Unfinished Facade of Santo Spirito


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Santo Spirito facade Oltrarno Florence

The re-design of Santo Spirito church facade in Oltrarno, Florence, by Simone Catania

In the peaceful area of Oltrarno, Florence, you will find the quiet and unassuming Santo Spirito church, or to use its full name: Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito. It may not look like much from the outside, but you can rest assured that this particular church is in fact a true masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

As there are countless churches, renaissance structures and examples of stunning artwork dotted all around the Tuscan city of Florence, you may not think about visiting the Santo Spirito church. At first glance, you will simply see a plain façade, which has been left unfinished. Even up until the eighteenth century it was just rough stone, before it was then plastered over, without any form of decoration.

As you enter the building however, you start to realise the architectural significance of this otherwise ‘plain’ church. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in the 1420s, the current building has a much more elaborate interior compared with its façade, and at the time of being built, it was really an extraordinarily innovative structure. Brunelleschi successfully managed to build the Santo Spirito’s cross shaped interior whilst at the same time adhering to two important concepts of the time; ensuring the use of classical architectural elements as well as reflecting the regularity and order of the Renaissance scientists of the time. Architecturally speaking, it is incredibly noteworthy.

The church has several important frescoes; one of the most important being the ‘St Monica Establishing the Rule of the Augustinian Nuns’ by Botticini. You can see this, as well as many other works of art in the 38 classically inspired niche-chapels that Brunelleschi constructed. You also have the possibility to see a real Michaelangelo piece, in the form of the Crucifix, which he donated to the church after having completed at age 17. It may be necessary to ask to see this though, as it is not always on show to the public.

So, although the interior is a marvellous display of true Renaissance architecture, the façade remains to be completed. That’s not for want of trying though, as during the 1980s, the artist Mario Mariotti created a citizen involvement project, which invited people to design and project a whole host of quirky, often politically charged images onto the plain façade. While you can’t see these being projected, you can buy books and postcards of the interesting designs in the cafes and shops on the Piazza Santo Spirito.

If you fancy visiting this culturally significant church, then why not try a Florence tour? The Oltrarno walking tour takes you not only to the Santo Spirito, but also shows you the impressive Piazza Pitti and the skilled craftsmen and artist who live and work in this district.

Gallery credits: University of Florence

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