The Pazzi Chapel, built on the grounds of the Franciscan Basilica of Santa Croce, was commissioned by Andrea de’ Pazzi to be the chapter house for the monks. While it was first commissioned in 1429, lack of funding prevented its construction until 1442; it was then completed in c. 1465. While most scholars attribute the design to Filippo Brunelleschi, there has been some debate, with some scholars suggesting that the architect was in fact Michelozzo (See Further Readings). However, both groups agree that the style of the building takes after Brunelleschi’s earlier designs for the Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo.
The Pazzi Chapel epitomizes the cerebral beauty of early Renaissance architecture. By making use of simplified shapes and a limited color palette, Brunelleschi created a sense of continual harmony throughout the structure. The layout is meant to evoke a sense of weightlessness in the observer by utilizing visual balance throughout the space. Additionally, the Pazzi Chapel was based on the description of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation (See Further Readings). The figurative narrative begins in the twelve-ribbed dome and its twelve circular windows. Here, the apostles are represented in the form of pure light. These windows reflect light off of the white stucco walls, creating a heaven-like realm that appears clear and pure, as described in Revelation. The round shapes in the upper portion of the chapel accent this since the circle was considered a heavenly shape. In the pendentives, the four evangelists are portrayed in polychrome terracotta. The top section of the chapel is then separated by a frieze that contains cherubim and lamb reliefs. These are suggestive of the seals of the heavenly book that John sees in his vision and of the lamb acting as the light in heaven. Underneath the frieze, the twelve apostles are also physically depicted in glazed terracotta roundels; here they act as the city's foundation. Underneath each apostle, there is a pietra serena (local gray stone) arch, which represents the twelve gates in New Jerusalem. Below all of this, a pietra serena bench goes along the perimeter of the structure. This is where the monks would sit to hold their meetings. This format serves as a visual for the continual Christian hierarchy, with Christ as the Lamb at the top, followed by the first apostles, and finally resting on the monks as they continue on the path their predecessors set before them. The transition to rectangular shapes in the space that the monks occupied emphasizes this hierarchy. The Pazzi Chapel embodies a true Renaissance building, where functionality meets innovative design and geometric precision combines with inspiration from antiquity to create a truly remarkable building.
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Filippo Brunelleschi (b. Florence, 1377; d. Florence, 1446) first established his career as a goldsmith, but in later years became a painter, sculptor, and architect. His background as a goldsmith and his acute study of classical art made him an accomplished sculptor. In spite of this, Brunelleschi lost a competition to create the panels for the Baptistery doors of the Florence Cathedral. After this loss, Brunelleschi vowed to never create another sculpture again and instead turned his focus to architecture. In the year 1418, he was commissioned for his most famous work, completing the dome for the Florence Cathedral. An architectural feat, the dome, comprised of eight vaults, still towers over the city of Florence. Since he was now an established architectural master, he was commissioned to design several other buildings, including the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital), the Medici church of San Lorenzo, and the Pazzi Chapel. In his designs, Brunelleschi combines his understanding of geometry with an artistic spatial awareness, which set the stage for many Renaissance architects after him. This attention to geometry also allowed Brunelleschi to rediscover linear perspective, a system that enables an artist to accurately portray depth on a flat surface. These accomplishments set up his legacy as one of the great Renaissance artists.
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Barolsky, Paul. “The Visionary Architecture of the Pazzi Chapel.” Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics 25, no. 2 (2017): 1–10. JSTOR.
Barolsky, Paul. "THE CROSSES ON THE FACADE OF THE PAZZI CHAPEL." Source: Notes in the History of Art 15, no. 4 (1996): 5-7. JSTOR
Barolsky, Paul. "Toward an Interpretation of the Pazzi Chapel." The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 32, no. 3 (1973): 228-231. JSTOR
Trachtenberg, Marvin. “Why the Pazzi Chapel Is Not by Brunelleschi.” Casabella 60, no. 635 (June 1996): 58–77.
For description of New Jerusalem, see Revelation 21:10-21