Visit the Medici Chapels and see the mausoleum Michelangelo designed for his patrons. Marvel at the Chapel of the Princes, surely the most opulent room in the whole of Florence.
The Medici Chapels, built in the 16th and 17th century, are an extension of the Church of San Lorenzo, but you’ll need a separate ticket to visit them. Most of the members of the Medici family are buried here, including Lorenzo Il Magnifico and his brother Giuliano.
What to see in the Medici Chapels
New sacristy by Michelangelo
Around a hundred years after Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo Church was built, a New Sacristy was planned, and Michelangelo was chosen for the job. The basic forms are still anchored in the Renaissance, but Michelangelo adds more tension to the architecture here. There’s something very dynamic about the design of the space, and the statues too, all of which are depicted in dramatic poses to represent the passing of time.
But Michelangelo was notoriously difficult to work with, and tended to leave most of his work unfinished. The New Sacristy was not an exception. In 1534 he left Florence for Rome never to return and by this time only two funerary monuments had been completed; the ones for Giuliano Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo Duke of Urbino. The latter shouldn’t be confused with his patron Lorenzo the Magnificent, who ironically has a very simple and unfinished tomb, decorated with Michelangelo’s statue “Madonna and Child”.
Love Michelangelo? Check out a complete list of Michelangelo’s works in Florence.
Chapel of the Princes
After the sober elegance of Michelangelo’s work, the adjacent Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes) is pure theatre. The Medici lavished an eye-watering amount of money on this chapel, filling it with multi-coloured marble and grandiose detailing. It’s a great example of skills of Florentine craftsmen even if it’s not to everyone’s taste.
For generations, the Medici had been using art as a means to show off their power, but when in 1604 they started to pour money into the Chapel of the Princes, it was during a time of decline. All the marble and ostentatious inlaid stonework (alabaster, agate and mother-of-pearl) couldn’t save them. The last members of the family, Gian Gastone, drank himself to death in 1737, leaving Tuscany in the hands of the Lorena.
Entrance to the Medici Chapel: from Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6
Did you know?
The Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Workshop of semi-precious stones), founded in 1588 by Ferdinando I, dedicated most of its time to working on the Chapel of the Princes. The technique originated from Byzantine inlay work and was perfected by Opificio masters. Today it’s a small museum in Via Alfani with examples of cabinets, table tops and plates, all of which exhibit this technique.
The Pope said he would excommunicate Michelangelo if he didn’t finish his job in the New Sacristy but he still refused to do so and left Florence for Rome in 1534.