Arriving in 1208 or 1209, the Franciscans had initially settled in San Gallo, just outside the city walls. They then moved here, to an area of poor woolworkers and dyers. The Franciscans (who called themselves the Order of Friars Minor) were one of the original four 13th-century mendicant (begging) orders, along with the Dominicans, Augustinian Hermits and Carmelites, all of whom founded large churches in Florence radiating out far from the centre. An oratory was built here in the 1220s and a larger church in 1252. Work begun on a third church on the 3rd of May 1295 to gothic designs by Arnolfo di Cambio in imitation of the old Saint Peter's in Rome, although no documents exist to prove Arnolfo's involvement. The church's dedication to the relics of the Holy Cross is unusual, as Franciscan churches are usually named for their founder. The naming derives from a chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross, on a small island in the Arno, which was given to the order during Francis's lifetime. The nave was still unfinished in 1375 and consecration didn't happen until 1442.
The funding ran out and work stopped in 1504, without the façade having been built. In the 16th century the bell tower collapsed, damaging the roof, and there were military incursions and floods. It was during this century too that the counter-reformation lead to Vasari being entrusted by Cosimo de' Medici to modify the church which, as elsewhere, meant the demolition of the tramezzo (choir screen) and the loss of many 14th century works. The sequence of altarpieces by 16th century artists in the nave chapels is also Vasari's creation.
Since the 16th century it has been the place where Florence buries, or at least commemorates, its notable citizens, but is most valued today for its chapel frescos by Giotto and his immediate followers.
Suppressions during the 19th century saw the Franciscans leave and return, twice; but they have remained here through the 20th and into the 21st.
The bare façade finally acquired a Gothic Revival polychrome marble façade in 1857-63, to designs by Niccolò Matas. It was paid for by an Englishman called Francis Stone and has been much maligned. The fact that Matas was Jewish is said to explain the prominent Star of David on the façade (which also has a a Christogram in its centre), and the fact of his being buried under the main door rather than within the church
The three sculptors who worked with Matas on the façade were Giovanni Duprè and his pupils Tito Sarrocchi and Emilio Zocchi. Over the door is The Exaltation of the Cross by Duprè, the right door has The Vision of Constantine by Zocchi, the left one The Invention of the Cross by Sarrocchi. Duprè and Sarocchi also produced some fine monuments in the new Misericordia Cemetery in Siena and in the Camposanto in Pisa.
Enrico Pazzi, another pupil of Duprè, was responsible for the 1865 statue of Dante outside, which used to be in the centre of the piazza..
Arnolfo di Cambio's original interior was spoilt, like the same architect's Palazzo Vecchio, by Vasari. This work, carried out in 1560, saw the choir and the tramezzo (rood screen) demolished, as at other churches around this time, and side altars added around the nave. The paintings above these altars tell the story of The Passion, starting at the altar end of the right wall and proceeding clockwise.
The removal of these screens is traditionally said to have been prompted by the Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent's decree that even the laity should have a clear view of the altar and be able to clearly hear the sermon, but recent research has lead to the appreciation of more factors, many more aesthetic than liturgical, and a longer timescale. The foundations of the screen here where revealed when the church's pavement was re-laid after the flood of 1966. But these supports where not thought to be important and where demolished, which would not have happened in more recent decades, such has been the increase of interest in the function of these structures. Measurements and photographs that were taken have, however, allowed virtual reconstructions to be made (see right).
It is said that Arnolfo, like his contemporaries, would have designed the interior to be covered in frescoes and that their having not been carried out, or having been removed, results in an 'unsightly appearance', as one old guidebook (by Edmund G. Gardner) puts it.
