San Lorenzo Church

One of the oldest and largest churches in Florence is also one of the city’s earliest examples of Renaissance design.

Make your way through San Lorenzo Market in Florence’s busiest square to San Lorenzo Church (Basilica di San Lorenzo). The rough-hewn stone façade that you see as you approach belies the artistry and design within. Michelangelo, Donatello and Brunelleschi all made contributions to the design and decoration of the church, which is also the resting place for members of the long-ruling Medici family. This wealthy dynasty funded many of Florence’s Renaissance structures.

The San Lorenzo Church is one of many that lays claim to being the city’s oldest. Consecrated in 393, it was rebuilt over several years from 1419. The architect Brunelleschi was responsible for the original design, and the high arches, Corinthian columns and attention to symmetry are early examples of what later became classical Renaissance style.

Look our for the bronze pulpits in the vast interior. These were Donatello’s last work. The reliefs on them depict scenes from the Resurrection and the life of Christ. To see the work of another Italian master, head to the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) in one of the church’s cloisters. Michelangelo designed this space, and it’s often heralded as his finest architectural achievement.

Michelangelo was also responsible for the whitewashed walls and domed ceiling of the New Sacristy (Sagrestia Nuova). He designed the Medici tombs within. The tombs feature sculptural figures representing the four times of day. More than 50 members of the Medici family are buried in the grand Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee).

Find the best example of Brunelleschi’s geometric precision in the Old Sacristy (Sagrestia Vecchia) in the north transept. This square, domed area is the oldest part of the church and the only area to have been completed during the architect’s lifetime. On the walls you will see eight reliefs by Donatello depicting the life of St. John the Baptist.

The San Lorenzo Church is open daily, except some national holidays and some Sundays and Mondays. There is a small entry fee, and certain areas, such as the library, incur an extra charge. For operating hours and admission fees, check the website of the Polo Museale Fiorentino (an institution which administers art works).

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