Assorted Florentine Churches

While I was in Florence, I did a lot of walking around. While on my excursions from here to there,
I often encountered a facade of note or a statue worth shooting. On this page, I have placed
images of the exteriors of some churches that I encountered while walking about the city.

Many of these images are highly detailed, resulting in large file sizes.
Below each image I have included pixel dimensions and file size.

Click an image to open a larger version
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Santa Maria Novella

San Miniato al Monte

San Marco

Russian Orthodox Church

San Gaetano


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Florence Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to the Gallery with images on this page:

More Florentine Churches

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 11 Galleries in the Photoshelter Florence Collection



Originally the grain market in Florence, Orsanmichele was established on the site of the
kitchen garden of the old monastery of St. Michael, an 8th century women’s monastery with
extensive farmland which itself replaced an even older church: St. Michael in Orto, thus the name.

In 1240, the monastery was removed to create a loggia for the grain market. On one of the pillars of the
loggia was a revered fresco of the Madonna, before which personal oaths were taken. Over the years, the
loggia was expanded. It burned in 1304 and was replaced with a larger structure, in which Bernardo Daddi
painted the Madonna delle Grazie to replace the earlier fresco, which was destroyed in the fire. Expansions
 of the loggia continued, and in 1339, the Silk Guild constructed the first of the tabernacles on the exterior.
The market was moved in the middle of the 14th century to convert the site into a church for the guilds,
although two floors atop of the church were used to hold grain (chutes can be seen in the pillars).

There are 14 tabernacles outside the building with sculptures commissioned by the powerful
 Florentine Guilds. I have placed images and detail crops of eight of the tabernacles below.


Orsanmichele Christ St. Thomas detail 4094 M

1000 x 1600 (447 KB)

Commissioned by the Tribunale di Mercanzia (Merchant’s Guild).
This was the first narrative sculptural work created for Orsanmichele.

Andrea del Verrocchio’s Christ and St. Thomas (1467-83). A superb artist whose reputation
took a serious hit when Giorgio Vasari belittled his work 70 years after his death (typical critic),
del Verrocchio trained such masters as Leonardo da Vinci, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Lorenzo di Credi,
Pietro Perugino (the teacher of Raphael), and others, and he influenced many of the best artists of
the Renaissance, including Sandro Botticelli, Andrea Sansovino, and Benedetto da Maiano. He
is considered by many post-Vasari experts as the second best sculptor of the Renaissance
after Donatello, whose death in 1466 offered Verrocchio his best opportunity for success,
as he replaced Donatello as the court sculptor to Piero and Lorenzo de’ Medici, who
were the leading art patrons in Florence during this period. This sculpture is now
considered by most to be one of his most technically superb works (after the
equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice, the most important
equestrian sculpture of the Renaissance), and his Putto with Dolphin
in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Apartment of the Elements, one of the
early examples of sculpture in the round (where all viewpoints
are equally significant), a concept first executed by Donatello.


Orsanmichele Christ St. Thomas 4094
779 x 1290 (433 KB)

The tabernacle was sculpted for Donatello’s
St. Louis of Toulouse (now residing in the museum
of Santa Croce), which this sculpture replaced. It was
designed for a single sculpture, and Verrocchio showed
extreme talent in figuring out an elegant way to place
the two sculptures in the single-sculpture niche.
St. Thomas stands completely outside of the
niche, with only a single foot on the edge.


Orsanmichele Christ St. Thomas 4094 no LC
795 x 1290 (415 KB)

In response to a recent request, I am also showing
this image as it was taken, without correcting for the
keystoning distortion caused by shooting at an angle
(when the camera back is not parallel with the subject,
keystoning distortion occurs, causing the area further
from the camera body to diminish in size relative to
the area closer to the camera body). I know that
this is only of interest to photographers, but I
was asked to do this, so I did for this shot.


Orsanmichele Christ St. Thomas Tabernacle Detail
(detail crops, no linked image)

The pediment is the triangular gable above the tabernacle, in this case containing a
winged tondo relief. The frieze is the relief in the entablature below the pediment.
The predella is the frieze in the framed space at the foot of the tabernacle.


Orsanmichele Madonna of the Rose 4110
693 x 1290 (358 KB)

Commissioned by Arte dei Medici e Speziali
(the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries) in 1399.


Orsanmichele Madonna of the Rose detail 4110c
950 x 1290 (412 KB)

Produced with a noticeable Byzantine-influenced style, the
statue of the Madonna has an elongated, deformed head
and idealized folding of the drapery typical of sculptures
and paintings of the late Middle Ages. Several of these
sculptures have disputed attributions. Orsanmichele
has attributed it to Piero di Giovanni Tedesco.

The inscription at the base of the statue refers to
an incident when someone maliciously damaged
the statue and was executed for the crime in 1493.
You can see the scar on the left side of the base of the
  statue. Graffiti and damage was not tolerated in Florence.


Orsanmichele St. Philip 4092
716 x 1290 (363 KB)

Commissioned by Arte dei Calzaiuoli
(the Guild of the Shoemakers) in 1412.