There's a lot to see in Santa Croce, most of it wonderful, but some of it not. The nave of the church is full of pompous monuments and the aforementioned altarpieces by lesser-known artists of the late 16th century, contemporary with Vasari and his building the new altars, and his sweeping away the original decoration. They can safely be appreciated in the five minutes it takes you to wince at Vasari's mediocre monument to Michelangelo and get to the OK tombs of Galileo (surrounded by 13th-century fresco fragments), Dante and Machiavelli looked at. Galileo had been hastily buried in secret under the bell tower in 1642. A planned monument was forbidden by Pope Urban VIII due to Galileo's 'very false and erroneous opinion'. So his monument was not built until 1737, with funds left in the will of Vincenzo Viviani, his favourite pupil, who is buried beside him. The large pavement tomb of Ghiberti is half way up the left aisle, after the forth chapel. On the wall behind hangs a nice small Pieta by Bronzino.
In the south aisle, between the tombs of Michelangelo and Machiavelli, is Canova's monumental, and influential, tomb of the poet and playwright Vittorio Alfieri who died in 1803. It was commissioned by Louise of Stolberg-Gedern, the Countess of Albany and his last lover.
Also unmissable is Donatello's lovely gilded macigno (pietra serena) Cavalcanti Annunciation on the wall in the right aisle before the transept (see right). This Annunciation was the work which made Donatello's name, according to Vasari. It replaced an earlier family tomb. The complete complement of putti (aka spiritelli) on the top was restored only relatively recently. In 1894 the two central reclining putti were found in storage here and were not restored to the tabernacle until 1900. The 20th century also saw the removal of the whitewash which had covered the monument later in imitation of marble.
Over the north door nearby in the sixth bay is a fine fresco fragment of a Lamentation by Taddeo Gaddi of c.1345
Ten family chapels were built at the east end of the church between 1295 and 1310, but contemporary fresco decoration has survived in only four. The left-hand transept has some important frescos but is frustratingly only ever open to those needing to pray or confess. The Pulci Berardi chapel here was an early fresco program by Bernardo Daddi, with a martyrdom scene each from the lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence. Maso di Banco frescoed the Bardi di Vernio chapel with the rarely-painted subject of the life of Saint Sylvester, who was Pope who converted Constantine. The most famous of Maso's being the one where Sylvester tames the dragon with bad breath. Maso's work here is visibly inspired by Giotto's nearby. In the Bardi di Vernio chapel is also a Crucifix by Donatello which Brunelleschi complained had a peasant's body. It's carved from pear wood and has articulated arms for use during Easter celebrations. A painting of Saints Louis of Toulouse and Agatha and Two Angels which was painted as a backdrop to this Crucifix in 1631/32 by Il Riposo is in the museum here. The stained glass windows in this chapel are said to have been designed by Taddeo Gaddi. There are also tombs in here, one each for the male and female members of the family, with a fresco by Maso above each.
Which leaves the right-hand transept, and the famous stuff (see The Trecento Chapels below). There's the Giotto-frescoed Peruzzi and Bardi chapels; the former faded and hard to make out, the latter damaged and easy to love. Giotto also frescoed the Tosinghi-Spinelli and Giugni chapels, both cycles now destroyed, and four altarpieces, including the contested Coronation of the Virgin in the Baroncelli Chapel. This last chapel is to be found diagonally opposite the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels, in a somewhat Gaddi-dominated corner - Taddeo's Baroncelli Chapel and his son Agnolo's Castellani Chapel are both filled with fine frescoes.
Agnolo Gaddi is also responsible for the frescoing in the polygonal vaulted apse (see right) in 1385-87, although it and the transepts had been built earlier in the century. The frescoes reflect the church's very Franciscan dedication to the relics of the Holy Cross, from which the church gets its name, as the side walls depict scenes from the Story of the True Cross. This is the earliest recorded monumental cycle to depict this story, and contains scenes not previously presented on such a scale. The eight scenes read top to bottom on the right wall and then top to bottom on the left. But Agnolo's work is again not easy to get close to as there's a rope keeping you back beyond the altar steps. The high altarpiece is by various hands from the late 14th century put together in 1869.
The Sacristy and the Chapel of the Novices
Above the doorway out from the right-hand transept is a fresco fragment of a Christ Among the Doctors by Taddeo Gaddi from c.1328/30. It survives despite Michelozzo di Bartolomeo punching his new big door through it in the quattrocento.
