As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in January 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.
I am a staunch supporter of the notion of traveling in the low season, generally understood to be the period of time between October-ish and February-ish, aka the coldest months of the year, at least if you live in the northern hemisphere. Why? Because everything is cheaper, both hotels and flights, depending on where you choose to go you may well find it empty or nearly so, and personally, I prefer being cold to being hot, so that sightseeing becomes that much more comfortable. I will say, though, it does have its disadvantages. Since it’s the low season, some places practically shut down tourism-wise (as I’ve heard the Greek Isles are prone to do), monuments might be completely closed (the Royal Palace in Brussels only opens in the summer months), or you might find that they are open, but are in the middle of an extensive restoration, as happened to me when I went to see the Medici Chapels.
The Medici Chapels are actually two buildings adjacent to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, though considered to be part of its complex, and which are reached, not through the church, but through a separate entrance. The structures date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and were created in order to add to the glory of the Medici in Florence.
Cappella dei Principi
When you see the Basilica di San Lorenzo from the exterior, you will notice that the building is distinguished from its surroundings by an impressive dome. What you see in this image is the interior of said dome.
The younger of the two buildings, the Chapel of the Princes was first begun by Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Its design was first created by Matteo Nigetti based on sketches by Giovanni de’ Medici, Cosimo’s natural son. This design was later altered by Bernardo Buontalenti (Nigetti’s teacher and responsible for work at the Uffizi and the Boboli Gardens).
And it was, as you can see, heavily under restoration when I visited which, while inconvenient for the taking of pictures, did nothing to take away from the beauty of the room.
The first architectural design completed by Michelangelo, who worked on it from 1519-1524, the New Sacristy (in contrast with the Old Sacristy inside the Basilica) was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici and his cousin Pope Leo X (nephew and son, respectively, of Lorenzo de’ Medici) to serve as the family mausoleum.
The original intent of the room was to hold four tombs, including those of Lorenzo Il Magnifico and his brother Giuliano (remember the Pazzi conspiracy?), who had been buried elsewhere. These tombs were never completed, and their remains were eventually moved into this modest monument. Ironic, since Lorenzo played a huge part in both Florentine history and in the growth of the Renaissance, while those immortalized by the grander monuments were relatively unknown and irrelevant, historically speaking.
These funerary monuments stand, then, for Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici (Il Magnifico’s son), and Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici (son of Piero de’ Medici and grandson to Il Magnifico).
Not meant to be true portraits, either physically nor psychologically, the sculptures representing both Lorenzo and Giuliano can best be understood as allegories for the active and contemplative lives.
The tombs are flanked by four figures known conjunctively as “Times of Day.” Giuliano’s tomb is flanked by “Day” and “Night,” and Lorenzo’s by “Dusk” and “Dawn.”
See all that pietra serena?
The Medici were temporarily exiled in the mid 1520s, while work on this monument was ongoing, and when they returned, Michelangelo departed for Rome for the last time. Left unfinished, work on the New Sacristy was completed by Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati by order of Cosimo I.
Fortunately for me, this room was left untouched when they decided to look into renovations in the Medici Chapels, so that I was able to see it in its pure, untouched glory. What’s more, it was practically empty the whole time I was there, so that I had Michelangelo’s work, and all the historical significance of that tiny room, all to myself. Sometimes the pros undeniably outweigh the cons.