Sassetti chapel, Santa Trinità, Florence

(1483-1486)
   This chapel was frescoed by Domenico del Ghirlandaio for Francesco Sassetti, a wealthy Florentine banker and associate of the Medici, with the major episodes of the life of his namesaint, Francis. The frescoes include the saint's renunciation of worldly goods, the vision that led to his receiving the stigmata (the wounds of the crucified Christ), the test of fire before the sultan to demonstrate his faith, the confirmation of the rules of the Franciscan Order he founded, his funeral, and the resuscitation he effected posthumously of a boy who fell from a window. This last scene, called the Miracle of the Child of the French Notary, occupies the center tier of the altar wall. The boy is shown on his bier surrounded by mourners, including members of the Sassetti family. Saint Francis appears in the heavens and blesses the child, who sits up and clasps his hands in prayer as if thanking him for the miracle. The scene takes place in front of the Church of Santa Trinità, where the frescoes are housed, instead of Rome where the event is said to have taken place. It is believed that the inclusion of this scene of death and rebirth and its predominant placement had to do with the death of Francesco Sassetti's oldest son, Teodoro, in 1479, and the birth of his new child a few months later. Ghirlandaio himself stands on the extreme left among the Sassetti and looks directly at the viewer, a common way for artists of the era to assert their authorship of their works. In the Confirmation of the Rules of the Franciscan Order, Ghirlandaio included Lorenzo "the Magnificent" and other members of the Medici family as witnesses to St. Francis' presentation of the rules to Pope Honorius III. Ghirlandaio again situated the scene in Florence by including an architectural background reminiscent of the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. In the Funeral of St. Francis, the classical setting reflects the latest developments in Florentine architecture, the vanishing point placed at the crucifix that sits above the altar to indicate the saint's profound devotion for and emulation of Christ.
   The Sassetti chapel's altarpiece depicts the Annunciation and Adoration of the Shepherds, with the donors, Francesco and his wife, Nera Corsi, frescoed on the wall at either side. This altarpiece was influenced by Hugo van der Goes' Portinari Altarpiece (c. 1474-1476; Florence, Uffizi), then in the Portinari Chapel in the Church of San Egidio, Florence. Ghirlandaio's emphasis on details, poses of the shepherds, their crudity and emotionalism, and the profusion of objects and flowers in the foreground are all elements taken from van der Goes' painting.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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