First left in the corridor through this doorway is the recently spruced-up Sacristy, built by the Peruzzi family around 1340, with their arms clearly visible. It now houses again the famous Cimabue Crucifix from 1275/80, painted for the high altar here, which lost 70% of its painted surface in the 1966 flood. The photo right was taken before the flood. High on the wall opposite are four huge frescoes by Spinello Aretino (The Way to Calvary), Taddeo Gaddi (The Crucifixion) and Niccolo di Pietro Gerini (The Ascension). Taddeo Gaddi's Crucifixion from c.1360/66 is the last of his many works for Santa Croce, finished in the year he died. The body of Michelangelo, brought from Rome, was laid in here on 12th March 1564, on the bench, before his funeral.
The Rinuccini Chapel off the Sacristy was actually commissioned by the Guidalotti family c.1350, and only acquired by the Rinuccini in 1371. It was frescoed in 1365 with scenes from The Life of the Virgin on the left wall and of The Life of Saint Mary Magdalene on the right, by Giovanni da Milano, another follower of Giotto, from Como, whose only surviving fresco cycle this is. The scene in the Mary Magdalene cycle where she washes his feet at the Supper in the House of Simon the Pharisee has unusual details in having an apostle actually eating something and the seven devils which Jesus has just cast out of Mary are seen flying away. There's also a huge and handsome polyptych of the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints (The Rinuccini Altarpiece) of 1379 by Giovanni del Biondo. So vertical is this altarpiece that it had to be fixed to the floor by supports from its lateral peers. A gothic gate (cancello) (see right) features the arms of the Rinuccini and, being always locked, prevents a closer view of these walls and the justly famous altarpiece.
A small room off the Sacristy - The Room of the Well and the Lavabo - leads to the bookshop and the leather works. It contains altarpieces and panels from churches suppressed by Napoleon. These include a triptych by Giovanni del Biondo of c.1370 depicting St John Gualberto Enthroned, with Four Scenes from His Life (from the monastery of San Salvi); a Nardo di Cione 1365 triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints Gregory and Job (painted for the chapter house of Santa Maria degli Angeli); and St James the Greater Enthroned of 1408 by Lorenzo Monaco. There's also a late-15th century panel of Saint Bonaventure by Domenico di Michelino. The saint holds up a book in a way very similar to Dante in the same artist's famous portrait of the poet painted for the Duomo, leading to suggestions that this is an earlier portrait of Dante that has been revised. Three trecento panels of the Virgin and Child are here also.
The corridor here (The Corridor of the Noviciate) also has some early altarpieces from here and there, including Neri di Bicci's The Trinity between Saints Benedict, Francis, Bartholomew and John the Baptist, and a Spinello Aretino panel of Saint John the Baptist from 1375/8.
Michelozzo's Medici-sponsored Chapel of the Novices is at the end, housing some mannerist works displaced from the church with the demolition of altars in the 19th century, by the likes of Cigoli (The Trinity 1592) Salviati (The Deposition 1547/8), Allori (another Deposition 1560) and Bronzino, Allori's master. Bronzino's Descent Into Limbo of 1552 (which was 40 years in restoration following the 1966 flood) is a highlight, and features portraits of Allori, Pontormo, and Bronzino himself, amongst many nude bodies, condemned by some when it was painted as running counter to the Counter-Reformation. Borghini condemned 'the delicate limbs of those beautiful ladies'. The Brunelleschi-emulating small square apse has a late-15th-century terracotta altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia and his son Giovanni of the Virgin and Child with Saints. Above it is a small window by Alessio Baldovinetti of Saints Cosmas and Damian.
The Pazzi Chapel and the Museum/Refectory
Back into the church and out the (right-hand) side door takes you to the entrance to the Pazzi Chapel (see right) which is one of the highlights of Brunelleschi's career. It was finished in the 1460s, just before the family fell out of favour following the Pazzi Conspiracy against the Medici. The classicising coffered dome in the portico is glazed terracotta work by Luca della Robbia.
