Pazzi chapel in the cloister of Santa Croce

To the right of the Santa Croce, at a cloister, we immediately see the facade of this chapel. Next to the thirteenth-century church of the Franciscans with a gothic courtyard lies the all’antica chapel of the Pazzi family. Once we procure some tickets and walk into the gothic courtyard, we notice how different this chapel is from the surrounding gothic loggias.

Pazzi chapel       Zoom in

Pazzi chapel Brunelleschi
photos: Klaus Bärwinkel and zoom: Steven Zucker

Carl Georg Anton Graeb ‘Hof mit Capella Pazzi’ 1858

Carl Georg Anton Graeb ‘Hof mit Capella Pazzi’ 1858

This chapel was used as a chapter house, but simultaneously served as a Pazzi burial chapel. Its type is rather traditional: a square layout with surrounding benches and the choir area with the altar opposite to the entrance door. The chapter house, the Spanish chapel, at the Santa Maria Novella has the same design. The chairman of the convent, the padre guardino, would sit on a chair; located in front of the steps leading to the altar. Other members, depending on their place in the hierarchy, would sit close to the padre guardino or some distance away.

Part of the facade

Pazzi chapel  part of facade
photo: Benjamín Núñez González
Pazzi chapel: facade Corinthian columns
photo: Benjamín Núñez González

Three monolithic non-fluted Corinthian columns

Six monolithic non-fluted Corinthian columns are supporting an entablature. There are five bays. Six monolithic non-fluted Corinthian columns are supporting an entablature. There are five bays. The middle-most bay with the entrance is clearly wider than the bays at the flank. In each section of the attic, which is slightly higher than it is wide, we see a Greek cross. This is a reference to the adjacent church, the Santa Croce, which is devoted to the holy cross.

Carl Georg Anton Graeb ‘Hof mit Capella Pazzi’ 1858

Brunelleschi placed a portico for the chapter house cq. burial chamber. The Pazzi family coat of arms (dome portico), two dolphins and five crosses on a blue background, appears regularly in the portico: at the centre of the small, round dome and straight above the door, two flying angels hold a wreath that bears the Pazzi symbol. In addition, the family crest is also visible in the outer and middle-most panelled ceilings in the barrel vault and finally at the corners of the top-most frieze (Click here for a layout and cross-section).

Carl Georg Anton Graeb ‘Hof mit Capella Pazzi’ 1858 detail
photos: portico Percy and details: Sailko

The chapter house       Zoom in      Vault zodiac

Pazzi chapel chapter house  altar
photos: Steven Zucker and vault: Sailko
Pazzi chapel altar Brunelleschi

The Altar

Upon entry, you will immediately see the altar in the choir area. This altar with its six Corinthian pillars and red marble panels has an entablature at the top that says the following in Latin with classical capital letters: The Pazzis dedicated this temple to us, the most sacred Andreas [Saint of Andrea Pazzi, the client of this chapel], so that it may be a place where Francis [of Assisi; the Santa Croce is a Franciscan church] appeals to his nets, as the immortal God turned you into a fisher of man.

St. Andreas

The souls of man are rescued by the fisherman who catches them in his net. Let us remember that we are standing in a burial chapel. The round opening in front of the altar with inlaid marble points to plans for a burial plate. The right door in the area with the altar provides access to the sacristy. This also served as the private entrance for the Pazzi family. Behind the main altar we see a stained glass window with St. Andreas. We came across this Saint earlier at the portico in the lunette above the door. The top of the lunette has a round window depicting God the Father. He holds the gospel and makes a blessing gesture with his right hand.

Pazzi chapel: window St. Andreas
photo: Sailko
Pazzi chapel frieze lamb angels
photos: Steven Zucker


The Old Sacristy and Pazzi Chapel of Brunelleschi both feature a large and a small dome positioned above the altar. The entablature extending over the fluted Corinthian pilaster also spans the entire area, encompassing the choir space as well. Nonetheless, a significant distinction exists: the Old Sacristy is square, whereas the Pazzi Chapel boasts a quadrangular shape. Furthermore, the decorations also exhibit dissimilarities. For example, the Pazzi Chapel has winged angel heads and a lamb with seven seals on its frieze. This kind of lamb is a reference to the dream that John experienced in Patmos and which can be read in his Revelation 6: 1-17: “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

John described his dream of the end of the world. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse. After opening the seals, many disasters begin to strike the Earth. The dead rise from their graves and their souls are weighed. Those deemed too light are eternally damned and taken away by the devil. Those who have led virtuous lives can ascend into heaven.


Pazzi chapel dome interior
photo: Kent Wang

The twelve apostles in tondos of Luca della Robbia can be seen directly under the entablature on a blue background. The pendentives that support the folded dome show the four evangelists with again the Pazzi family crest.

Dome        Zoom out       Dome exterior

Pazzi chapel dome interior Brunelleschi
photos: Benjamín Núñez González and zoom: Steven Zucker
Pazzi chapel tondo: 'Sant'Andrea' Luca della Robbia
photos: Benjamín Núñez González, Sailko in situ: Steven Zucker

Pantheon capitel         Pazzi-kapel capitel

The interior is approx. 18 x 11 meters, with benches along the walls that are one braccio (58.36 cm) wide. These benches were used by members of the capital during meetings and they continue subtly along the choir area. In the entrance to the altar, the bench changes into a tree in its top section. The short sides of the chapel have barrel vaults with a width of just one narrow bay. The barrel vault is flanked on both sides by an ornamented frame: an archivolt. The wide archivolt on the tall sides of the walls are supported by a widely fluted pillar. The archivolts are supported by small pillars in the far corners of the short wall and only have one fluting. These pillars thus have a load-bearing function. The Corinthian capitals used by Brunelleschi are entirely based on the capitals in the Pantheon.