Orsanmichele St. Philip detail 4092 M
1050 x 1600 (482 KB)

Nanni di Banco’s San Filippo (St. Philip) was created at
about the same time as his Quattro Santi Coronati (Four
Crowned Saints) and was one of the first statues to use
a naturalistic approach to the positioning of the statue,
the look of the body, and the character of the drapery.
Compare it with the more medieval look of Lamberti’s
St. James shown below. This statue also influenced
Donatello’s statues for Orsanmichele shown below.


Orsanmichele St. James 4105
680 x 1290 (377 KB)

Commissioned by Arte dei Conciatori e Pellicciai
(the Guild of the Furriers). Also known as St. Jacob.


Orsanmichele St. James detail 4105 M
1000 x 1600 (459 KB)

There is a quite a lot of debate as to when this statue was
commissioned and created, with speculation ranging from
1410 to 1412 for the commissioning and from 1415-1422
for the completion of the statue. St James the Greater is
portrayed in a Gothic style, although it shows influence
from Ghiberti’s bronze statue of St. John the Baptist
in the folds of the drapery. Note the sculpture in the
quattrefoil in the predella of St. James Beheading.


(linked image is a 1500 x 640 version of the copy of Nanni di Banco’s Predella)

At the top is a detail crop of the predella from the St. James tabernacle shown above.
The image at the bottom is a copy of the predella Nanni di Banco created for the tabernacle
housing his most famous sculptures: the Quattro Santi Coronati (Four Crowned Saints, not pictured).


Orsanmichele St. Peter 4090
741 x 1290 (357 KB)

Donatello sculpted St. Peter for the Arte de Beccai (Butcher’s Guild) in 1411-1413. Note the relatively natural character of the drapery, the position of the left leg and foot (note that you can see the left knee through the drapery) with the weight shifted to the right leg, and the natural, hip-shot stance. Donatello assisted Brunelleschi in the design of this statue, but the finish work was completed by Bernardo Ciuffagni.


Orsanmichele St. Peter detail 4090 M
1000 x 1600 (420 KB)

According to a reliable source written in the early 1500s (and as stated by Vasari in 1550), both St. Peter and St. Mark (shown below) were commissioned to both Brunelleschi and Donatello together, although Brunelleschi could not legally carve a marble statue since he was not a member of the Stoneworkers Guild. When Brunelleschi took on other work, the finish work on the St. Peter statue was completed by a lesser sculptor: Bernardo Ciuffagni.

Compare his style to that of St. Mark, shown below.


Orsanmichele St. Mark 4107
752 x 1290 (402 KB)

Donatello’s St. Mark, an important Renaissance sculpture in its realistic portrayal compared to the character of preceding sculptures of the Middle Ages. A natural pose was used, with the weight on the right leg and the left knee bent, plus details such as veins in the right hand, a natural look to the drapery, and the figure showing through the linen. Donatello stood the figure on a pillow instead of a pedestal to emphasize the weight and imparted a look of calm, dignified honesty.


Orsanmichele St. Mark detail 4107 M
1000 x 1600 (470 KB)

The Linen Workers Guild, who commissioned the sculpture, rejected it when it was shown to them at street level, based upon the odd proportions of the head, which was made larger to offset the effects of foreshortening caused by the angle of view when the statue was placed in its niche, which is far above the street level. According to “The Lives of the Artists” (by Vasari), Donatello told the Guild that he would fix the statue, then placed it in its niche and covered it, not working on it for two weeks. When he unveiled the statue again for the guild (in its niche), they accepted the ‘modified’ version.


Orsanmichele St. Mark Tabernacle Detail
(detail crops, no linked image)

Detail of the tabernacle for Donatello’s St. Mark (created to his design
by two stonecarvers, probably Perfetto di Giovanni and Albizzo di Pietro).
It depicts the Lion of St. Mark in the predella, and a half figure in the pediment.


Orsanmichele St. John Evangelist 4100
747 x 1290 (369 KB)

Commissioned by Arte della Seta
(the Guild of Silk Weavers) in 1515.
Bronze, 8.75 feet tall (266 cm).


Orsanmichele St. John Evangelist detail 4100M
1000 x 1600 (412 KB)

Baccio da Montelupo’s bronze statue of St. John Evangelist replaced a 14th century marble by Andrea Orcagna which is now in Ospedale degli Innocenti (the Guild decided to update their statue to reflect the new Renaissance style). He used a theatrical style (stance and gesture), and in the look of the face and draperies he paid homage to Donatello’s St. Mark.


Orsanmichele St. John Baptist 4096
717 x 1290 (356 KB)

Commissioned by Arte di Calimala
(the Guild of Merchants) in 1416.
Bronze, 8.8 feet tall (268 cm).
Tabernacle and statue by Ghiberti.


Orsanmichele St. John Baptist detail 4096M
1000 x 1600 (447 KB)

The first life-size bronze of the Renaissance (actually
a little larger than life-size), this statue was a sign of high
prestige for the Guild of the Merchants. Bronze was over
ten times the cost of marble. This is also the first bronze
created using the lost-wax method, which Ghiberti had
rediscovered since it had been lost in antiquity. As
he risked all in case of failure, Ghiberti cast the
statue in four parts and assembled it on site.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Florence Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to the Gallery with images on this page:

More Florentine Churches

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 11 Galleries in the Photoshelter Florence Collection


Santa Maria Novella

Located across from the railway station in Florence, Santa Maria Novella is the principal Dominican
church, and was the first great Florentine Basilica. It was built by the Dominican friars on the site of the
9th century church of Santa Maria delle Vigne beginning in 1246 (and thus was called “new”, or Novella).
The structure was completed by 1360, including the lower section of facade. The entire story of this facade
offers an interesting insight into the politics of the time and current issues with architectural scholarship
and attribution to a designer. I will go into these somewhat in my description of the images below.
As this facade became one of the most important Renaissance church facades in Europe,
influencing most architecture which followed it, some may find the story interesting.