Next to the Pazzi Chapel entrance, through the door to the right, is a small cloister, called the Ancient Cloister as it dates to the original building. It is now a free WiFi area, with USB charging ports too. A door off of this cloister leads to an oppressive bunker-like crypt (which is beneath the transepts and sacristy) now called the Famedio (see right). Here is a memorial built by the fascists in 1934 as a Sacrario dei Martiri Fascisti with the tombs of 36 of their 'martyrs', built to designs by Alfredo Lensi. It had a permanent fascist guard and was visited by Hitler and Mussolini together in 1938. The Famedio itself was also redesigned by Lensi. It retains the names of the 3,672 Florentine soldiers who died in WWI inscribed on black marble all around the walls. The fascist shrine was 'overhauled' between 1950 and 1956 and rededicated to all fallen Florentines since 1918, but the Famedio was not altered, it being 'uncontroversial'.
Beyond is the wonderfully peacefully second cloister, called the Brunelleschi Cloister, although it was built years after he died. It is reached through a doorway now mostly attributed to Benedetto da Maiano,
The entrance to the Museum is here too. It's full of some quite nice fresco fragments, a few underdrawings and some paintings.
The highlight is the Last Supper of c.1360 by Taddeo Gaddi on the refectory wall (see below), topped with a huge Tree of Life. It was done later in his career than his Baroncelli Chapel in the main church and just before his Crucifixion in the sacristy. When the early art historian Mrs Jameson came here in 1847 (at which time this Last Supper was thought to be by Giotto) the refectory 'was a carpet manufactory, and it was difficult to get a good view of the fresco by reason of the intervention of the carpet-looms'.
In here now are also six vivid fragments of a massive fresco by Orcagna (Andrea di Cione) of The Triumph of Death, The Last Judgment and The Inferno from c.1350 which once covered the whole right-hand wall of the nave of Santa Croce, before Vasari installed all the altars and tombs in the 16th century. The earliest discovered fragments were parts of the Triumph of Death, found behind the fifth altar in 1911. The most famous one of these depicts a group of very Bruegel-looking crippled beggars calling on death to end their suffering. Vasari's own Last Supper from the Murate convent has just been restored, after being damaged here in the 1966 flood, and was hung back in the refectory in 2016. Santa Croce still has at least ten 16th-century altarpieces damaged during the flood and in need of restoration.
Under the colonnade by the exit is a small memorial to Florence Nightingale, carved by Francis William Sargant in 1913, who was named for the city where she was born in 1820. It remains from the Cloister of the Dead, also called the Romantic Cloister, established here in the 1830s, which came to contain some of the finest Romantic sculpture of the time. The monuments were mostly removed in the 1960s to a corridor under the long logia.
The Trecento Chapels
2.The Franciscan Rule
3.Saint Francis Appears
4.Trial by Fire
5. The Confirmation of
6. Saint Francis Appears to
The Life of John the
The Life of John the
2. The Raising of Drusiana
3. The Feast of Herod
3. The Ascension of
Giotto's Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels
The Bardi and Peruzzi were leading banking families in the early 14th century in Florence. They leant Edward III of England the vast amounts of money needed to bankroll the Hundred Years War and went bankrupt when he defaulted on these loans in 1345.
These were Giotto's final works in Florence, completed before his 1328 move to Naples at the behest of King Robert of Anjou. Both of these narrow apsidal chapels had their frescoes later whitewashed over (probably during restoration in 1714) and were uncovered in the 1840s and restored later in the 19th century. This work, by a restorer called Gaetano Bianchi, involved drastic interventions replacing lost elements. (See H.Taine wrote below.) A before-and-after example can be seen in black and white photos below right.
These additions were removed during further restoration work in the late 195os by Leonetto Tintori, which prompted further controversy regarding the distraction of the bare patches. Both chapels would originally have had iron gates (cancelli) across their entrances and the perspective of the paintings on the side walls usually assumes a viewpoint peering through these grills, specially the frescoes in the Peruzzi Chapel. (A viewpoint with the viewer's back to the last column in the nave has also been suggested.) The scenes in the Peruzzi are composed and painted as from a more distant viewpoint too, with more architecture and smaller figures. It's also noticeable that neither chapel contains scenes stressing the asceticism of the Saints, which is an especially noticeable exclusion in the case of Francis, with his order's famous renunciation of worldly wealth.
