Thursday, February 15, 2018

Liturgical Objects in the Pitti Palace in Florence

The Pitti Palace in Florence was originally constructed by a banker named Luca Pitti in the mid-15th century, but purchased by the Medici family in 1549, and greatly enlarged. Francesco I, the second member of the family to rule as Grand Duke of Tuscany, made it his primary residence, and as such, the center of the ever-growing art collection; since 1919, it has been a national museum. It is now visited primarily for the sake of the Palatine Gallery, which contains over 500 painting from the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, featuring several works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens to name a few. It also contains a huge number of works in the so-called minor arts, of which a good many are liturgical objects; here is just a selection of some of the more beautiful ones. As one might imagine, given the Medici family’s fame as patrons of the arts, the quality of some of these objects is truly extraordinary.

A pax-brede made in Rome in the 16th century of African marble and gilded silver. The Roman basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the “altar of heaven”, syands on the part of the Capitoline hill where in ancient times there was a platform known as the auguraculum, from which soothsayers would observe the flights of birds and make predictions from them. According to a popular medieval legend, one of the Sybils brought the Emperor Augustus onto the platform and showed him a vision of the Mother of God, after which Augustus prohibited the construction of new temples to the pagan gods; this is the story depicted here.
A German reliquary of the 14th century.
A German reliquary in the form of a triptych, 1430-40.
A German reliquary ca. 1350-75, in the form known as an “encolpium”, a pendant designed to be worn as a necklace.
A portable altar made in Venice in the 14th century of jasper, mother-of-pearl and rockcrystal, with miniatures of the symbols of the Evangelists in the corners, the Crucifixion above and the Virgin and Child below.
A 14th-century French ditych with scenes of the Passion.
A Florentine reliquary of the late 15th century. It is interesting to note that while Florence was at that time the very epicenter of the Renaissance, its taste in liturgical objects remained very Gothic.
A triptych in enamel on copper made in the 16 century in Limoges, which was a famous center of enamel work, with scenes of the Passion (note the very vivid Harrowing of Hell in the middle right) and the Resurrection.
A bucket for holy water, or situla, in rock crystal, gold and enamel, with the arms of Pope Leo X (1513-21), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the first of the four Medici Popes. (One of these, Pius IV, was a rather distant relative of the Florentine Medicis, and the last, Leo XI, was Pope for 27 days.)
The remaining objects come from a part of the collection which had almost no didactic panels. This is an portable tabernacle made especially for the reposition of the Blessed Sacrement on Holy Thursday, sometimes referred to as an urn. The door has a step mounted onto it on the inside, on which the chalice with the Sacrament was set when the procession had reached the altar; the Sacrament was incensed, then placed inside the urn, and the door closed. (I have seen several others like this in various churches and other museums.)
A carved wooden representation of the major events of the life of Christ; I believe this must be of Eastern origin, since most of the events shown are among the Twelve Great Feasts of the Byzantine tradition. (The Annunciation, Birth of Christ, Presentation, Baptism, Transfiguration, Raising of Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, the Dormition of the Virgin.)
A miter made in Mexico in the 16th century.
One of the chapels in the residential part of the palace next to the Palatine Gallery.
A very nice prie-dieu; it’s good to be the Medici.
A holy-water stoup in one of the bedrooms.

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