A tremendous amount of research went into the information which follows.
Of course, I will understand if most folks skim or avoid it, but as this
is the most important facade in Florence, I included the history.

At the time of its construction, the only ecclesiastical buildings in Florence which were covered in a complete marble facade were the Baptistry and Campanile, plus the front facade of San Miniato al Monte which is shown further below. The piazza of Santa Maria Novella was one of the city’s largest open spaces and became the location of major events, such as the arrival of visiting royalty and ecclesiastic authorities. The processions associated with feast days and annual processions all ended up in the piazza. The church became a major focus for the city, and when Santa Maria Novella became the residence of Pope Eugenius IV (1433-36), and then in 1439 when the Council of Florence took place in the convent, Santa Maria Novella increased in importance. This was the very same period when the consolidation of Cosimo de’ Medici’s power in the city was taking place, after the city exiled the previous oligarchs and allowed the Medici’s triumphant return. Cosimo rapidly took power in Florence, but he operated behind the scenes this time and exerted financial and political authority through others, keeping the Medici presence in the background. When it became necessary for the promotion of Florentine prestige to finish the facade of Santa Maria Novella, the Medici stayed in the background and a political outcast took the front of the stage. This was Giovanni Rucellai, whose name, family crest and personal emblem appears so prominently on the front of the facade.


Santa Maria Novella Facade 3871
1500 x 1150 (525 KB)

You will notice that the facade rises above a series of arches at the base. These are called Avelli, and are funerary tombs associated with the noble families of the Middle Ages in Florence. These avelli are situated all around the wall of the church property, and provided the name of the street leading up to the church (Via degli Avelli). The method of patronage for the construction of the church itself was to offer a funerary location in the church wall, marked with the heraldic symbol of the donating family and an indication of knightly titles or other noble status. The hierarchy of Florence in the period leading up to the completion of the church building in the mid-1300s was based on the primacy of these noble families. The original funeral wall extended across the original facade, beginning at the current location of the left pillar and column (an avello was removed in the final construction of the facade to mount the pillar and column on each side of the facade, and one on either side of the small central door were removed when creating the larger main portal with its flanking columns). Detail images of the wall are below.


Santa Maria Novella Heraldry 3867 M
1200 x 1600 (579 KB)

Detail of four avelli next to the side entrance to the Convent Garden on Via degli Avelli.
The noble families represented are, left to right: Del Bene; Alberighi; Donati and Uberti.
On the face of the tomb is the cross of the Cavaliere (Knight) and two Heraldic Shields.
The differences in the crosses indicate various levels of Knightly titles held by families.

The Alberighi were a noble family associated with the Medici and related to the Peruzzi (powerful bankers), with a piazza named after them and a church (Santa Maria degli Alberighi). The Del Bene family were also bankers, but some members of the family were important figures in France (e.g. Master of the Royal Household to King Louis XII). The Donati were leaders of the Black Guelph party, which were responsible for the destruction of much of Florence and the killing of the White Guelphs and exile of Dante Alighieri at the end of the 13th century. The Uberti family was the most powerful family in Florence until 1266. They supported the Holy Roman Emperor (Ghibellines), but with the defeat of the Imperial army in 1266 at the Battle of Benveneto, the Guelphs (who supported the Pope) exiled the Uberti and destroyed all of their property. Piazza della Signoria (and Palazzo Vecchio) were built on the site of the Uberti Palazzo, primarily to ensure that the family would never return to power as their ancestral homes had been well and truly erased from the Florentine landscape. The piazza was not built for over ten years (they left the rubble of the Uberti Palazzos strewn everywhere as a symbol of the Guelph victory).


Santa Maria Novella Avelli 3868
1500 x 1150 (524 KB)

A wider scene of the funerary wall on Via degli Avelli, bordering the convent garden.
Note the difference in the light between this image and the previous one, shot less than
five minutes before. A heavy overcast blew in from behind me and obscured the sun.
This would soon reduce the light considerably. I scooted over to the facade to get
my shots while there was still light on it. Unfortunately, by the time I entered the
church, there was so little light coming in that the interior was like a cave.

In the Middle Ages, after 1100, there was a period when Florence was a set of communes, presided over by the noble families. Later, as the power of the merchants grew, the noble families’ hold on the city’s power was reduced and the merchants organized in the Guild system. After the Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines in 1266 and exiled the once-powerful Ghibellines, the noble families lost most of their traditional privileges and the system which created this status-related wall of Avelli ended.


