A real treasure hunt in search of details, creativity and beauty
Piero di Cosimo
Giuliano da San Gallo, son of Francesco Giamberti di Bartolo, a furniture carver, trained in Florence in the second half of the 1400s in an environment of artisans and artists. He was a pupil of Francione, a sculptor in wood and ivory, but also an engineer of fortifications. He stayed in Rome between 1465 – 1469, where he studied classical works. Returning to Florence, he worked with his brother Antonio on wood sculpture (he made the wooden crucifix preserved in the basilica of Santissima Annunziata) and designed military engineering works. He thus came into contact with the Medici, in whose service he participated in strengthening the walls of Colle di Val d’Elsa and San Gimignano. From 1470, he worked as an architect in Florence in collaboration with his brother. He quickly became the favourite architect of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who commissioned him to build the villa at Poggio a Caiano, the prototype of the Italian Renaissance villa, and the Sacristy of Santo Spirito, as well as other works. These included a comprehensive plan to strengthen Florence’s territorial defences, which included the design of the new Fortress of Poggio Imperiale in Poggibonsi (1488-1511) with its innovative polygonal bastions.
He left Florence following the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1492) and the expulsion of the Medici (1494). He was in Milan, where he met Leonardo and Bramante. In 1494 he went to France at the invitation of Charles VIII. Between 1495 and 1497, he resided in Savona to build the palace of Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere (future Julius II), following whom he was back in France in 1496 and travelled to Provence, drawing the Roman remains of the region. He also worked in Siena and, between 1499 and 1500, went to Loreto to work on the dome of the sanctuary of the Holy House.
In the early 1500s, when Giuliano Della Rovere became Pope Julius II, he settled in Rome and worked for the papal court. Around 1505, he drew up and proposed plans for the basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican that influenced Bramante’s design. He returned momentarily to Florence, where he was appointed master builder of the Opera del Duomo and then back to Rome after the election of Leo X De Medici (1513). Until 1515, he was the master builder of the St. Peter’s site along with Raphael.
He died in Florence in 1516.
The Sacristy of the basilica of Santo Spirito in Florence is a small jewel of the Renaissance period. Construction of the Sacristy was begun by Giuliano da Sangallo in 1489 and was completed by Simone del Pollaiolo in 1492. The domed roof was designed by Antonio del Pollaiolo and Salvi d’Andrea and was built between 1495 and 1496.
It is preceded by a rectangular vestibule inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The barrel vault, decorated with rich lacunars with figures and mythological scenes in the background, is supported by twelve Corinthian columns made of pietra serena from the quarries of Fiesole. The portal is decorated with a fresco depicting St. Augustine washing the feet of a poor man. Some of the elegant capitals are attributed to Andrea Sansovino.
The sacristy is octagonal in plan, with fluted Corinthian pilasters in pietra serena. Rectangular windows with triangular pediments open in the tambour; circular windows are found in the lunettes. A ribbed dome surmounts the sacristy with a lantern.
On the altar in front of the entrance is a painting by Alessandro Allori, Saint Phiacre Healing the Sick (1596), commissioned by Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, wife of Ferdinand I De Medici.
In the lunette above the portal is a fresco of the Vision of St. Augustine by the Sea. To the portal’s left are two sculptures: a Crucifix of the da Sangallo school.
Also in the sacristy is the Coronation of the Virgin, attributed to Giovanni Maria Butteri, and Michelangelo’s youthful crucifix was relocated to the centre of the Scarsella in 2000.
The church and monastery of San Gallo were destroyed in 1529. The church had an unusual single-nave layout with rectangular chapels.
These marvellous works inherited from times past are an essential testimony of thoughts, intellectual and artistic skills that allow us to better understand the everyday life of our ancestors. Perhaps this is also the real treasure behind these fantastic shapes and colours that we can admire today.