In Florence today they talk about only one thing: the proposal made by the mayor of the city to complete the facade of the famous Basilica of San Lorenzo, which must have been made by Michelangelo in the 16th century.
The great artist was commissioned by Pope Leo X to build the front of the church, one of the oldest in Florence, making it of white Carrara marble. However, when the financial burden of purchasing and transporting the huge marble pieces from northern Tuscany became apparent, the Pope abandoned the project and assigned Michelangelo the work in another part of the church.
The construction of the facade was never started, and all that remains of that event are a few sketches and a wooden model of how Michelangelo planned to make the facade almost 500 years ago.
Now, the mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, wants to give life to the artist's plans as a tribute and finishing the facade in 2015, when the 500th anniversary of the first assignment is completed.
But this is the subject of controversy among city residents and art historians alike. Some believe that the unfinished brick facade should remain as it is, as a historical testimony. Others say the opportunity to finish that work would be a boon to Italian artists and rejoice at the idea of the drab Church coming to life with a new facade.
"On the one hand, many do not want to change something that has been like this for centuries," Waldemar de Boer, a Florence historian specializing in the Italian Renaissance, told the Toronto Star. "But on the other hand, Florence has a long history of finishing church facades in late stages. I think the general feeling in most of the residents is, however, not to touch the Basilica”.
IN 1419, the famous Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi began construction of the main structure of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, but died in 1446 leaving much of the building unfinished, including the façade.
In 1515, Pope Leo X, a member of the powerful Medici family who assumed financial responsibility for the Church in the previous century, commissioned Michelangelo to build the façade.
The artist worked on the plans and prepared the necessary material for three years before the Pope suspended the project due to its high costs. The facade alone was expected to cost more than four times the total cost of the Church. The plans show that the facade would have 12 monolithic columns seven meters high and the statues would be religious figures of marble and bronze.
During the same period, two members of the Medici family died, so the Pope decided to use that money by building a mausoleum for his family. In 1520, Michelangelo was reassigned to build the new sacristy of the Basilica, permanently abandoning the facade.
“It was probably the most disappointing moment in Michelangelo's career"Says William Wallace, Professor of Art History at Washington University in St. Louis and author of the book"Michelangelo at San Lorenzo: The Genius as Entrepeneur”. “The intention was to make his greatest work of art with that work. Said it would be the most beautiful thing ever made in Italy”.
Wallace also commented to the Star newspaper that “Despite the fact that Michelangelo is known for his constant changes of plans, he believed that he should complete that facade despite the controversy that it could cause at least initially”.
“Italians have always done this. Both the façade of the Florence Cathedral and that of the Basilica of Santa Croce, two of the most important monuments of the Renaissance city, were completed in the 19th century”. “They are still considering some Renaissance churches and have seen that they fit better. People are happy looking at the finished buildings”.
But Anna Hudson, an art history professor at York University, said completing the façade would change the Church's relationship with its parishioners and local residents.
“It is not a question of what is worth keeping and what is not, ”he said. “It would change the building, its legacy, and it would result in the suppression of something else: the existing façade, or the lack of it, which is the highest representation of this Church”.
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