Santa Maria Novella Facade detail 3873 M
1500 x 1200 (567 KB)

Detail of the entire upper section of the facade. This is where things got interesting.
Almost everything here was created in the final encrustation of the facade of the church,
and there is tremendous political and architectural significance in the symbolism shown in
most of the sections of this part of the facade. First, note the enormous inscription below the
pediment (the triangular space at the top of the facade). It states (in Roman Majuscules):


Iohanes (Giovanni); Oricellarius (the Latin name for Rucellai);
Pau(li) F(ilius) (son of Paulo); An(no) Sal(utis) (year of our salvation) 1470

What is really interesting about this is that it was not at all common for churches to allow patrons
to emblazon their names and family crests all over the church. On this facade can be seen numerous
symbols relating to the Rucellai: e.g. the heraldic crest on the left pillar of the middle course with squares
(the one on the far right pillar is missing), and on the keystone above the main portal. There are also
a number of friezes with the personal emblem of Giovanni Rucellai (the sail and cordage that
forms the frieze above the lower arches, just below the ledge). What is not discussed is
the fact that the Rucellai, who were politically outcast at the time due to their relation
by marriage to the exiled Albizzi family (who were responsible for the exile of
the Medici and the loss of the Lucca campaign), would never have been
able to do something as prominent as create the most important facade in
Florence at the time without the permission of (and assistance of) the Medici.
This can be seen in a subtle manner on the most prominent of the facade friezes,
over the main portal below the fresco. The diamond ring and feathers in this frieze are
the personal emblem of Piero de’ Medici, and appear on many buildings patronized by him
as well as several patronized by Rucellai, subtly showing the link between the two. This means that
the more blatant statements of responsibility shown by the inscription and the frieze with the sail (and
the four other locations with the sail emblem, such as around the oculus) are meant to tell the public that
Rucellai was responsible for the creation of this most blatant symbol of financial power, not the Medici.
After the return of the Medici to Florence, it was important for them to maintain a relatively low profile.


Santa Maria Novella Scrolls Alberti
1236 x 700 (327 KB)

Detail of the volute scrolls on either side of the upper section of the facade.
These were the precursors of all future architectural scrolls, which became popular.

Note that there are a number of pillars with green (Prato) and white (Carrara) marble stripes.
These are direct references to the 11th-12th c. marble facade on the Baptistry of San Giovanni.


Santa Maria Novella Pediment Detail 3874
1290 x 850 (410 KB)

Detail of the pediment and the inscription just below the pediment.
The rectangles and symbols below (and the squares with symbols that
are below the section with rectangles) are similar to San Miniato al Monte.

You will notice that all attributions are to Leon Battista Alberti. This is the generally accepted
attribution for the facade, and it is originally based on Giorgio Vasari’s attribution of the facade
to Alberti in his Lives of the Artists from 1550. What many scholars are recently confronting is the
direct contradiction of Alberti’s theoretical writings on the values of ancient Roman architecture with
the obvious medieval aspects of this facade, including references to the Baptistry (the striped pillars)
and other references to the facade of San Miniato al Monte (shown in detail further below). There are
the verbatim quotes in Vasari’s text on Alberti which come from a sonnet written to Piero de’ Medici
by the Dominican Friar Giovanni Corella in 1468 (almost 100 years before Vasari, and just at the
time of the completion of the facade) which attribute the facade to Giovanni di Bertino. Vasari
also stated that Rucellai and Alberti were intimate friends, but from other evidence it seems
that this friendship was an invention of Vasari’s. Vasari is rather famous for mistakes in
attribution and other inaccuracies in his texts. Rucellai’s personal autobiography did
not even mention Leon Battista Alberti’s name at all. It seems likely based on this and
quite a bit of other evidence that Giovanni di Bertino, Michelozzo, and even Brunelleschi
were consulted on the design of this facade. Giovanni di Bertino was most often employed
on projects that were presided over by Michelozzo. Extensive use of emblems on the facade
is consistent with the Michelozzo designs at the Palazzo Medici and at San Miniato al Monte.
Alberti was likely consulted, but it is also likely that all of the other prominent architects were too.


Santa Maria Novella Facade Detail 3871c
1500 x 1092 (662 KB)

Detail of the lower sections of the facade, including the original portals (left and right), the six
remaining original Avelli (four of the original ten were removed when the pillars and columns
were installed along with the triumphal main portal in the final phase of facade construction).
Note the frieze above the arches with the sails (the personal emblem of Giovanni Rucellai).
The six remaining avelli are representing the most prominent original patrons of the church:
the Cerchi; Frescobaldi; Gianfigliazzi; Scolari; Tornaquinci and the Cavalcanti. The Cerchi
and Gianfigliazzi were relative newcomers to Florence at the time of the creation of the
church, but the other four families were long-standing noble families which had been
prominent in Florence for hundreds of years, with land-holdings, representation as
consuls during the commune period and later during the Signoria, activity as the
condottiere and commanders in war, and careers in the ecclesiastical offices.


Santa Maria Novella Left Portal 3876
800 x 1290 (484 KB)


Santa Maria Novella Left Portal Lunette 3876 M
1500 x 1290 (545 KB)

The lunette and pediment above the left portal
contains a fresco that references the Lombards,
the Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin which,
in the 6th through 8th centuries, controlled Italy and
provided many of the bankers and other important
families living in the area during the Middle Ages.

All three of the portals were frescoed in 1616
with scenes that refer to the feast and procession
of the Corpus Domini, which had terminated at
Santa Maria Novella since the late 1200s.

The Lombard figure is presenting bread.


