Museum of San Francesco in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

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Museum of Sacred Art at San Francesco, Greve in Chianti

Circle of Baccio da Montelupo
(Montelupo Fiorentino 1469 - Lucca 1523)
Mourning over the Dead Christ
Second decade of the 16th century
Polychrome terracotta and glazed terracotta

Embriachi Workshop
(1370 ca. - 1430)
End of the 14th century
Painted, gilded and carved ivory, inlaid wood

San Francesco Museum of Sacred Art

In ancient times, the geomorphology of this part of the Chianti distanced it somewhat from the important roads of communication in the Elsa and Pesa valleys that linked to the Via Volterrana (road to Volterra) and the Via Francigena. However, even though the local road system was nothing like as important, Florence could be reached very easily, while the roads cutting across the slopes of the nearby hills also linked the area with the Arno valley, where there were busy markets (like the one at Figline). This contributed to the development of a marketplace in the Greve valley below Montefioralle, and eventually to the development of the town of Greve itself, situated in the centre of a densely populated area that already boasted a great many parish and country churches and was scattered with feudal castles and villages. The changes in the territory have gradually led to the transformation of these castles into splendid villas and villa farms, although, unlike in other areas, they have rarely been abandoned. This situation, combined with another important factor - the vicinity of great and very active monastic centres such as those of the Vallombrosans in the Abbeys of Passignano, Montescalari and Coltibuono and the Camaldolites at Montemuro - greatly favoured the artistic and cultural development of the area.

The Convent of San Francesco was built in the first half of the 16 C for the monks from the convent of Santa Croce at San Casciano and stands on a prominitory just past the start of the old road that leads up to Montefioralle. It was really a Hospice, as no monastic community ever lived there permanently, and was used as an overnight lodging for Franciscan monks travelling from Florence to Sienna and vice versa, or as a shelter for the friars who came to collect alms in the territory of Greve. After its temporary suppression under the Napoleonic laws, the monks abandoned it completely in 1866 and the Hospice of San Francesco was first transformed into a prison (until 1927), and then converted into a private house.

A visit to the museum begins in the large Oratory, which contains all the most valuable art works. The great polychrome terracotta of the scene of the Lamentation over the dead Christ dominates. It occupies its original position above the high altar, in an arched niche decorated with festoons of fruit and flowers and topped with a cherub in the typical style of the Della Robbia workshop. The altar below it is decorated with an 18 C altar frontal in natural straw. This humble material repeats the decorative motifs that were used for the altars in hard stone inlay in the 17 C. The furnishings are the usual ones: an elegant lectern in carved and gilded wood, and three canon tables to hold the texts containing the readings to be used for the Mass, also date from the 18 C.

All the paintings in this room are of ecclesiastical origin, originally placed above the altars of their respective churches of provenance. A 14 C Annunciation by an anonymous Florentine painter for the Church of Santa Croce in Greve decorates the wall on the right of the altar. It is one of the few remains of the ancient church, replaced in the 19 C by the Neo-classical building of today.

The other paintings are displayed in the area below the presbytery. A 17 C canvas of the Image of St. Dominic being carried to Soriano by the Madonna, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Catherine, attributed to Giovan Battista Giustammiani, known as Francesino, hangs on the right of the entrance. The subject of the painting is based on a story that relates that the Virgin and the two Saints appeared before a Dominican monk in Soriano (a small town in Calabria) in 1530 to show him how he should paint the image of St. Dominic, shown here with a lily and a book in his hands. The strong characterisation of the features of the monk on his knees beside the sacred image imply that this was very probably a portrait. Next to it is a painting on wood of the Madonna and Child enthroned between St. Anthony Abbot and Lucy carried out by an anonymous Florentine painter in the first decades of the 16 C.

The painting on wood opposite was carried out a few years earlier. In fact, this Madonna and Child between Sts. Bartholomew and Francis is thought to be a youthful work by Francesco Granacci, dating from the last decades of the 15 C.

The only sculpture in the room is a bas-relief of St. Francis in marble that comes from the Church of San Piero at Sillano. This work was executed in a style that had gone out of fashion, though traces of the new 15 C trends can be seen in the movement of the hood and the soft carving of the marble.

