The Medici chapels, built as a burial place of the Medici family, are derived from some areas of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The two main parts that are visited are extensions of the apse of the basilica: the New Sacristy, built by Michelangelo Buonarroti from 1519 in about a decade, and the large Chapel of the Princes, from the following century, completely covered with marble and semi-precious stones where the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and their families are buried; furthermore there are some rooms of the crypt (designed by Buontalenti) under the chapel of the Princes. In this environment supported by low vaults, the tombstones of the Grand Dukes, their consorts and close relatives are found on the floor. The chapel of the princes is a magnificent octagonal room 28 meters wide, surmounted by the dome of San Lorenzo, which reaches a height of 59 meters, the second for majesty in the city after that of Brunelleschi.
It was designed by Cosimo I, but its realization is due to his successor Ferdinando I, who commissioned, as the manager of the factory, the architect Matteo Nigetti, 1604 to a design by Don Giovanni de 'Medici, brother of the same Grand Duke.
The dazzling opulence is given by the very rich Florentine salesman inlays, for which the Opificio delle pietra was created. This art, still practiced above all in the decoration of furniture and vases, found its apex here. In the wainscot instead more colored hard stones were used, as well as mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli and coral to reproduce the coats of arms of the sixteen Tuscan cities loyal to the Medici family. The new Sacristy was built by Michelangelo on several occasions between 1521 and 1534.
Commissioned by Pope Leo X and Cardinal Giulio de 'Medici (future Clement VII), Michelangelo Buonarroti created it starting from the same plan as Brunelleschi's Old Sacristy and divided the space into more complex forms, with triumphal arches that open onto species of apses. Embedded in the two side walls he built the monumental sepulchres dedicated to Giuliano de 'Medici Duke of Nemours and his nephew Lorenzo de' Medici Duke of Urbino, for whom he sculpted three sculptures each: the Allegories of Time, placed above the sepulchres, and the portraits above of the Dukes. For the tomb of Giuliano de 'Medici, seated in a fair posture, he chose Day and Night; for that of Lorenzo, in a melancholy and thoughtful pose, the Twilight and the Aurora.
Both statues look towards the center of the chapel where Michelangelo created and placed a Madonna with Jesus in her lap. Turning their gaze to the sacred representation, the dukes express the religious inclinations of the artist, according to which, when earthly glories pass, only spirituality and religion can give relief to the anxieties of men. The statues of Saints Cosmas and Damian, followers of Michelangelo, complete the outfit.
Lorenzo il Magnifico and his brother Giuliano de 'Medici are buried under the altar, for whom there was never time to build a monumental burial: in 1534, in fact, Michelangelo left definitively from Florence and left the work unfinished.
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