The Medici Chapels
The Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee) complex, which may be reached through the apse area of the San Lorenzo Basilica, includes the lavish Mausoleum of the Princes (Mausoleo dei Principi) and Michelangelo’s New Sacristy (Sagrestia Nuova), designed as the Medici family funeral chapel.
The New Sacristy
Conceived by Pope Leo X to worthily house the funeral monuments of his father Lorenzo il Magnifico and of his uncle, Giuliano, along with his brother Giuliano duke of Nemours and his nephew Lorenzo duke of Urbino, the New Sacristy was actually not undertaken until 1520 by the second Medici Pope, Clement VII. Michlangelo undertook its construction until 1534, year he moved definitively to Rome.
In adopting the architectural model of the Old Sacristy, he built a cubical space surmounted by a hemispheric dome in which architectural elements are highlighted by the use of pietra serena stone. However, the locale is animated by a new plastic conception in which the use of two colors, i.e. the grey stone framework and the daubed surfaces, enhances the dramatic nature of the two funeral monuments.
In the New Sacristy, Michelangelo’s genius is displayed in all its monumental grandiosity.
The Chapel of the Princes (Cappella dei Principi)
Emblematic realization of the Medici’s self-celebration, the Chapel of the Princes (Cappella dei Principi) was commissioned by Cosimo I in 1568, but its construction began under the rule of Ferdinando I when, after a competition held in 1602, Matteo Nigetti was appointed as head of the construction site, a task he performed until 1650.
The grand dukes decided to cover the walls of their mausoleum with the most precious and incorruptible materials: marble and multicolored granite, jasper, alabaster, and lapis lazuli, and even coral and mother-of-pearl.
For centuries the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, established in 1588 by Ferdinando I, devoted most of its work to the decoration of the Chapel of the Princes (Cappella dei Principi).
This expensive work in fact went extremely slowly, draining the grand duchy’s financial resources.
It was Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, last heir to a dynasty that would die with her, who decided to give the works a decisive boost, consigning to history the last, majestic fruit of the Medici’s efforts as magnates.