The ancient sacristy contains a section dedicated to textiles, with various examples of religious vestments and two very valuable church furnishings, both of extraordinary artistic interest: a 14 C reliquary cross in rock crystal made to contain relics of the wood from the Holy Cross and of various saints, carried out for the Church of Santo Stefano at Montefioralle; and small stained glass window portraying St. Sylvester, originally in a small window in the Church at Convertoie, which took its name from this saint.

The remainder of the display is dedicated to liturgical hangings. The interesting chasuble in green damask, displayed next to the stained glass window of Convertoie, bears the coat of arms of the Bardi Strozzi family, patrons of the Church of Santa Maria at Sezzate. Carlo Bardi had it made for the church at the beginning of the 17 C.

A white silk humeral veil, with the borders embroidered in gold and polychrome silk thread and "IHS", the Eucharistic monogram of St. Bernardine in the centre, is displayed on the wall opposite the entrance. It is a beautifully made object whose naturalistic type of decoration dates it as from around the second quarter of the 18 C.

Other religious robes are on display in the glass case in the corner, which also contains the oldest example in the collection, a chasuble in brocade made between the late 16 C and the early 17 C, decorated with an ogive stitched thistle flower, a classic Renaissance motif.

An 18 C chasuble in brocaded lampas on a white background, with a rich floral composition, is exhibited on its left, with the Anichini family coat of arms in the lower part. The vestments that follow also date from the 18 C: a cope in white silk with a wide variety of embroidered motifs from nature, some invented, inspired by Oriental designs; and a pink damask-backed chasuble of great decorative effect, decorated in silver brocade with patterns of twining plant shoots bearing buds and flowering corollas.

The only painting in the room is the portrait of the Assumption of the Virgin dating from the second half of the 19 C. It is surrounded by a richly decorated carved and gilded frame that in the lower part bears the coat of arms of the Counts Basetti of Bagnano, who probably commissioned the work.

The section on painting is housed in a room on the first floor. It contains only a few of the many paintings on wood and canvas executed over the centuries for the churches in the district of Greve in Chianti, which have, in most cases, been left in situ.

The first painting we encounter hangs in the corridor leading into the room. It shows The Miracle of the Healing of the Man Blind from Birth, attributed to Giuseppe Moriani, and dating from the second decade of the 18 C.

The room itself contains several canvases that represent the painting of the 17 C. Two works carried out in around 1640 hang on the entrance wall: the Assumption of the Virgin, at first attributed to Jacopo Vignali and later thought to be more similar in style to the work of his student Giovanni Montini, who also carried out two octagons now in the Museum of Religious Art of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, and the Assumption of the Virgin between Sts. Lucy and Anthony of Padua by Francesco Curradi.

The two paintings of St. Peter, both from a legacy to the former Rosa Libri hospital, both date from the 17 C. One is of St. Peter in prison with the angel arriving to free him, attributed to an anonymous Emilian painter. The other canvas, perhaps by a Neapolitan painter, immortalises the Saint in a three quarters view with his hands joined on a book and the symbol of the key beside it. The composition recalls many of the paintings of saints and prophets carried out by Jusepe Ribera and this was very probably copied from one of them.

A painting in late Mannerist style of the Madonna of the Rosary, dated 1615, and signed by Francesco Boldrini hangs between the paintings of St. Peter, while a large painting of the Apparition of Christ to a Saint, possibly identifiable as St. Alexis, closely resembling the style of the Florentine painter Sigismondo Coccapani hangs opposite.

The 19 C painting of St. Rose, attributed to Michele Gordigiani, is a documentary as well as artistic testimonial and tribute to the noblewoman Rosa Libri Del Rosso, whose generosity led to the construction of the Greve hospital.

The room containing church furnishings boasts various religious objects that were used during liturgical services. They date from various periods and are of different materials and provenance.

On the right of the entrance, isolated in a niche in the wall, there is a processional cross in painted wood that comes from the Church of San Silvestro at Convertoie, an interesting though fairly commonly found example that dates from between the late 16 C and the first half of the 17 C.

A cross in wood of a later date is fixed to the intersection of the arms of the cross, while the paintings in the polylobate tiles (reading from the top towards the right), portray the Christological symbol of the Pelican tearing open her breast to feed her young with her own blood, St. John the Evangelist, St. Anne with the Madonna and Child, and Mary Magdalen. Next to the cross, there is a bronze bell, one of the oldest to be found in the area, which comes from the Church of Santa Maria at Vicchiomaggio. It bears an inscription to the Virgin in Gothic letters and the date 1312 at the top, while the lily on the circlet of the handle indicates that the bell was cast in a Florentine foundry.

