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Michelangelo and the Medici's Sepulchres at the Medici's Chepels in florence

With the new Pope Leone X, the former Giovanni de’ Medici, Michelangelo Buonarroti went back to work in Florence, where in 1512, a year before the election of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s son to the papal throne, the Pope’s family had returned to power, bringing to an end the Republican interlude.

It was obvious that Pope Leo should be particularly attentive to his native city, especially because it was necessary to emphasize the return of the Medici family to Florence, reasserting its prestige. Michelangelo had until now been a scultor and then a painter against his will. Under the Medici Pope he turned for the first time to architecture as well, confirming himself as an eclectic artist, in accordance with that figure of “complete” artist typical of the Renaissance with its supremely talented personalities such as Leonardo, Raphael or, although on a more modest level, Giorgio Vasari.

The fisrt commission assigned by the Pope to Michelangelo was for the completation of San Lorenzo façade which had been left in the rough stage. The first task was never carried out and the façade remains unfinished still today. Michelangelo’s project has survived in a woden model. Michelangelo was asked then to build within the church a new family chapel modelled on the first mausoleum-chapel annexed by the Medici to the building, that Old sacresty designed by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1421 and 1426.

Just as Filippo Brunelleschi’s Sacresty had housed – in a space decorated by such artists as Donatello and Verrocchio – the remains of Giovanni di Bicci, Cosimo the Elder’s father, and the latter’s sons, Piero and Giovanni de’ Medici, so the chapel now commissioned of Michelangelo was to hold the tombs of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano as well as those of the younger members of the Medici Family who had died recently and prematurely: Giuliano Duke of Memours (son of the Magnificent and brother of Leo X) and Lorenzo Duke of Urbino (the Pope’s nephew).

cappelle mediceeFrom the new Florentine commission sprang one of Michelangelo’s superlative works, the New sacresty of San Lorenzo, later incorporated in the monument called the Medicean Chapels, the ensemble made up of Michelangelo’s chapel and the 17th century one known as the “Princes’ Chapel”.

Conceived as counterpart, not only ideal but also “phisical” (being located on the other side of the transept) to Brunelleschi’s Old Sacresty, the New Sacresty reiterates its square structure covered by a dome and its elements in “pietra serena”.

However, the interior designed by Michelangelo appears much more tense and dramatic – as compared to the older model – and presents very complex characteristics: a strikingly impressive interior where architecture and sculpture meet to create a place of highly enigmatic symbolism, the significance of which is still debated by the experts. As for other works by the great artist, here too a Neo-platonic interpretation seems most fitting.
In idealized rather than realistic figures, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino is portrayed in a meditative pose while Giuliano is modelled on the statues of Roman emperors, wearing a cuirass and bearing the imperial sceptre.

On each tomb are two allegorical statues, among Michelangelo’s most extraordinary works: Night and Day on Giuliano’s sarcophagus; Dusk and Sìdawn on Lorenzo’s sepulchre. Michelangelo also sculpted the beautiful Madonna and Child placed on the opposite side of the altar


Photogallery Cappelle Medicee

Medici Chapels Tour: the Itinerary

You will visit the Buontalenti Crypt, under the Princes Chapel, where the Medici and their family members are buried. You will also be able to admire the walls covered with semi-precious stones and marble panels in the great Princes Chapel, for which the Opificio delle pietre Dure,the factory of semi-precious stones, was created, so that this enormous decorative task could be carried out. 
One then proceeds into the New Vestry of San Lorenzo, designed by Michelangelo, to admire one of his most famous sculptural groups: the allegorical figures of Dawn, Dusk, Day and Night, the statues of two Medici dukes and the Madonna and Child.

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