Brunelleschi and Michelangelo are the two names associated with the simple ochre coloured Santo Spirito Church. The square it gives its name to is popular with students and locals out for an evening aperitivo.
Arguably the best known corner of the Oltrarno, the church of Santo Spirito is a perfect example of Renaissance architectural harmony. It was designed by Brunelleschi, who followed a strict geometrical plan to create a perfection of forms and proportion, but didn’t live long enough to see it completed. The plans he had for the facade were never realised, so it was left blank and later plastered over.
Michelangelo in Santo Spirito Church
The church has a curious history. The Augustinian monastery annexed to the church was a meeting place for intellectuals: the early humanists used to meet here, both Petrarca and Boccaccio were regular guests. Boccaccio left his library to the convent. The prior of the church gave hospitality to an 18 year old Michelangelo after the death of his patron Lorenzo Il Magnifico, and allowed him to dissect and study the bodies coming from the convent’s hospital. Studying human anatomy was of course an important part of an artist’s education.
In exchange for this privilege, Michelangelo sculpted a wooden crucifix that is visible in the Sacristy. It’s a frail and languid adolescent Christ, very far from the powerful later figures by the artist, but quite moving in his vulnerability.
While the visit to the church is free, since April 2017 there’s a 3 euros ticket to pay to access the cloister and the sacristy which contains the beautiful Michelangelo’s crucifix.
Inside the church there are very clear patterns at work. These clean proportions and geometric figures are the basis of Renaissance architecture, and regularly feature in Brunelleshi’s work. The 38 chapels host a generous amount of art works, mainly Renaissance.
The cloister and the sacristy
The beautiful 17th century Cloister has been open to the public in April 2017. The access is through a door to the left of the facade, where you get the ticket to visit the cloister and the sacristy (3 euros). It’s a peaceful space, and has a small garden in the centre. The walls are lined with tombstones and frescoed with scenes from the life of Saint Augustine. You can also visit the refectory with a charming “Last Supper” fresco by Mannierist artist Bernardino Poccetti.
In the sacristy, designed by Giuliano Sangallo (1489-92) in Renaissance style, you’ll find the beautiful wooden crucifix attributed to Michelangelo.
Don’t miss: some interesting paintings
“The Madonna del Soccorso” (1485) by Domenico di Zanobi – You’ll find this painting in the third chapel on the right. It shows an unusual and fascinating subject based on an apocryphal legend about the Virgin Mary. It tells how Mary thrashes the devil out of a child while the mother begs for help on her knees.
In the fifth chapel there is Filippino Lippi’s famous “Madonna and Child with Saints”. Other fine works are to be found in the left transept. Meanwhile in the first chapel there’s a “Madonna and Child with Angels and Saints” by Raffaellino del Garbo.
Santo Spirito Church opening hours are a little limited – 10-12:30 and 16:00 -18:00 (Closed on Wednesday)