Santa Maria Novella Right Portal 3877
800 x 1290 (447 KB)


Santa Maria Novella Right Portal Lunette 3877 M
1500 x 1290 (560 KB)

The lunette and pediment above the right portal
contains a fresco that references a much older
patriarchal figure, dressed in robes of the late
Roman period. Due to the deterioration of
the fresco it is difficult to tell what sort of
food the patriarchal figure is presenting
to the feast, but it is somewhat similar
to the Lombard figure shown above,
just with an earlier figure which is
 intended to represent the early
heritage of the feast day.


Santa Maria Novella Main Portal 3882
781 x 1290 (402 KB)


Santa Maria Novella Main Portal Detail 3882 M
1500 x 1290 (618 KB)

The Triumphal main portal of the final phase of the facade. Above the portal is the frieze which, to those who could recognize the symbol, states the involvement in the facade of Piero de’ Medici along with Giovanni Rucellai, who is most prominently credited. Note the frieze above the portal with the diamond ring and feathers, personal emblem of Piero de’ Medici. Above the fresco on the keystone of the arch is the crest of Giovanni Rucellai’s family.

Also, note the frieze surrounding the door frame. The symbols shown in this frame in the center and the corners of the lintel are Piero de’ Medici’s rings and ring-and-feathers emblems, not the Rucellai’s sails or crest. The most visually important location to those entering the church has a Medici emblem.


Santa Maria Novella Main Portal Lunette 3885
1500 x 1092 (598 KB)

The Main Portal lunette contains the primary fresco that was created in 1616, at the same
time as the other two frescoes shown above. This one has survived in better condition than
the other two because of the deeper lunette, which sheltered the fresco from the weather.
It shows a Dominican Friar (Black Friar) with angels in the foreground, and the procession
for the Feast of Corpus Domini, leading to Santa Maria Novella in the background. Since the
late 1200s, processions of the Feast of Corpus Domini in Florence always terminated at the
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, which was the largest public space in Florence at the time.


Santa Maria Novella Main Portal Fresco 3885 M
1500 x 1290 (511 KB)

Close detail of the procession, showing the people in Renaissance period clothing.


Cappella Tornabuoni Santa Maria Novella 3887 M
1000 x 1600 (567 KB)

I mentioned earlier how dark it was in the church, and how it was nearly impossible to shoot.
This is the only image which was worth showing you, and it was a nightmare to process. Note
that the scene is strongly backlit. To avoid overexposing the window altogether, I had to expose
for the light entering the window (allowing it to only overexpose by about a stop), but this meant
that the frescoes and altar were underexposed by 2.67 stops and were very dark. Extracting
detail and color in the processing phase required all of my best and most current technique.

Meanwhile, there was so little light on the frescoes themselves that shooting them was useless.
It is too bad that I entered the church after that heavy overcast had obscured the sun, because the
frescoes in the Tournabuoni Chapel are the best preserved and most complete cycle in Florence.
They were painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his young apprentice Michelangelo Buonarroti
in 1485-1490 and depict the Lives of the Virgin and St. John the Baptist. The windows were
also executed based upon a design by Domenico Ghirlandaio. I was going to try again on
the last morning that I was in Florence, as the angle of the light would have been perfect,
but when that day turned out to be clear, I used the opportunity to shoot the Campanile.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Florence Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to the Gallery with images on this page:

More Florentine Churches

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 11 Galleries in the Photoshelter Florence Collection


San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte was built on the site of the hermitage of the first martyr of Florence.
San Miniato was a 3rd c. Armenian Prince who came to Florence with the Roman army, became
a hermit, and was denounced to the Emperor Decius in about 250 AD. He was beheaded (after which
he supposedly picked up his head and climbed back up the mountain to his hermitage). A shrine
was built on the site, and in the 8th c. a chapel was erected. The Basilica replaced the chapel.
The building was begun in 1013 under an order of Benedictine monks, who still reside
there (and make famous liquor, honey and teas that they sell). The facade is a
masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, and was the inspiration for the
marble work on the Baptistry, Santa Maria Novella and many of the
works of Filippo Brunelleschi created during the Renaissance.


San Miniato al Monte Cypress 4456
1500 x 1092 (567 KB)

The approach to San Miniato al Monte, atop the old
Mons Fiorentinus (Monte alla Croci). The landscaping
was pretty, but the weather was bleak, dark and dreary.


Stairway San Miniato al Monte 4453
1500 x 1110 (566 KB)

The base of the stone steps leading up to the top
of the hill and the Basilica. This is very similar to early
Roman architecture, and may be part of the earlier church.


San Miniato al Monte Facade 4460
1500 x 1175 (502 KB)

A wide shot of the Basilica. To the right are the Bishop’ Palace and fortifications (1295-1320).

There has been a shrine on this spot since the 4th c., and a chapel has been here since the 8th c.

The symbol atop the pediment is a gilded copper eagle clutching a bale of wool, the symbol
of the Florentine Cloth Merchants Guild, who financed the building of the church and facade
and administered the wealth of the Benedictine convent from 1288. This facade inspired
Alberti when he completed Santa Maria Novella, and was also the inspiration for the
19th century facades for the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) and Santa Croce.

The Palazzo dei Vescovi (Bishop’s Palace) was the summer residence of the
Bishops of Florence until it became part of the monastery in 1534. It has also
been used as a military hospital, a Jesuit college, and for occasional concerts.


