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In my opinion, the Medici Chapels are the most interesting part of the monumental complex of San Lorenzo. The complex consists of the church of San Lorenzo, the basilica, the old sacristy, the library and the museum of the Medici Chapels.
San Lorenzo was the official church of the Medici family for over three hundred years. In 1520, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici (Pope Clement VII) decided to build a mausoleum for the Medici family. The family were still paying for it until the death of the last Medici – Anna Maria Luisa de Medici in 1743. The mausoleum is now a museum.
Entrance and outward appearance
The entrance to the museum is to the back of the church and there is a separate entrance fee. The entrance was a little difficult to find. We found the church with no problems but to get to the chapels you have to pass through a row of busy market stalls to the side of the church.
The dome is distinctive – rather like a baby version of the Duomo’s dome – mimicking both colour, and shape.
After paying the entrance fee at the ticket office (€6 for adults and €3 for children), you enter the crypt - somber space with lowered vaults supported by large pilasters. Here are numerous tombs including Anna Maria Luisa’s.
A bronze statue of the Anna Maria Luisa sits in the crypt overlooking her tomb. There are various exhibits situated around the crypt
The main interest for visitors though – the two Medic chapels, the Chapel of Princes and Michelangelo’s New Sacristy, are via a flight of stone stairs. There is no other way into the chapels making the chapels unsuitable for disabled visitors.
The Chapel of the Princes
At the top of the stairs, you first enter the Chapel of the Princes. This vast, lavish and somewhat gaudy octagonal chapel, is completely covered with dark marble, stones and colourful frescos. It was built by the architect Matteo Nigetti in 1604-1640 to the design of another of the Medici family Don Giovanni (a good name for an opera) de Medici who dabbled in architecture in a semi-professional way.
The frescos are scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The height of the chapel leads your gaze up to the magnificent domed ceiling. On the walls are the coats of arms of the sixteen Tuscan cities. Restoration work is still ongoing covering up some of the frescoes which was a shame. Six of the Medici Grand Dukes are buried here.
The New Sacristy
A short corridor and small flight of steps links the Chapel of Princes to the New Sacristy. This is the highlight of the museum. Housed in this small chapel are the tombs of Cosimo’s two sons, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) and Guiliano.
On the left wall of the sacristy is Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo whose seated statue symbolizes the contemplative life. Below him on the elongated curves of the tomb stretch Dawn (female) and Dusk (male).
On the right wall is Guiliano in military uniform – a man of action. At his feet are the figures of Day (male) and Night (female).
I have to agree with the many art critics. Michelangelo does not sculpt a good female nude. The details on the sculptures given their size are remarkable – the toe, beards, hair. These allegorical figures exemplify Michelangelo’s genius.
Also in the chapel is Michelangelo’s Madonna & child and two other works by some of Michelangelo’s trainees.
The New Sacristy remains unfinished. Michelangelo had to flee Florence in 1530 leaving sketches on the wall for planned frescoes never to be completed. It is said that he actually hid in the chapel when making his escape.
There is a small counter selling postcards, books and souvenirs in the crypt. There are no toilets and no refreshments available. There are many cafes in the street outside the chapel.
Opening times and cost
The museum is open daily from 8.15 a.m. to 4.50 p.m. It is closed on the 2nd and 4th Sunday and 1st, 3rd and 5th Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.
Tickets can be bought at the museum on the day (there were no queues) or can be bought online.
Adult tickets are €6 for adults and €3 for children, OAPs and students. 1 Euro = 0.80 British pounds at the time of writing.
As many will already know from reading some of my previous reviews, one of my main aims in Florence was to complete a Michelangelo trail. The Medici Chapel was an important visit. These are sculptures crafted by Michelangelo still in the place that they were meant to be. As most of his works have been moved, I felt this added to their importance in his history.
The Chapel of the Princes was a little too grand, a little too pompous. There was nowhere to sit and contemplate the ornate decorations and due to the height you ended up with a sore neck looking up. We spent just a fleeting amount of time here.
As with many other attractions in Florence, photography is prohibited but as with the many attractions – a blind eye approach to cameras was taken by the attendants.
I do recommend a visit if only for Michelangelo’s Sacristy. Expect to spend about one – two hours here.
Pictures of Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee), Florence