The members of the Bardi and Peruzzi families would have been buried under the floor, as the fashion for tombs came a little later.
The Bardi Chapel is now thought to be the first (or last) of these two chapels to be completed, having been dated by scholars to various dates between 1317 and 1325. The back wall had four Franciscan saints, including Saint Louis of Toulouse, who belonged to the Angevin family, Ridolfo de’ Bardi himself having been the the banker for King Robert of Naples, the saint's younger brother. The other two remaining are Saints Clare and Elizabeth of Hungary. The side walls are decorated with six scenes from the life of Saint Francis, with a seventh, The Stigmatization, on the wall above the chapel's entrance arch. Oddly there are no scenes from his early life. The Death of Saint Francis (see right) is probably the most famous of the scenes. The large box-shaped loss is due to the removal of a later monument. The non-monk figure this side of the bed is the doubting knight called Jerome who is shown poking his fingers into Francis's side wound. The two figures far left are thought to be members of the Bardi family, due to their more contemporary hats and haircuts. In the vaults are medallions of the four Franciscan virtues.
The altarpiece in here (artist unknown) depicts a large Saint Francis surrounded by twenty scenes from his life, almost half of which are are not to be found in any other paintings. This may also have been the first appearance in art of Francis's posthumous miracles. It dates to c.1250-70 and is thought to have been made for the previous church on this site.
The Peruzzi Chapel mysteriously was frescoed using the older technique of painting onto dried plaster, known as a secco. There are many theories as to why Giotto chose to use this method, ranging from the bizarre to the quite convincing. The best of the latter is the one that suggests he was experimenting. This process results in a much more fragile paint surface and so time and, especially, the process of whitewashing over and the later removal of said whitewash has been even harsher to this chapel than the Bardi, which was painted using the proper buon fresco technique. But strangely more detail is visible when ultraviolet light is shone on the fresco surface. The dating of this chapel's decoration in relation to the Bardi chapel is much disputed - broadly the Italians place the Peruzzi before the Bardi and Anglo-German scholars reverse the order. The degree to which the Peruzzi's decoration was left to Giotto's studio, not the man himself, is also much argued about. As the original Peruzzi donor was called Giovanni it's no surprise that this chapel's frescoes tell the stories of the lives of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, three scenes on each wall. The left wall is devoted to the life of John the Baptist - The Annunciation to Zacharias, The Birth and Naming of the Baptist and The Feast of Herod. The latter beheading scene has lost its figure of the just-decapitated saint far left. This continuous -narrative scene was much copied and very influential - there's a predella panel by Agnolo Gaddi in the Louvre, painted for an altarpiece in a chapel in Santa Maria degli Angeli, that looks very like a copy, and does include the headless Baptist in jail at left. Oddly the Peruzzi sequence doesn't show his baptism of Christ. The right wall is dedicated to John the Evangelist, the only evangelist who wasn't martyred and the last one to die - Saint John on Patmos, The Raising of Drusiana and The Ascension of the Evangelist.
Giotto is also said, by Vasari, to have also frescoed the Life of the Virgin in the Tosinghi Spinelli Chapel (1st chapel in the left transept) and the Martyrdoms of the Apostles in the Giugni Chapel (3rd chapel in the right transept) but both works are now lost. Ghiberti also says that Giotto painted four chapels and four altarpieces here.
The Baroncelli Chapel
A small bell tower above the apse collapsed in 1512. The postcard of c.1847/54 (see far below right) and the 18th-century print at the bottom of the page both show the stump of Francesco da Sangallo's replacement campanile to the left of the façade, unfinished because the money ran out. The print is too early to show the current limestone campanile, built next to the sacristy to plans by Gaetano Baccini, which was finished in 1847. It saw restoration work in 2009.