San Miniato al Monte Facade 4463 M
1200 x 1600 (549 KB)

Detail of the facade, showing the Prato (green) and Carrara (white) marble begun c. 1090 and completed in the 12th c. by the Wool Merchants Guild. Its Romanesque architecture uses six serpentine green columns with white bases and white Corinthian capitals to support five blind arches which represent the early Christian church with five aisles. The lower part of the facade was built by the early 12th c., then work stopped until the Wool Merchants financed the completion of the upper part, which consists of two symmetrical sloping pediments decorated with Prado and Carrara marbles in the pattern of the Roman Opus Reticulatum brickwork (small square bricks laid out at a 45 degree angle resembling a diamond pattern, with the mortar resembling a net).

This diamond-shaped pattern is continued around the window. The window itself (detailed below) is a 12th c. window with small
round pieces of original 12th c. glass, framed by more diamonds and flanked with two white marble columns supported by medieval marble lions with happy, smiling faces. Topped by a pediment housing two doves and a 13th c. mosaic (detailed below), the entire assemblage is flanked by Carrara pilasters. In the outer two sections are geometric shapes: on top are a cross within a wheel, atop two geometrically-complex framed rectangles.

The base of the pediment is a row of nine arches. On either side are figures supporting the pediment. In the two outer triangles above the arches are what appear to be dragons (serpentine creatures with legs). In the squares between the dragons are stylized wheels in the outer two squares, and some sort of indecipherable figures in the inner three squares. Atop the squares in the triangular part of the pediment are a cross flanked by three candelabra on either side. The upper section of the pediment is bordered by more diamonds. The entire assemblage is reminiscent of early Roman temple decorations.


San Miniato al Monte Mosaic 4498
800 x 1290 (475 KB)


San Miniato al Monte Window Detail 4498 c2
900 x 1225 (480 KB)

The central part of the upper facade has a 12th c. window (with small circles of glass, as glass was very expensive then and difficult to make in large pieces), some unusual columns, a classically-inspired pediment and a 13th c. mosaic.


San Miniato al Monte Mosaic 4498 c1
1500 x 1092 (748 KB)

A highly detailed image of the 13th century mosaic
“Christ Between the Virgin and St. Miniato”.


San Miniato Campanile 4465
795 x 1290 (478 KB)

The original bell tower collapsed in 1499 during restoration by Baccio d’Agnolo, so a new one was constructed, but it was never finished before the Siege of Florence in 1530, when it was used as an artillery emplacement inside the walls which had been hastily erected by Michelangelo. These walls were later expanded into a true fortress.


San Miniato Campanile Door 4466
795 x 1290 (432 KB)

One artillery man named Lapo had been put up the tower with two small cannons to draw fire in an area where little harm could be done (except to Lapo). Michelangelo, who had been assigned to emplace emergency fortifications took pity on Lapo and hung mattresses on the tower. Both the tower and the intrepid Lapo survived intact.


Stonework San Miniato al Monte 4491
800 x 1290 (603 KB)

Some of the original stonework and the 15th c. Campanile.


Stonework San Miniato al Monte 4492
795 x 1290 (432 KB)

11th century stonework alongside the Basilica.


Porte Sante Miniato al Monte 4471
1500 x 1092 (561 KB)

The Porte Sante (Holy Gates) cemetery  was built by Niccolo Matas (designer of Santa Croce’s facade) in the mid-19th century within Michelangelo’s fortress walls (which were built hastily in 1553 during the Siege of Florence). It is the site of many famous Florentine’s burials.


Porte Sante Miniato al Monte 4489
1500 x 1092 (497 KB)

The cemetery gives the impression of a City of the Dead, with the standard tombstones and monuments, along with some spectacular mausoleums made of polychrome marble (Rosa Perlino, Prato, Carrara and others). Detail shots of these marble edifices are below.


Porte Sante Mausoleum 4478
801 x 1290 (449 KB)

Mausoleum made with Rosa Perlino and Carrara marble.


Porte Sante Mausoleums 4483
800 x 1290 (397 KB)

A polychrome marble avenue of illustrious Florentine dead.


Porte Sante Crucifixion 4486
800 x 1290 (492 KB)

A modernist Crucifixion scene in Porte Sante cemetery, San Miniato al Monte.


Cardinal James of Lusitania Miniato al Monte 4495 M
1000 x 1600 (432 KB)

As you probably noticed, it was a dark and dreary day, with limited light even outdoors. Inside, the church was quite dark in most places, and even with my best technique I was unable to yield usable material. In the Chapel of the Cardinal, one ray of light hit the monument. Even so, it was still so dark that I had to underexpose by 1.3 stops to get an exposure of 1/25 second at f/1.4, yielding a dark image that was quite difficult to process, but I was able to get a good result. This is an important monument, so I was pleased to have gotten it in such difficult lighting circumstances.

Designed and built by several of the major artists of the Renaissance, the tomb
of Cardinal James of Portugal was commissioned by the Cardinal’s uncle in 1459.
Luca della Robbia created the ceiling of the chapel in glazed terracotta, and the tomb
itself was designed by Antonio Manetti (a pupil of Brunelleschi), but upon Manetti’s
death in 1460 it was completed by Antonio and Bernardo Rosellino (Antonio was
  Donatello’s pupil). Antonio and Piero del Pollaiulo and Alesso Baldovinetti also
worked on the chapel. This is the only monumental tomb in San Miniato.

