|Temperanza, fresco by Pietro Gerini 1387 Santa Felicità, Florence|
The Chiesa di Santa Felicità is a small Oltrarno church whose facade holds up part of the Vasari corridor on its way to the Palazzo Pitti. During my Florentine stay in 2014, I made repeated visits with the goal of seeing the 14th century Sala Capitolare, the Chapter Room, in the older part of this former Benedictine convent.
I didn’t mind returning so often, and seeing my favorite Pontormo Annunciation in the Capponi Chapel, and the Poccetti murals in the chapel opposite to it. I became friendly with the volunteer sitting inside the church who would see me coming in just about every week. She knew my name, because I’d given her my card in February, and she pronounced it Leeee-na. She wrote on a slip of paper “venerdi 13-16h” for me, meaning that between 1 and 4 PM on Fridays the Gothic sections of the building are open, and I kept this bit of paper in my wallet.
But every Friday when I returned, she would then say “oh, non oggi, non possiamo aprire la sala… puoi tornare la prossima settimana...” and then “sorry” the only English word she seemed to know. Apparently more volunteers were needed to escort people back there, and she was minding the door on her own.
The very last Friday of April, at the end of my sabbatical, I showed up one last time, and encountered a different volunteer, but the same rejection, and I was deeply embarrassed when my disappointment turned into tears. Why did I need to see this interior so badly?
|A pair of gilt reliquary busts designed for the relics of martyrs, Santa Felicità, Florence.|
|The chapter room of Santa Felicità, with a gothic ceiling and baroque murals|
A Favorite Detail: The ribbed groin-vault of this ceiling is a painted effect. What is actually a rather shallow barrel vault was given the appearance of ribbing by the addition of painted geometric boarders dividing the space into sections. A striped border changes direction, and a painted shadow along one side adds relief, making the ceiling feel taller, more graceful, and more substantial. Other borders have faux-mosaic "cosmatesque" designs which enhance the illusion and act as frames for the panels.
|cosmatesque borders flank the "ribs" of the trompe l'oeil groin vault, Santa Felicità, Florence|
The allegorical figures of the Virtues, have square or octagonal halos. This is, I have learned, a convention to distinguish them from angels or saints. Like saints, the figures are depicted with their attributes: Fides (faith) holds a chalice with the host; Charitas (charity) nurses a baby and holds a flame in her hand; Iustitia (justice) wields a sword and scales; Prudenza (prudence) is often depicted with a face on the back of her head and holding a snake; Spes (hope) holds up her hands in payer; Fortitudo (fortitude) carries a shield with a pillar. Temperanza (temperance) (see first image above) puts a finger to her lips in silence and self-restraint.
|The Seven Virtues, ceiling fresco painted by Pietro Gerini 1387, Santa Felicità, Florence|
|Murals by Cosimo Ulivelli and Angelo Gori, 1665 Santa Felicità, Florence|
Santa Felicità was ordered to close on 11 October 1810, when Napoleon suppressed the monasteries of Florence. The murals were then completely whitewashed over, and have only recently been restored.
Visits- lost count
Years - three
Cosmatesque ornament- check
Tears- twice (once inside the room)
Virtues - seven. No, eight - patience is also a virtue!
Santa Felicità has a new! website with some nice virtual visit links.
All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, Florence, 2017. click on images to view larger.