1400 – 1500
Renaissance in Italy & the North

Brunelleschi's Old Sacristy


Filippo Brunelleschi, Old Sacristy, commissioned 1419, begun c. 1421, San Lorenzo, Florence

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

Brunellschi's Vision
Brunelleschi's Old Sacristy tells us a lot about his architectural vision—his interest in rational and ordered forms, in geometry, in centrally-planned spaces, and in using structural and decorative elements from ancient Greece and Rome to create a new style of architecture for his own time. All of this was in contrast to the Gothic style which dominated before the Renaissance.

How the Old Sacristy got its Name
The Old Sacristy by Brunelleschi is a room off the left transept in the Basilica of San Lorenzo (walk toward the altar, turn left, and you'll see the entrance). The Old Sacristy got its name when Michelangelo built the New Sacristy a century later on the other side of the transept (in the New Sacristy you can see Michelangelo's sculptures too).  

A Funerary Chapel
A sacristy is a room that holds the vestments or garments that the priest wears and other ritual objects used for the church service. This is one of reasons a sacristy tends to be close to the altar. However, in San Lorenzo, this was not the case. The Old Sacristy by Brunellsechi and the New Sacristy by Michelangelo, were both built as a funerary chapels to contain the tombs of members of the Medici family. For example, it was Giovanni di Bicci de'Medici who was responsible for establishing the wealth and political power of the Medici family in the early 15th century, who commissioned Brunelleschi to design the Old Sacristy (and who is buried there along with his wife).

San Lorenzo Exterior (Florence)

San Lorenzo and the Medici Family 
In fact, it is impossible to understand San Lorenzo without knowing about the wealthy and politically powerful Medici family, since San Lorenzo was their parish church. In fact, just about everywhere you walk within the church, you are reminded of their patronage, which continued for centuries. Michelangelo was commissioned to design the beautiful Laurentian Library in the cloister of San Lorenzo to house the Medici family collection of manuscripts. Also located at San Lorenzo is the enormous Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes), a mausoleum the Medici family built in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

San Lorenzo
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the largest and oldest churches in Florence (it is located just a few blocks north of the Cathedral of Florence). There was an older church on the site that was rebuilt in the early 1400s. The principal architect was Brunelleschi but since only a small part of the church was completed by the time his death, the actual structure only partially reflects his design. The exterior of the church was never completed, though Michelangelo was given the commission a century later.

Google Earth View of San LorenzoView of San Lorenzo from Google Earth

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