Cardinal James packed a lot of living into his 25 years. Born the 3rd or 4th son of the Duke of Coimbra and Isabella of Aragon, he took part in the Battle of Alfarrobeira at the age of 14, when his father’s army was defeated by the Portuguese royal army. He was then imprisoned, but he escaped to Burgundy and stayed with his aunt, Isabella of Portugal (click for a large image). He studied in Flanders and by the age of 20, was made Bishop of Arras (France). Later, he became the Archbishop of Lisbon, then travelled to Rome, where he was made Bishop of Paphos on Cyprus by Pope Callixtus III. When he was 23, he was appointed as a Cardinal, and took part in the conclave that elected Pope Pius II.

James of Lusitania was appointed as a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece (#58) at the 9th Chapter in the Hague in 1456, when he was still 23. He was invited by Pius II to the Council of Mantua of 1459 to organize an expedition against the Ottomans who had taken Constantinople, but he stopped in Florence due to health problems. He died in Florence at the age of 25.

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San Marco

San Marco was home to Fra Angelico (the 15th century painter) and Girolamo Savanarola,
the fiery preacher who instituted the Bonfire of the Vanities, burning books and Renaissance
artwork by artists such as Sandro Botticelli. He burned anything and anyone he considered to
be immoral, and was hostile towards the Renaissance (he personally threw Sandro Botticelli’s
paintings into the fire in 1497). He was eventually burned at the stake himself, on the site where
he burned other people (and held the Bonfire of the Vanities) in the Piazza della Signoria in front
of Palazzo Vecchio on May 23, 1498. After his death, the Medici regained control of Florence.

Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro), on the other hand, was an early Renaissance painter known
as Fra Giovanni Angelico (Brother John the Angelic One) or il Beato Angelico (the Blessed).
His skill in painting religious subjects was exceptional. Unfortunately, I was oversaturated at
the time that I visited San Marco and neglected to go into the Museum, thereby missing an
opportunity to see his work in person. The cost of trying to see Florence in three days...
Major Art Overload. Churched Out. You pick the term... I’m sure we’ve all been there.


Salviati Chapel St. Antoninus San Marco 5101
735 x 1290 (363 KB)

St. Antoninus (1389-1459) was Archbishop of Florence and a favorite of the people, who lived an austere life at San Marco, and helped greatly during the plague and the earthquake which followed in 1448 and 1453. He helped to establish San Marco, and as you can see, he still resides there, in a glass case in the Salviati Chapel, which was founded to house his body, created by the famed sculptor Giambologna, (who also created the statues of John the Baptist (left) and St. Philip). He was buried in San Marco in 1459, exhumed over 100 years later and found intact, then moved to this case.


High Altar Organ San Marco 5144
748 x 1290 (407 KB)

The High Altar and Organ, with a crucifix that
was created by Fra Angelico (1425-1428).

Note the heavy shadows in the upper reaches
of the organ. I had to underexpose by 1.67 stops
to achieve a shutter speed of 1/30 at f/2.8 (I could
have opened the lens more, but I wanted the depth
of field to keep the organ and altar in focus). Results
were quite dark, requiring lots of work in processing.
Much of the church was very dark, reducing the yield.


St. Antoninus Pierozzi San Marco 5111
1500 x 1054 (470 KB)

The apparently incorruptible body of St. Antoninus Pierozzi, Archbishop of Florence (1389-1459).
Behind the altar containing the body are Giambologna’s sculptures of St. John the Baptist (left),
St. Philip the Apostle (at right) and Alessandro Allori’s painting “The Apparition of Christ”,
which is better seen in the image shown above left (number 5101) due to the crucifix.

There seem to be a number of incorruptible Catholic saints in Europe. When I first saw this, I was a bit shocked. Reading about incorruptibles, it seems that often they are due to an accident of burial conditions or primitive chemical or wax embalming procedures, but there are a few cases that remain unexplained. I suppose you never know.


Salviati Chapel Dome San Marco 5110
1500 x 1092 (457 KB)

Directly above the body of the saint is the chapel dome, which is segmented and has an octagonal base.
The frescoes in the dome are depicting the Stories of Saint Antoninus, separated into four episodes in the
life of Antoninus in the larger segments, and four virtues in the smaller segments. Prophets and Sybils are
under the arches and in the pendentives below the dome. Frescoes are by Bernardino Poccetti in 1592.


Madonna della Robbia
Funeral Passignano San Marco 5125 M
966 x 1500 (375 KB)


Translation of St. Antonius
Passignano San Marco 5137
805 x 1290 (387 KB)


In the vestibule hallway leading to the Salviati Chapel are the two frescoes by Domenico Passignano (Cresti) created in 1589 in a late-Renaissance style called “Counter-Mannerism”, a style which was deliberately intended to rebel against the classical realism depicted in much of the Renaissance art that preceded it. The style incorporated elements of Grotesque art which was discovered in a grotto in Rome by Raphael and other artists of the period (some grotesques can be seen in the Palazzo Vecchio hallways and cortiles).

