Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Florence 2012 Journal: San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte is a Romanesque church dedicated to St.Minas, who according to legend had his decapitated head carried up and left to die on the spot of where the church now stands. He is buried in the crypt.

The building’s facade is covered in religious symbolism. These include 5 frontal arcades to represent the 5 stigmata’s of Christ, the triquetra symbol to represent the trinity (top), Roman symbols of flowers to symbolise paradise (middle) and a vase with water inside to represent holy water (bottom).

As with many churches from this era (Santa Maria Novella being a prime example) the church is split into two sections. The bottom half of the facade (finishes just above the arcades) is the ‘earthly’ half; the earthly half is where the worshippers can feel involved. However, the top and ‘heavenly/paradise’ part is off limits, theoretical access can only be granted once you’ve led the right life and therefore can pass through the ‘Porta Coeli’ – door to heaven. The circles at either side of the temple front are to represent infinity while the four squares make reference to the four doctors of the church and the four evangelists. The use of green marble here again is to show the wealth of the Florentines in a similar way that Santa Maria del Fiore, Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella do too.

The temple front has a painting that includes Jesus and St. Minus with a Gold Leaf background. The inclusion of this technique and the relatively simple detail in the figures’ drapery would suggest this part of the facade was completed in the 12th century or early 13th century and lends itself mainly to the Greek manner. In addition to that, the triangular shapes with crossing over diagonals at either side of the temple front are derived from decoration in a typical ancient Greek Shena (Scene) in a theatre. However, the imitations of classical architectural features such as the temple front begin to show the progression of the ‘proto renaissance’: subtle changes to the conventional style that influenced new generations of artists/architects who ‘stabilised’ the Renaissance.

The Calimala symbol (Eagle) of the silk and cotton guilds is situated throughout the church including on the very top of the facade. Other things that I found interesting inside of the church were the holes that had been left on the side of the walls where scaffolding had once been to paint frescoes. These were not filled in so the assumption is that the intended fresco cycle was not completed. This is similar to the scaffolding holes that were found after the 1990 restoration of the Sistine Chapel. It is now known that these were there in order to allow the scaffolding there to be off of the ground to not interrupt the Pope and his ceremonies.

The interior plan is one of a Roman Basilica (Royal Hall), we know this because it has a two aisles at either side of the main nave. However the distinction between this and a Christian Basilica is the recommended rhythm for processions that the architecture subtly implies in the colour coded pilasters and columns. The first, fourth, fifth and eighth column are a different colour to encourage the pace of a procession to slow down, the exact pattern can be expressed in terms of: A, B, B, A    A, B, B, A.

(The capital for the column is ill fitted because it has been recycled from a Roman building and therefore not made to the same dimensions as the column.)

The altar in the middle is a later Renaissance addition in the Medici era. It has the Calimala symbol along with the Medici family crest with ‘Semper’(forever/always) written alongside it in the same way as we saw in the chapel in Palazzo Medici. Another similarity is the depiction of the three daughters of Pierra de Gaudi. As with many Romanesque churches Spolia in the form of reused Corinthian capitals have been put in place and the crypt features 36 columns of which are all different sizes and shapes – all Spolia. There are 36 as it is a multiple of the number of paradise, 6.

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