Santa Felicita: Brunelleschi’s Capponi chapel

The Corridoio Vasariano

Ponte Vecchio Florence
photo: Ray in Manila

Mannelli Tower
“The Corridoio Vasariano is an approximately one kilometre long passageway built by Giorgio Vasari, the exclusive architect of the Medici, commissioned by Cosimo I to connect the Palazzo della Signoria with the Palazzo Pitti via the Uffizi. Cosimo, a sophisticated man, drew his inspiration for the Corridoio from Homerus, which mentions a covered passage that connected the palaces of Priamos and Hector. After all, for the Medici, it was dangerous to venture out in public even with bodyguards. Machiavelli had said that a ruler cannot afford to show himself to the public outside of regular protocol. This passage was likely Vasari’s greatest architectural challenge. Because the passageway ran above the city, he had to apply arches, arcades, walls and consoles on top of the homes of the Ponte Vecchio, and work his Corridoio straight through the city. The width of the passage varies. Above the Ponte Vecchio, its widest point is approximately five metres, and at the end of the bridge near the Mannelli tower at its smallest at some 1.5 metres” Translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘Firenze Een Anekdotische reisgids’ Athenaeum-Polak&van Gennep Amsterdam 2006 pp. 68 – 69

Mannelli Tower Florence
photo: Sailko

On this day, we will only examine the architecture of this remarkable church. Strangely enough, the church we find ourselves in is a gothic church, but one with a copious amount of baroque. Before we examine the Capponi chapel or Barbadori chapel, we first continue for the altar, to then turn around and look at the lattice of the corridoio above the entrance (and a view from the hall in the Santa Felicita). This is where you see the famous private hall that was constructed by Vasari for the Medici. This hall starts at the Palazzo Pitti and runs along the Ponte Vecchio to then end at the Palazzo Vecchio. To be seen on the internet here. This hall is where many artists, commissioned by the Medici, drew portraits that can still be admired today. Sadly, the ticket fees for this hall are so exuberantly high that we will skip it.

Santa Felicita: facade Florence
photo: Ricardalovesmonuments

We now walk towards the other side of the Arno. We cross the Ponte Vecchio and arrive at the Via Guicciardini, with a small square to our left hand side, the Santa Felicita. This church is where Brunelleschi constructed a chapel that is mostly known for its frescos and altarpiece painted by Pontormo (click here for the story of Pontormo’s work in this chapel).

The Capponi Chapel in the Santa Felicita       Nave     The chapel

Capponi Chapel  Santa Felicita interior
photos: Steven Zucker

The chapel was later given a baroque shell to fit the tastes of that time. The original dome was replaced in 1736. Behind the baroque layer, the original chapel was still preserved relatively well, save for the dome. These days, that is hard to see. There are however reconstruction drawings and pictures of the chapel behind the baroque shell. The combination of a pillar and a spandrel with a rosette inside can be found back in the famous fresco, Trinity, by Masaccio from c. 1425 that we will examine later at the Santa Maria Novella. If you look closely, you will see something peculiar in the corners at the back, where Pontormo painted the deposition from the cross. Pontormo Cappella Capponi at Web Gallery of Art. Between the semi columns is a protruding profile of pietra serene. This profile continues into the pendentive. This is a real pillar, largely hidden in the wall, of which you can only see the top protruding from the wall between the two semi columns. This is reminiscent of the pilasters next to the columns supporting the arches at the Ospedale degli Innocenti. These pilasters look like pilasters to the naked eye, but in reality they are just pillars that are nearly entirely hidden in the wall. So one’s eye is perceiving something that in reality is completely different. Still, there is a difference between the Ospedale degli Innocenti and the earlier work of Brunelleschi that we are now standing in front of: the Cappella Barbadori. While Brunelleschi made less use of the different orders for the orphanage – the capital of the pilaster and the column are both Corinthian – ‘our’ young architect uses another two orders for this chapel: Ionic and Corinthian

Capponi Chapel  Santa Felicita interior

The strange looking, or in more subjective terms, the ugly protruding profile that you can see between the semi columns at the back wall has led to some people not attributing this chapel to Brunelleschi. After all, a great architect like him could never have been responsible for this. They are forgetting that the young Brunelleschi was still at the start of his career, and he had not yet mastered his own style. Still, it is a work by Brunelleschi just like his biographer Manetti describest. Furthermore, there are several sources that indicate Brunelleschi is indeed the architect. For instance, the Barbadori’s were involved with the Opera del Duomo. For the construction of the dome on the chapel, Brunelleschi took out a three-day loan for hoisting equipment from the Duomo. Marble was also purchased from the Opera for the chapel. Vasari writes that Brunelleschi used the domes of the Barbadori chapel and the Ridolfi chapel (both were torn down later) to show that he could erect self-supporting domes without using scaffolding from the ground up.

Brunelleschi took his inspiration for this chapel from old gothic Florentine constructions like the Bigallo. These loggia are where the Florentines left behind their unwanted children. At the Bigallo, opposite from the Duomo, we see two sides placed against the back wall, but it also has two openwork sides. Still, there is a stark difference between the architect of the Bigallo, Alberto Arnoldi, and Brunelleschi. This difference goes further than gothic vs classic methods that Brunelleschi used for his chapel. At the Bigallo, there is no distinction between the main and the subordinate order. For instance, Arnoldi does not distinguish between the different orders at the capitals, which each support a different element. They are common capitals. This is something that Brunelleschi now rejects utterly. He makes a clear distinction between the main order, the pilasters and the subordinate order of the semi columns. It is crystal clear which order supports what. The main order: the Corinthian supports the entablature and the Ionic order, the semi columns, support the arch.

Pontormo ‘Announcement’ on the western wall

Pontormo 'Announcement' on the western wall Capponi Chapel
photo: Sailko

When Pontormo is commissioned to add frescos and an altarpiece for the chapel, he also paints an Announcement on the western wall. This wall originally had an Annunciation that has had miracles attributed to it. This fresco traces back to a fresco at the Santissima Annunziata that was completed by an angel. More on this when we visit this famous chapel again at the day we cover painting, but that will be to examine the work of mannerist painter Pontormo.

Pontormo ‘The Deposition from the Cross’ 1525–1528

Pontormo 'The Deposition from the Cross'
photo: Steven Zucker

For the story of the frescos of Pontormo in this church, click here.

Continuation Florence day 2: Santo Spirito