Medici Chapel Museum – Florence
The Medici Chapel in Florence (Italian: Museo delle Cappelle Medicee) is a museum most known for featuring the Sagrestia Nuova mausoleum by Michelangelo.
The museum is part of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, an imposing early 15th century church designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and the second largest church in Florence; the construction was financed by the House of Medici, with a view to make the basilica their main, monumental, place of burial.
The building was expanded in the 16th and 17th centuries by adding two new chapels, the Sagrestia Nuova and the Cappella dei Principi, both conceived to accommodate the tombs of some of the most important members of the Medici family.
Along with the basilica and the chapels, the complex of San Lorenzo includes two cloisters, and the famous Laurentian Library also built after Michelangelo’s design.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence; the Sagrestia Nuova is the dome-topped wind on the right; photo: dvdbramhall
The museum and Michelangelo’s Sagrestia Nuova
Founded in 1869, the Medici Chapel Museum encompasses four different spaces.
Located underneath the Cappella dei Principi, the crypt is a vaulted space which accommodates the reception area and a permanent exhibition featuring the Treasure of San Lorenzo, consisting of reliquaries, liturgical objects, rock crystal and semi-precious stone vases, silvers, and other precious applied art pieces donated by the Medici to the parish.
The Cripta Lorenese is a second, smaller crypt, which houses the tombs of the Medici-Lorena family and the funeral monument of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder (1467) by Andrea del Verrocchio. This space is undergoing renovation works and is currently closed to the public.
Built between 1520 and 1559, the Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy) is one of the masterpieces by Michelangelo, who designed its architecture and sculpted the two world-famous funeral monuments located inside it.
Completed by Giorgio Vasari and Bernardo Buontalenti after Michelangelo moved from Florence to Rome in 1534, the mausoleum is a magnificent cubic space, covered by hemispherical dome topped by lantern, whose design was inspired partly by the Pantheon in Rome.
On the east and west internal sides of the sacristy, Michelangelo created two impressive funeral monuments, with the statues of two of the members of the Medici family buried there, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and Giuliano Duke of Nemours, depicted as Roman leaders and flanked by four sculptures symbolizing day, night, dawn, and dusk.
The mausoleum was intended to house also the monumental tombs of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano, but Michelangelo didn’t complete them before its departure; therefore, the two are buried into two rather simple sarcophagi made in stone.
The Sagrestia Nuova also contains a famous statue of the Holy Mary, known as Medici Madonna, sculpted by Michelangelo between 1521 and 1534 and located over the tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Finally, the Cappella dei Principi is an imposing octagonal chapel built in 1650 after a design by Don Giovanni de’ Medici and Matteo Nigetti.
The chapel – renowned for its semi-precious stone and polychrome marble inlaid decorations which cover its walls and floor, and covered by the second largest dome in Florence – accommodates the large sarcophagi, made in granite stone, of six Grand-Dukes of Tuscany.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, the Night, 1526–1531, marble sculpture; photo: Frans Vandewalle
Completely accessible to physically impaired people, the museum also includes a small book shop, and a temporary exhibition space.
View of San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel from via dell’Ariento; photo: Royal Constantine
The Medici Chapel seen from Piazza di San Lorenzo; photo: Doug Jones
The “Cappella dei Principi” with the Medici Chapel museum’s main entrance; photo © Inexhibit
The Treasure of San Lorenzo permanent exhibition; photo © Inexhibit
Michelangelo, tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici Duke of Urbino, 1524-1534, marble; the two side statues symbolize dusk (left) and dawn (right); photo: Brendan Campbell
Michelangelo, tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici Duke of Nemours, 1524-1534, marble; with the sculptures depicting night (left) and day (right); photo: Brendan Campbell
Michelangelo, Medici Madonna (detail), 1521-1534, marble sculpture; photo: ctj71081
Michelangelo Buonarroti, early study for the New Sacresty in Florence, image courtesy of Comune di Firenze
Medici Chapel Museum, the “Cappella dei Principi” with its exuberant decorative apparatus made in marble and semi-precious stones; photo: ctj71081
Cappella dei Principi, the octagonal dome; photo: ctj71081
Cover image: Medici Chapel Museum, Florence; the tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici Duke of Nemours by Michelangelo Buonarroti; photo: D Smith