Ghirlandaio and the Sassetti chapel VII (Santa Trinita)

5. The Wall Graves of Francesco Sassetti and Nera d’ Corsi

Directly under Saint Francis on the bier is the niche with the tomb where Francesco Sassetti, named after Saint Francis, is buried. On the other side lies his wife, Nera. Her tomb is under Francis who is just receiving the stigmata. Through the crucifixion, the sacrifice of Christ, mankind could be saved. Therefore, death and crucifixion are appropriate themes for a burial chapel. The wall graves were, of course, made before Ghirlandaio began painting. The two sarcophagi are made of black porphyry, the so-called pietra di paragone. On the sarcophagi are ox skulls, the so-called bucrania motif (Wikipedia), and in the middle is a plaque connected by ropes to the skulls.

The tomb of Francesco Sassetti

 Tomb of Francesco Sassetti

The texts on the lids and the plaque by the coffins of Francesco and Nera d’ Corsi read:

Francesco Sassetti made this grave for himself and for the almighty God.

Francesco Sassetti made this grave for himself and for the almighty God and for Nera d’ Corsi, his beloved wife, with whom he lived in harmonious love.

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Not only does the inscription on Nera’s sarcophagus praise the marital happiness of the couple, but also an idealized relief portrait testifies to this. In the all’antica frame around Francesco’s wall grave on the left side, slightly lower than the lid, Francesco and Nera are depicted. The cap Francesco is wearing strongly resembles the portrait of him with his son Teodoro that Ghirlandaio painted around the same time.

Portrait of Francesco Sassetti tomb
photo: Sailko
Portrait of Nera d’Corsi tomb  Sassetti chapel
photo: Sailko

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Around the wall grave of Nera, her portrait can be seen below and in the middle. She looks to the left towards the altar wall.

The arches around the wall graves have decorations consisting of candelabra and vegetable-derived motifs interrupted by squares and medallions. In the two squares, the Sassetti family coat of arms can be seen.

In the other two medallions in the arches at the height of the lid, mermaids are depicted riding strange sea creatures. They resemble sea monsters with male torsos, horse legs, and fish tails. A sea variant of a centaur. Sea nymphs are called Nereids in Greek mythology. This, like the bricks laid in courses, is a play on her name, but now not on the last name, but on the first name of Nera d’Corsi.

Tomb of Nera d’Corsi

Tomb of Nera d’Corsi Sassetti chapel

In the medallions by Francesco’s coffin, a battle is depicted. In the one on the left, a warrior has defeated his opponent. This warrior is David with his attributes: sling and stones. The motif of this warrior is taken from a classical sarcophagus, the so-called Amazon sarcophagus, currently in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The stones and the sling also appear in the Sassetti family crests carved at the corners of the lower edge. In the other medallion, a centaur is fighting a horse. In this relief too, the sling and stones can be seen.

The straight frames, a frieze, below the sarcophagi act as a predella under an altarpiece. Francesco is portrayed in the middle in a medallion as if he were an emperor on a Roman coin. On the frieze on the left side are winged putti playing with garlands and stones.

Francesco Sassetti

Nera d’Corsi

frieze Tomb Francesco Sassetti

In the middle between these putti stands an urn on a tripod next to a weeping putto. This is likely a reference to the death of Sassetti’s eldest son. On the other side of Francesco’s portrait, to the right, there is mourning. In the middle on a catafalque lies an emaciated figure that is swaddled. This composition is based on the sarcophagus of Meleager.

Sarcophagus of Meleager front
Giuliano Sangallo Frieze tomb Franceso Sassetti         Zoom in

Sarcophagus of Meleager front Louvre
photo: Mary Harrsch

The transition from sculpture to frescoes is formed by the grisaille in the spandrels. The compositions of the grisaille paintings are taken from Roman coins. Francesco not only collected classical manuscripts but also coins. In the left spandrel of Francesco’s tomb are two Roman soldiers.

Next to and above these two it reads: CAES. AVG. S.C. The composition is from a coin minted by Vespasian. On this coin, a sestertius, the sons of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian (British museum), are depicted. The letters Ghirlandaio painted are the beginning and end of the inscription on this coin of Vespasian.

Francesco Sassetti  Adlocutio (right spandrel)

Francesco Sassetti  Adlocutio grisaille (right spandrel)
photo: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

In the other opposite spandrel, an adlocutio is depicted. For this image, Ghirlandaio also used a coin of Vespasian. Ghirlandaio has used the composition of this coin multiple times, including in the Tornabuoni Chapel in the Massacre of the Innocents and in the Annunciation to Zacharias.

In the grisailles of Nera d’Corsi, two riders are depicted on the top right with the inscription DECVRSIOS S[ENATO] C[ONSVLTVM]. This is a kind of anagram for Nera d’Corsi de’ Cursis. The composition is derived from a coin of Nero, further emphasizing the wordplay. The other grisaille is also based on a classical coin.

Nera d’Corsi (left spandrel)

Nera d’Corsi grisaille (left spandrel)  Sassetti chapel
photo: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

This possibly refers to a brave warrior reminiscent of the flourishing era of Augustus. The citizens of Florence saw themselves as successors of this Roman golden age under Augustus. Rome had decayed, but in the republic of Florence, civilization was flourishing once again.

Continuation Florence day 6: Andrea del Sarto and the Chiostro dello Scalzo I