiness, as the high finish which distinguishes every portion is without littleness.
Near the entrance of the church, we find the gloomy but highly ornamented antique chapel of the family Dei Gucci, styled San Sebastiano. The picture of this saint giving the name to the chapel, is by Pollagiola. He is represented bound to a post, and shot at by cross-bows, surrounded by figures in various attitudes. This work is generally mentioned with approbation, yet the whole manner is hard, and the colouring cold.
Gassing from this fine antique chapel, you enter into a Cortile, or Cloister, adorned by many superb paintings. There are especially three very fine pieces by Andrea del Sarta. The first is a touching representation of two little children, one lying dead and the other half raised, recovered by touching the cloak of Saint Ghilip. In the second picture, the same saint is supposed to have called down lightning from Heaven on some passengers who had returned his admonitions by blaspheming; a tree seen scathed and torn, some figures flying in terror, while two are lying stretched in death. The drawing of one of these, in particular, is very good. The third picture still represents St Ghilip, here delivering a young girl from evil spirits.
On the other side of the cloister there are also three paintings of superior merit. The first is the Espousals of the Madonna, by Francabajo; the second, the Ascension, by Rosso; and the third, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, by Gontorno. This last is the most entire, the finest of the three, and most superb in composition and drawing. Gassing from this into a second cloister, you find some exquisite specimens of fresco painting, presenting an opportunity of judging of the whole power and beauty of which this style is susceptible. One, in particular, is a production in the highest style of excellence. It is a painting which has been much admired by Michael Angelo and Titian, the Holy Family, by Andrea del Sarto, called Madonna del Saco. The form of the Virgin is round and full, yet most youthful, her countenance beautiful, and the drapery rich and in quiet colouring. Joseph, who is drawn much in shade, is seen in the back ground, sitting on a sack, from which the name of the painting is taken; his beard and harder features contrasting in fine effect with the soft loveliness of the Madonna. The whole composition combines with fine drawing and chaste colouring, the most touching simplicity.
Some paintings by Guccetti, as also by Rossi, are like-wise very good. The fresco paintings of these cloisters are in a style of excellence that renders them a school worthy of the attention of the first masters. The compositions are in general fine, the drawings broad, full, and true to nature, and the colouring exquisitely rich, yet not gaudy. The invention displayed in the designs the varied beauty of the female formsthe gentle bendings and fine roundings of the limbs–with the richness and fulness of the draperies, are truly astonishing; we find, among other subjects, grand and solemn scenes of dying priests, with mourning brethren, meetings of the faithful, penitents received and pardoned, extreme unction administered, or groups of monks and holy men persecuted and sorrowful.
Leaving these cloisters, and returning to the church, you enter, on the left hand, a superb chapel of white marble, in rich Corinthian architecture, after a design by Michaelozzo, the grand altar of which is of solid silver, with a beautiful bronze railing; but the whole is rather deficient in simplicity. Within this there is a small chapel, or oratory, composed of the finest marble, with the most delicate workmanship, and an object of interest, at least from the consideration that such things will never be wrought again. The second chapel, called Dei Ferroni, is also very beautiful and rich in sculpture. The figures of St Domenico and St Frances, by Marcellini, have considerable merit, and if, instead of being grouped as they now are, they had stood solitary, and only dimly seen, with the light streaming from above, they would have produced a great effect. In the third chapel there is a picture of the Last Judgment, by Allori, which is held in high estimation. But yet the figures are without action, the faces without expression, and the colouring flat and tame. In the fourth chapel, we find a painting representing the Crucifixion, by Stradone, also much praised, but more deservedly, the composition of this being very fine. The figure of our Saviour is powerfully drawn, while the melancholy, pale, resigned countenance of Mary, who stands with clasped hands at the foot of the cross, has a character of the most touching sorrow. The design, however, is in some degree injured from the crosses of the thieves being placed too near to that of our Saviour, which lessens the solemn dignity of the scene. In the ceiling of the transept of the fifth chapel there is some beautiful painting in fresco by Volterano. The sixth, erected after a design of John of Bologna, is a specimen of beautiful and simple architecture, the columns and friezes are in exquisite proportions, and finely enriched with many small basso relievos in bronze, and with paintings and pieces of sculpture of great merit. The Resurrection, by Ligozzi, forming one of the paintings of the altar-pieces, is very fine. The ceiling in fresco, is also good. Of the works in sculpture, the small statues of three feet and a half are well executed. In the seventh, there is a very fine painting, representing the Blessed, by A. Nannetti. In the eighth, a much celebrated painting, by Passagnano, of our Saviour curing the blind. This is truly a dignified, beautiful, and simple composition. In the ninth chapel, an admirable picture, by Donnini, representing the Virgin and Child, with four other figures.
We find, in the chapel of the Gucci, a very fine votive picture by Lepari, being a portrait of himself, the subject of which is rather singular,in gratitude for the cure of a wounded leg, he is represented with that limb bound up; but, in spite of this strange conceit, it is a work of great merit. There is likewise to be seen here the celebrated picture, by Empoli, representing the Virgin at the feet of St Nicolo and other holy men. It is painted on yellow ground, after the barbarous manner of Gerrugino, but is, notwithstanding, a masterly piece, the drawing is broad and full, and the grouping fine.
Among the works in sculpture in this church, there is one by Bandinelli of considerable merit, and which I am the more willing to praise, having had occasion more than once to censure the chisel of this artist.
The marble in question marks his tomb, which is in the chapel bearing his name, and represents our Saviour taken down from the cross, and supported in the arms and against the knee of Nicodemus. The forms of our Saviour’s body are full, round, and fleshy, with much grandeur of manner and style, and without any affectation of anatomy, excepting one stroke, (which, however, is very conspicuous, and consequently injurious,) in the left biceps, which is too rigid. There is also an error in the composition, which greatly lessens the dignity of the whole; the figure of Nicodemus is too small, bearing no proportion to the form of our Saviour; this has the united bad effect of giving an appearance of too great bulk to the body of our Saviour, and consequent feebleness to the sustaining figure. Nicodemus, a well-bearded, square, and rather vulgar personage, is Bandinelli’s portrait of himself. Here (says the inscription under the figure of our Saviour) lie the body of Bandinelli, and Giacoba Doria, his wife. He has placed four hideous skulls on the sarcophagus. I have always regarded such quaint, and yet melancholy mementos of dissolution, as remains of barbarism, and unworthy of that good taste and feeling which we expect in a great artist.
There are two fine ornaments in white marble, covering the remains of two holy men, placed in the opening of the circle of the great choir, on each of which, a figure, in the costume of a bishop, lies recumbent, finely executed, and producing a rich effect. Also, in the opening of the circle to the great Duomo, we find two sculptured pieces of great merit; the one a statue of St Gaul, the other of St Peter, which last, in particular, is of great excellence. The forms are fine, the position of the head noble, with much of grandeur in the manner and action of the whole. He holds the key in his right hand, with which he touches the Book of Truth placed in his left, as if in appeal to its sacred authority.
The dome of this edifice was erected after a design of Alberti, the historian and poet, and the high altar from one by Da Vinci. The architecture and proportions of both are fine, as are the paintings of the cupola in fresco by Volterrano.