This particular set of frescoes is a little different in that it has a normal group of fully-clothed people watching or participating in the events, but in the foreground are partially-clad figures which look like they just stepped out of a spa to see what was going on. While these figures are not in the contorted poses used by the artist Agnolo di Cosimo (Il Bronzino), this painting is somewhat similar in style to the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence in San Lorenzo, which was painted about 20 years earlier.

The painting of the Funeral of St. Antoninus is placed
above a display case containing one of the della Robbia
tin-glazed polychrome terra-cotta sculptures that the
family made so famous. This one, by the founder
of the process Luca della Robbia, depicts the
Crowned Madonna with Child (1475).

At left is a detail crop of della Robbia’s Madonna.

Madonna della Robbia San Marco 5125 detail
(detail crop — no linked image)


Funeral of St. Antoninus Passignano San Marco 5132
1500 x 1155 (462 KB)

A large detail shot of the Passignano “Funeral of St. Antoninus”.

The deep shadows on the right caused a bit of noise when I pushed the processing.
It was quite dark in the vestibule, and even pushing the shot to ISO 400 and underexposing
it by 2 whole stops, I only achieved 1/80 second at f/2 (I also shot at ISO 200, 1/40 at f/2, but
 that shot was not as clean as this one. Hand-holding with long exposure times can be difficult.


Translation of St. Antoninus Passignano San Marco 5114 M
1500 x 1290 (531 KB)

A large detail shot of the Passignano “Translation of St. Antoninus”.
For this shot, I also used ISO 400, but I opened the lens up to f/1.4 and
changed the EV for an underexposure of only 1.3 stops to give me 1/40.
It ended up a little softer because of the aperture, but a lot brighter and
much, much easier to process. Just some photographic geek talk.


Marble Detail San Marco 5147
1500 x 1074 (423 KB)

One last long exposure shot (ISO 400, 1/45 at f/1.4). The reason for this shot was to show the magnificent
marble decorations used in the chapel. Giambologna covered the entire chapel in marbles like those above.


Russian Orthodox Church 4351
694 x 1290 (338 KB)

Seen while walking back to the center of Florence after visiting the Fortezza da Basso, which was originally the Castle Alexandria, built by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger for Duke Alessandro de’ Medici to assure control of Florence after the Siege of Florence had lifted. Onion domes? In Florence?


Russian Orthodox Church 4357 M
1000 x 1590 (497 KB)

The Russian Orthodox Church of Florence was built by the Russian community in Florence between 1899 and 1903 to expand upon an earlier chapel built by Anatole Demidov (Prince of San Donato, and the owner of the Demidov Villa, a landmark in Florence). Prince Demidov married Princess Mathilde, daughter of Jerome Bonaparte (the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and the King of Westphalia).

The church gates were closed as you can see,
but the sight of the five onion domes was worthwhile.
I hear the church interior is interesting, but didn’t see it.


Onion Domes over Florence 4360 M
1200 x 1600 (489 KB)

A close detail shot of the totally unexpected sight of
Onion Domes above the Birthplace of the Renaissance.

Santi Michele e Gaetano
(San Gaetano)

While walking around the city after arriving on the train, I headed towards the Arno River
to take in some of the sights and get oriented. Nestled amongst the massive Renaissance
palazzos on Via de’ Tournabuoni is the baroque facade of San Gaetano. What struck me
immediately was the character of Balthasar Permoser’s statues of Hope and Poverty.


Hope & Poverty San Gaetano 3890
1500 x 1092 (449 KB)

Balthasar Permoser’s Hope and Poverty sit atop the pediment, flanking the coat of arms of the Theatines.

Known as San Gaetano, the Church of Santi Michele e Gaetano is a Baroque church in a city best known
for Renaissance architecture. Built on the site of a Romanesque church dedicated to Saint Michael Archangel,
the church was funded by the Medici and other noble families in the early 1600s and built for the Theatines.
It was named San Gaetano after his canonization in 1671 (Gaetano dei Conti di Thiene was a founder
of the Clerics Regular, or Theatines). The original church building which this replaced dated back to
the 11th century, which replaced an earlier Lombard church that was built in the mid-8th century.


Hope & Poverty San Gaetano 3900 M
1500 x 1290 (553 KB)

Balthasar Permoser was one of the leading Baroque sculptors. He trained in Florence
under Giovanni Battista Foggini for fourteen years, and during that period he created the
statues of Hope and Poverty, as well as the statue of San Gaetano Thiene shown below.

He was fond of very theatrical poses as you can see.


San Gaetano Thiene San Gaetano 3897
895 x 1290 (411 KB)

This statue is also by Balthasar Permoser.
The statues are high above the small pediments,
and I used an 85mm short telephoto for these shots.
It has little distortion, but the angle made the shot tricky.


St. Andrew Avellino San Gaetano 3898
865 x 1290 (422 KB)

Anton Francesco Andreozzi also created a theatrical
pose for his statue of St. Andrew Avellino, one of
the early investitures to the Theatine order.


St. Andrew Avellino San Gaetano 3903 M
988 x 1600 (427 KB)

A close detail shot of Anton Francesco Andreozzi’s sculpture of St. Andrew Avellino.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Florence Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to the Gallery with images on this page:

More Florentine Churches

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 11 Galleries in the Photoshelter Florence Collection


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