Harmonious Renaissance architecture and the Medici’s tombs are highlights of a visit to San Lorenzo.
The bulky form of San Lorenzo church stands in a busy neighbourhood, near the market.
This is the place to come to soak up some Medici family history. This is the church where the family would come to pray, keep their books and bury their dead, and today it contains their decorated tombs in chapels designed by Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.
It might not be the most spectacular church in the city but the peaceful, bright interior is a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the square outside. The original project was the work of Brunelleschi, appointed by the Medici to completely restructure one of Florence’s oldest churches. Originally Michelangelo was supposed to design the facade, but his design never saw the light of day, hence the building’s rough unfinished appearance.
A bit of history:
This edifice was consecrated a cathedral in 393, a status that it kept for around 300 years, when the remains of the first bishop of Florence San Zenobi got moved to Santa Reparata, that became the new cathedral. After this San Lorenzo followed in the wake of the Medici’s fame.
The Medici used to live in via Cavour, in what is now called the Medici-Riccardi Palace, a few steps from San Lorenzo Church. This became their “official” church where they would attend mass on Sunday morning. Giovanni, wanting to offer the neighbourhood a more splendid place to worship, decided to restructure San Lorenzo where a chapel was already under construction for him. Cosimo, his son, was the first one to be buried here (his tomb is in front of the main altar).
What to see in San Lorenzo:
The splendid Medici Chapels are a showcase of the Medici’s prodigality and the most prestigious artists of the time, including Michelangelo. These chapels are the most spectacular parts of the church, though you’ll need a separate ticket to visit them.
The interior of the church itself, with its proportioned geometries, is pure Renaissance. The Old Sacristy (1420-28) designed by Brunelleschi is remarkable for the purity and perfection of shapes, and is decorated by Donatello’s sculptures.
The bronze pulpits, built around 1460, are Donatello’s last work and depict the Resurrection and scenes from the life of Christ. A fresco by Bronzino depicting the “Martyrdom of St. Lawrence” (1569) is a Mannerist study of the human body.
The splendid Laurenziana Library, designed by Michelangelo, can be visited only when there’s a special exhibition but it’s very worthwhile.