Pistoia: San Domenico

Church of San Domenico.

Originally we had not even intended to visit the church of San Domenico, a church that was not even mentioned in our travel guide. But while we were sitting in the Piazza San Domenico, waiting for the Cappella del Tau on the other side of the road to open, we decided to kill some time and entered the San Domenico, totally unprepared. The church has clearly had better days. The façade is largely unadorned and inside it was pitch dark. The presence of scaffolds was an indication that restoration works were underway. Unfortunately the cloisters of the adjacent Dominican convent, the library, the refectory, the sacristy and the chapterhouse were all closed. Italy was still in the middle of the global COVID-19 crisis and we were lucky that the church itself was not closed too. A helpful little bonus was the presence of an information panel.


Construction of the San Domenico started at the end of the thirteenth century. The Dominicans had settled in Pistoia a couple of decades previously and had until then made use of a small oratory, which was incorporated into the present church. In 1331 the church was completed.

Interior of the church.

Funerary monument of bishop Andrea Franchi.

In 1370 the Pistoian-born Andrea Franchi was appointed prior of the convent. Under his direction the church was extended. In 1381 Franchi became bishop of Pistoia, an office he held until 1400. In that year he fell seriously ill and retired to the convent of San Domenico. In 1401 he died and was buried in the church, where one can find his tomb on the right side of the nave. The monument must have once been painted, as traces of red paint can still be seen on the coats-of-arms that adorn the tomb. The effigy of the deceased is a fine piece of sculpture, though admittedly it looks a bit stiff. Below the effigy we see reliefs of the Madonna and Child and two saints, presumably Saint Andrew the Apostle (on the left) and Saint Dominicus (on the right). A medallion featuring Christ giving his blessing is part of the canopy of the monument.

A conspicuous element of the church are the twelve altars on the side walls of the building. These altars date from the early seventeenth century and were provided with paintings, although nowadays some of the altar frames are apparently empty. One of the best known painters who provided the church with works of art was Fra Paolino da Pistoia (ca. 1488-1547), who was himself a Dominican friar. He lived in the convent, had his studio there for a while and also financed the construction of one of the cloisters. An excellent work by Fra Paolino in the church is his Crucifixion, painted in 1530. Paolino’s father Bernardino del Signoraccio (ca. 1460-1540) was active as a painter elsewhere in Pistoia (see Pistoia: Sant’Andrea). The construction of the altars and the subsequent whitewashing of the walls between 1670 and 1724 regretfully led to the loss of several medieval frescoes.

Stained glass window.

In 1783 Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo I dissolved all the monastic orders in Tuscany. As a consequence, the Dominicans in Pistoia lost their convent. They would only return in 1928 and on that occasion commissioned the wonderful stained glass windows for the chapel containing the high altar. The windows feature, among other figures, the Madonna and Child and Saints Peter, Paul and Dominicus, but also the aforementioned Andrea Franchi. He was beatified in 1921 by Pope Benedictus XV (1914-1922).

Things to see

In addition to the Andrea Franchi tomb mentioned above, the church of San Domenico has several more interesting funerary monuments. Unfortunately you will not be able to admire a monument for the great Florentine painter Benozzo Gozzoli (ca. 1421-1497). Gozzoli passed away in Pistoia and was buried in this church, but apparently a monument was too much to ask. Considering the beautiful works of art the artist left behind in Tuscany and Umbria, this may be considered somewhat of a disgrace.

Funerary monument of Filippo Lazzari – Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino.

The absence of a monument for Gozzoli is somewhat compensated by the tomb of Filippo Lazzari, a lawyer who lived in the fifteenth century. It was made in 1462-1468 by the brothers Bernardo (1409-1464) and Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479). When the elder brother died in 1464, it was up to the younger brother to complete the tomb. The deceased has been depicted twice. The upper part of the tomb has him lying on his deathbed while two putti open the curtains. The lower part sports a relief that features the deceased standing behind a lectern and teaching a class of students. Note that red and green marble was used in the tomb.

In the right part of the transept we find two funerary monuments (cenotaphs perhaps?) for members of the Rospigliosi family. They were one of the most important noble families in Pistoia. The monuments were made for two members of the family that were even more important: Girolamo Rospigliosi (1577-1628) and his wife Maddalena Caterina (1581-1650). In early 1600 their first son Giulio was born, and more than 67 years later – with both parents long dead – this Giulio was elected Pope Clemens IX (1667-1669). Unfortunately I do not know whether it was this Pope who commissioned the splendid funerary monuments for Girolamo and Maddalena Caterina in the church of San Domenico. Both monuments are attributed to an artist who worked in the style of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Funerary monument of Girolamo Rospigliosi, father of Pope Clemens IX.

There is little doubt that we will return to the San Domenico in Pistoia one day to visit the rest of the complex. Especially the refectory is high on our list. Judging by the images on Wikimedia Commons we may find paintings there that are attributed to, among others, Dalmasio Scannabecchi, Giovanni di Bartolomeo Cristiani and Taddeo Gaddi.

Sources: the information panel in the church and the relevant articles on Italian and English Wikipedia.

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