Pantheon capitel
photos: Carole Raddato and Steven Zucker

Pazzi chapel          Opposite site        Entrance wall

Pazzi chapel  interior
photos: Steven Zucker

The small pillars in the corners of the altar area are largely hidden in the walls and also have a load-bearing function. In this respect, Brunelleschi used his knowledge of gothic constructions in the Duomo chapels. There, such load-bearing small columns, with a gothic design (left: Duomo and right Pazzi chapel) were also largely hidden in the wall.

The wide bays on the central axis have the entablature supported by consoles. This is also visible in the choir area. This again underlines the central axes of the interior.

The division of the space is repeated in the pattern of the marble floor. The lines in the marble indicate exactly where the pillars are located. Each bay of the wall: a wide one in the middle flanked by two smaller ones, is reflected in the floor pattern.

Pazzi chapel       Zoom in

Pazzi chapel cloister Santa Croce
photos: Daniel Hennemand

Around 1429, Brunelleschi was commissioned by Andrea Pazzi to begin construction. While the Old Sacristy only took ten years to complete, the construction of this chapel lasted forty years. When Brunelleschi dies in 1447, construction continues for at least two more decades. Michelozzo took over from Brunelleschi after the latter’s passing, and Michelozzo was in turn succeeded by Giuliano de Maciano. According to some authors, this is exactly why the facade looks less appealing, which can be seen as you walk through the gate of the courtyard to the chapel. Furthermore, the six Corinthian columns proved too weak to support the heavy barrel vault in the portico. The columns already needed replacing once before.

Pazzi chapel portico columns

We take a closer look at the portico, particularly the barrel vault with the panels. If you compare the outer wall that has the four windows and door in the middle with the inner wall, you will notice that the fluted pillars are not nearly as high outside as they are inside. The inside has tondos above the windows, while the outer wall quickly makes way for the entablature that is being supported by fluted Corinthian pillars.

Two inscriptions were discovered in 1962 beneath the pent roof of the portico and below the roof of the large dome. The tambour listed a date of eleven October 1459 and the plaster of the small dome in the portico listed the year 1461. This shows that the top part was not built by Brunellesch (Source: Saalman, H., ‘Filippo Brunelleschi The Buildings’, Zwemmer, London 1993 pp. 211-285).

According to Saalman, Brunelleschi intended to construct a fully round dome and not the round dome on pendentives that was ultimately erected. A fully round dome is not as high as a pendentives dome. If you look through the pent roof with its red rooftiles, you can see the top of the dome. According to Saalman, this was never the intention. Behind the pendentive dome, we can still make out a round, bricked up window, and the corners of the walls still show the initial elements of gargoyles. If the rounded dome would be built in the portico, the pent roof could do without its pillars and perhaps not be as high. The round window would then actually be able to light the interior (Source: Saalman, H., ‘Filippo Brunelleschi The Buildings’, Zwemmer, London 1993 p. 254 and further). Based on his findings and thesis, Saalman made a reconstruction of how the facade of the chapel courtyard would have looked like in Brunelleschi’s actual vision.

Carl Georg Anton Graeb ‘Hof mit Capella Pazzi’ 1858 detail
photo: portico Percy

Carl Georg Anton Graeb ‘Hof mit Capella Pazzi’ 1858

The portico for the Pazzi chapel is not just any old front hall, but it is required to sufficiently support the building behind it. So in this case, a beautiful front hall is also being functional in that it is a tectonically necessary aid.

The panels in the barrel vault of the portico are remarkable. The Romans carved the back of the square blocks of the panels into hemispheres. This made it possible for the panels to be placed against the barrel vaults, similar to how this was done with the Arch of Titus at the Forum Romanum in Rome. The astragal profiles surrounding the panels were then carved in at the spot. It goes without saying that this classic method was very labour-intensive. There was no shortage of masons in those times, but that was not true for fourteenth and fifteenth century Florence. There was a lot of work to do on the Duomo, the Palazzo della Signoria, etc, but there were only a limited number of masons. The mason workshops were thus forced to use more clever and less labour-intensive methods. The workshop of Bernardo Rossellino, which also worked on the portico of this chapel, took an inventive approach. The horizontal and vertical profiles were carved into separate segments on the floor, as were the panels themselves. Then, the elements were put together using a hoist. At completing the load-bearing frame, the capstone was next: the square panels were lowered into the profiles from the top of the vault.

Pazzi chapel facade bottom
photo: Daniel Hennemand

The freeze with the angel heads and the cornice were cut from one block of marble. Both are the basis for the barrel vault in the portico.

Brunelleschi then repeats the subtle game of the interior benches that continue to the last step of the entrance to the choir, at the outer wall. The fluted Corinthian pillars have a fully responsible basement, in full accordance with Vitruvian rules. The basement jumps back through the pillars, but does continue along the bottom along the wall. However, the styles of the entrance door do away with the top torus and trochilus, but the bottom torus and the baseboard at the door are transformed into a doorstep.

Continuation Florence day 1: Santa Maria Novella