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Filippo Brunelleschi

Pazzi Chapel

b. 1441
Basilica of Santa Croce
Florence, Italy

Site Description

Brunelleschi's design for the chapter house in the cloister of Santa Croce was part of an extensive scheme of rebuilding following a dormitory fire in 1423. Patronage was assumed in 1429 by Andrea di Guglielmo Pazzi (1372–1445), whose family tombs were to be located in a crypt beneath the altar room; the building, generally known as the Pazzi Chapel, was intended to emulate the Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo. It has many features in common with the Sacristy, including the character of the articulation, although the basic shape of the chamber is rectangular rather than square. There is, in fact, a square here, formed by the central bay of the building beneath a twelve-part umbrella dome, and it is flanked by narrow 'transeptal' bays marked off by Corinthian pilasters.

The dome is supported on pendentives with roundels, like that in the Sacristy, resulting in deep curves in the upper parts of the walls and narrow, coffered barrel vaults over the flanking bays. As at the Sacristy, the east wall is opened up in the centre to reveal a square altar room roofed by a frescoed dome and lit by a large stained-glass window in its far wall. The chapter hall itself is evenly lit by small round windows at the base of the dome, by its lantern-covered oculus and by four tall arched windows in the entrance wall; the latter are echoed in corresponding round-headed panels on the bays of the walls inside.

The decoration of the chapel was completed by Luca della Robbia. The twelve medallions depicting the classical figures of the Apostles in white on a blue background are well suited to the sober lines of the architecture and to the general two-colour scheme of the gray pietra serena on white walls and vaults. The decoration of the chapel was completed with the application of polychrome glazed terracotta representations of the four Evangelists in the pendentives of the cupola; it is debated whether they are the work of Luca, Brunelleschi, Donatello, or a sculptor from the workshop of Andrea della Robbia.

-Web Gallery of Art

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Artist Biography

Brunelleschi was one of the most famous of all architects - a Florentine hero on account of the celebrated dome (1420-36) he built for the city's cathedral - and one of the group of artists, including Alberti, Donatello, and Masaccio, who created the Renaissance style.

He trained as a goldsmith and was one of the artists defeated by another great goldsmith/sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti, in the competition (1401-02) for the new Baptistery doors for Florence Cathedral; both competition panels are in the Bargello. The disappointment of losing is said to have caused Brunelleschi to give up sculpture and turn to architecture, but one important sculptural work of later date is attributed to him - a painted wooden Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella (c. 1412).

In 1418 Brunelleschi received the commission to execute the dome of the unfinished Gothic Cathedral of Florence. The dome, a great innovation both artistically and technically, consists of two octagonal vaults, one inside the other. Its shape was dictated by its structural needs - one of the first examples of architectural functionalism. Brunelleschi made a design feature of the necessary eight ribs of the vault, carrying them over to the exterior of the dome, where they provide the framework for the dome's decorative elements, which also include architectural reliefs, circular windows, and a beautifully proportioned cupola. This was the first time that a dome created the same strong effect on the exterior as it did on the interior.

In other buildings, such as the Medici church of San Lorenzo and the foundling hospital called the Ospedale degli Innocenti, Brunelleschi devised an austere, geometric style inspired by the art of ancient Rome. Completely different from the emotional, elaborate Gothic mode that still prevailed in his time, Brunelleschi's style emphasized mathematical rigour in its use of straight lines, flat planes, and cubic spaces. This "wall architecture," with its flat facades, set the tone for many of the later buildings of the Florentine Renaissance.

Later in his career, notably in the unfinished Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (begun 1434), the basilica of Santo Spirito (begun 1436), and the Pazzi Chapel (begun c. 1441), he moved away from this linear, geometric style to a somewhat more sculptural, rhythmic style. In the first of these buildings, for instance, the interior was formed not by flat walls, but by massive niches opening from a central octagon. This style, with its expressive interplay of solids and voids, was the first step toward an architecture that led eventually to the baroque.

-Web Gallery of Art

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