All the other furnishings are contained in the display case that stands against the wall, which contains a wide variety of objects dating from various periods, in particular a small pax in ivory. Dating from the late 14 C, it shows the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist on either side of the Cross, now lost, and was carved in the Florentine workshop of Embriachi, who specialised in the production of religious and secular articles in bone and ivory.

The 18 C dark wood cross encrusted with mother-of-pearl and ivory inlay is another interesting piece that belonged to the Franciscan Order, whose symbol can be seen on the pyramid-shaped base. This type of Cross was particularly popular in the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, where the Franciscan monks have always acted as custodians of the Holy Sepulchre.

The furnishings in metal include an interesting 15 C thurible, with a pyramid-shaped brazier, testifying to a type that was fairly common in Tuscany, where there was a preference for very simple geometric forms. Several similar examples can also be found in the Museums of Religious Art at Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and San Casciano Val di Pesa.

The thurible and incense boat in embossed brass dated 1611 that form a "parure" or set are decorated with elements typical of the ornamental repertoire of the Mannerist school, with stylised designs of leaves and fruit, heads of cherubs, dolphins and little columns. Their particular characteristics have made it possible to identify them with two objects mentioned in documents from the Abbey of San Cassiano at Montescalari. They were therefore probably carried out for Abbot Marco Lavacchi from Pelago.

The group of chalices on display, all carried out in different periods, stand out for their elegance and technical precision. One is a refined example of Florentine manufacture (1618), whose decorative repertoire still reflects the late Renaissance (like the bean-shaped elements and the series of superimposed tondos), yet is 17 C in shape (the vase type junction is an example). The other is a chalice in embossed silver dating from around the first half of the 19 C with the entire surface decorated with a repetition of classical designs, like palmettes and lanceolate leaves.

The two 18 C crosses that come from San Silvestro at Convertoie and San Michele at Dudda show that the formal characteristics of the 15 C remained almost unchanged over the years, the only variations were in the forms and stylistic aspects of the figures.

Most of the large group of reliquaries in carved wood repeat traditional 18 C motifs, but two examples are characterised by decorative elements inspired by late Mannerist architecture of Florence. These include a small temple-shaped example from Montescalari, made to contain the remains of the martyr Cassianus, titular saint of the abbey. Judging from the shape and type of decoration this presumably also dates from the first half of the 17 C and may have been one of the many commissions ordered by Abbot Lavacchi when he had the monastery restructured. Another interesting reliquary is the statuette of the Madonna and Child in carved and painted wood, a typical example of the type of crafted religious object that was particularly popular in the Tuscan countryside and carried out in the second half of the 17 C. This example was probably copied from a more refined late Mannerist model though with some alterations designed to better suit the more Baroque tastes of the time.

A painting and a small sculpture complete the arrangement of this room. The canvas, dating from the first decades of the 18 C, is an oval portrait of St. Bonaventura in Franciscan robes, attributed to Ottaviano Dandini, one of the last members of the famous Florentine family of painters and particularly interested in portraiture.

The bust in stucco (it was originally painted) of the Madonna and Child is attributed to the Florentine sculptor Nanni di Bartolo. This was an artist who took careful note of the early Renaissance artistic trends, when the ancient theme of the intimate embrace between Mother and Son was being developed in various ways. However he would always betray his Gothic origins with his elegant and rhythmic rendering of drapery and material.

Two display cases in the corridor on the first floor contain the archaeological section of the museum and include examples of the many discoveries found in the district of Greve in Chianti. These include several objects of Archaic and Hellenistic Age, such as the small and primitive taurine head in bronze, as well as many exhibits dating from Roman times: bronze coins, amphora and oil jar chards, roof tiles, weights for looms or for fishing. Medieval archaeology is represented here by a group of artefacts in clay excavated at Castellaccio of Lucolena that date from between the 11 C and 12 C.

Guide Book:
Museo d'arte sacra di San Francesco a Greve in Chianti : guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio
Caterina Caneva
ISBN: 8883049535
Firenze: Polistampa, 2005.
21cm., pbk., 237pp. illus., most in colour Italian-English text. (Series: Piccoli, Grandi Musei)

Opening hours:
Winter Thu-Fri 10-13 / Sat-Sun 3,30-6,30
Summer Thu-Fri 10-13 / Sat-Sun 4-8

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