Day 15: “In Santa Croce with No Baedecker”
Another day, another historic adventure in Firenze.
Luckily, I felt significantly better today, well enough that I felt up to a class field trip to the church of Santa Croce (i.e., the Holy Cross) on the other side of town. The piazza around the church was still filled with the temporary stadium set up for a game of calcio on the feast day of San Giovanni, but the church, a blinding white in the scorching sun, drove out everything else from view. Inside we followed the professor down the impressively large nave, learning that the church was originally built on a much smaller scale in honor of St. Francis. A symbol of poverty and simplicity, the ideal of St. Francis was quickly ornamented with a bigger, grander church, covered in every inch by frescos. Today, after the “restoration” of Giovanni Vasari, many of the frescos have been wiped away and are contained in the chapels flaking the alter. However, the magnificent marble floor, filled with grave stones placed for those buried underneath remains. Speaking of burial, none other than Michelangelo and Galileo are buried in Santa Croce, some of the most important and talented men of the Renaissance, and, per me, in Galileo a personal icon. Last semester I was fascinated to learn that, although Galileo did eventually end up renouncing his ideas publicly to the Church in order to save his life, for him it made no difference because he knew he was right. I couldn’t quite place myself in the same way as Lucy Honeychurch is placed in A Room with a View; although like her I had no Baedecker, I did have a skilled professor for a guide.
The professor brought us around to the chapels, pointing out the frescos by Giotto, Dati, and others. It was one thing to see these images in class, but quite another to be so close to them and discover there vibrant color and expression. The size of Giotto’s figures alone was a revelation, figures that looked close to us in their thought and movement. We had the chance to walk behind the alter and look up into the stained glass windows and incredible frescos, as well as see the other chapels reserved for prayer. In addition, we looked into later works, such ass a grey stone carving by Donatello of the annunciation, significant for the particular way in which Donatello portrayed the event. Of all the many parts of the moment he could chose to display, he chose the moment in which the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and her reaction, her surprise, carved into the stone with an incredible sense of movement.
After the church proper, we made a stop in an attached chapel designed by Brunelleschi. Here we could see his significance as a Renaissance architect in the way in which he highlighted the building itself, rather than the decoration. With the conclusion of class and the tour, my friend and I explored a bit further into a crypt filled with grave stones and the green space ajoining the church. We somehow managed to walk back in the direction of our apartment and stopped for a traditional Italian dinner at a Chinese restaurant.