A polyptych of Christ, the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Francis of c.1309, called The Peruzzi Altarpiece, painted by the studio of Giotto (see far right), with some much-contested involvement by the man himself, is now in the North Carolina Museum of Art. It is said, by most, to have been painted at the same time as the Peruzzi Chapel here for placing on the altar in that chapel. Saint John the Baptist in Prison, a panel now in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, is thought to have come from the back of this polyptych. It is one of four altarpieces which Ghiberti said that Giotto had painted for Santa Croce. Another (later - c.1320/30) commissioned for either the Peruzzi or Pulci-Baraldi chapel here, centred on the Virgin and Child panel now in the Washington National Gallery. One of its flanking panels, depicting Saint Stephen (see right) is now in the Museo Horne and another two, showing Saints Lawrence and John the Evangelist, are at the Abbaye de Chaalis, a branch of the Musée Jacquemart-André. The latter very-restored pair are often said to be workshop efforts, and do look it. A fifth panel is lost and may have depicted Saint Francis.
The Santa Croce Altarpiece, a heptaptych that is the only signed work by the Sienese painter Ugolino di Nerio, a probable pupil of Duccio. It was made in Siena for the high altar here c.1324/5 for the Alamanni family, where it remained for more than 200 years, but was removed in 1566 when the altar was moved forward four braccia (around 233.6cm) and the altarpiece replaced with a ciborium by Vasari. The altarpiece remained in the friars' upper dormitory until the early 19th century, when it was 'sold to an Englishman' (William Young Ottley) in whose collection it remained until sales of the collection in 1847 and 1850. Most of it is now in the National Gallery in London, but the three surviving main tier panels, dominated by Saints John the Baptist, Paul and Peter are in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, where an exhibition in 2005 reunited the existing panels. The reconstruction was based on a drawing of the late 18th century by the excellently-named Humbert de Superville. See right for the reconstruction with Superville's drawings filling in for the lost panels. Vasari mentions another altarpiece by Ugolino, with a Crucifixion, which was in the Bardi chapel here and is now lost.
A Virgin and Child, the middle panel of a five-panel altarpiece by Maso di Banco c.1335/6, believed to have been painted for the Franciscans here, is in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.
Twenty-seven panels (c.1330) by Taddeo Gaddi, painted around the same time as the Baroncelli Chapel which supposedly decorated the doors of a cupboard (armadio) in the sacristy here. Two half-lunettes, now joined together, depict The Annunciation and The Ascension, and there are two sequences of thirteen quatrefoils depicting scenes from the lives of Christ and Saint Francis. The armadio was dismantled in 1810 and the majority are in the Florence Accademia in the Giottesque Room, but some were sold to private collectors, so two are in Berlin and two in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Taddeo's earliest work here was in the Lupicini Chapel where he painted - long lost - frescoes of the Lives of Saints Peter and Andrew and The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew. A polyptych by Taddeo, with panels depicting Saints Peter, Francis, Paul and Andrew, with The Man of Sorrows in the centre, formerly in the Bromley Davenport Collection in Macclesfield may have been the altarpiece in this chapel, for which he also may have designed the stained-glass windows. Not lost but kept in the archives at Santa Croce are and antiphonary and a gradual containing ten illuminated initials that look to have all been designed, and mostly painted, by Taddeo too.
Five predella panels by Fra Angelico probably belonging to a triptych painted c.1429 for the chapel of the Compagnia di San Francesco here. One is now in the Vatican Pinacoteca, three are in Berlin and one in the Linenau-Museum in Altenburg. The latter is Saint Francis's Trial by Fire before the Sultan (see right). The main tier had a central Virgin and Child flanked by saints, including Saint Francis with a goldfinch perched on a rock.
Filippo Lippi's Virgin and Child with Saints Francis, Cosmas, Damian and Anthony of Padua, completed in 1445 for the Chapel of the Novices here, paid for by Cosimo de' Medici, has been in the Uffizi since 1919. It has a very active Baby and slightly disturbing perspective inconsistencies. Pesellino painted the predella, according to Vasari, two panels of which, Saint Francis Receives the Stigmata and Saints Cosmas and Damian Heal Justinian, looking very Giottesque, are in the Louvre.
A detached fresco panel taken from the tramezzo screen when it was demolished in 1566 is in the museum, although until 1954 it was on the wall next to Donatello's Annunciation. It shows Saints John the Baptist and Francis of Assisi, dates to c.1450/1460, and looks very Mantagna-influenced.
Donatello's gilded bronze statue of Saint Louis of Toulouse of 1422/25 (visible in a niche over the main door in the postcard right where it stood from 1460 to 1859) made for the Parte Guelfa for Orsanmichele is now in the refectory/museum here. It is far from being a solid sculpture, being twelve castings held in place by armatures, with a hollow core. It was taken down from its position in the centre of the façade of Orsanmichele when the Parte Guelfa fell from grace, and replaced by the bronze Christ and Saint Thomas, made by Verrocchio for the Merchant's guild.
A fresco of The Flagellation by Castagno, mentioned by Vasari, was in the cloisters here but was destroyed in the 17th century.
The church in art
Telemaco Signorini's Carnival in Piazza Santa Croce has the church in the background before the addition of the 19th-century façade.
Alfred Stevens, the Dorset-born sculptor and artist copied many frescoes in Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and other churches in Florence in the 1830s, for study purposes and to sell to tourists. The British Museum have 38 of them.
In the 1860s Giuseppe Abbati, one of the Macchiaioli, painted and etched views of the cloister here many times.
Michelangelo, Dante (monument only, he is buried in Ravenna), Machiavelli, Galileo, Ghiberti, Rossini, Taddeo Gaddi (in the second cloister) and his son Agnolo.
According to tradition (and Vasari) Cimabue had his studio in the nearby Borgo Allegri. The visit of Charles of Anjou, King of Naples and the famous procession of the Rucellai Madonna to Santa Maria Novella began here, hence the naming of the street, '...the Glad Borgo from that beauteous face' as Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it. The story is put in much doubt by the fact that when Charles of Anjou visited the first stone of Santa Maria Novella had yet to be laid, and that the painting is actually by Duccio. But let's not mess with a precious legend. The procession is depicted in a famous painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton, now in the National Gallery in London.
John Ruskin wrote, in Mornings in Florence 1875
'...the ugliest gothic church you were ever in...no vaultings at all, but the roof of a farm-house barn.' But if you read on, beyond this famous quote, he goes on to say that though the design is 'not beautiful by any means it deserves, nevertheless, our thoughtfullest examination,' and tellingly observes that the Franciscans' churches 'were meant for use; not show, nor self-glorification, nor town-glorification and that they had no intention of showing how high they could build towers, or how widely they could arch vaults'. He then lauds Arnolfo for giving the Franciscans just what they wanted 'thoroughly and wisely built'.
Hippolyte Taine wrote, in Italy: Florence and Venice 1869
This is the church in which some small frescoes by Giotto were lately discovered beneath the plaster. The stories of St John the Baptist, St John the Evangelist and St Francis. Are they really by him, and has the restorer been faithful? In any event they belong to the fourteenth century and are curious.
Stendhal Syndrome, which covers a variety of extreme emotional and physical reactions to an excess of great art, was invented in 1989 by Graziella Margherini, head of psychiatry at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence. It is named after the writer, who came over all unnecessary after a visit to Santa Croce in January 1817.
Daily 9.30 - 5.30
Sundays and Holy days (Epiphany (January 6), Assumption of Mary (August 15),
All Saints Day (November 1), Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8))
12.30 - 5.45
(last admission is at 5.00 pm)
Closed: New Year’s Day (January 1), Easter, St. Anthony of Padua (June 13),
St. Francis (October 4), Christmas (December 25), St. Stephen’s Day (December 26).
Update May 2023 Since April 26th 2022 the Bardi chapel has been full of scaffolding, due to upcoming conservation work, but the actual restoration work wasn't due to start until April 2023 and then last an estimated 3 years!
The church website: santacroceopera.it/en/ and a handy map
A fascinating blog devoted to Santa Croce but it hasn't been updated since June 2019, which I know doesn't count as moribund by Italian standards but...
Oltrarno :: Fiesole