Prato: San Domenico

Church of San Domenico.

One should usually take the opening hours of restaurants on Google Maps with a pinch of salt. We had seen that a certain restaurant close to the church of San Francesco, which we had just visited, was set to open as early as 18:00. That was quite convenient for us, so we decided to stay in Prato and eat there. Since we still had about an hour left, we decided to visit the church of San Domenico in the city as well. After all, Franciscus of Assisi (ca. 1181-1226) and Dominicus Guzmán (1170-1221) were contemporaries and important church reformers to boot. The church of San Domenico was built between 1283 and 1316. Unfortunately a great fire that broke out on 12 September 1647 and was caused by a lightning strike heavily damaged the building. The fire probably consumed a work by the great Florentine painter Giotto (ca. 1266-1337). We know that a work by this master once stood or hung in the church and it is no longer there.

Thanks to the efforts of Baccio del Bianco (1604-1656) and Pier Francesco Silvani (1620-1685) the damage to the building was repaired in five years. These men did a good job, but the church of San Domenico cannot really be called beautiful. Two thirds of the façade has for instance been left entirely undecorated and the original rose window has been bricked up. The elliptical window above it, in a lunette that has also been bricked up, does not look very attractive either. The large Gothic windows in the sides of the church have unfortunately been bricked up as well, but the large fourteenth century portal of the side entrance is splendid and so is the colonnade running along this side of the building. The colonnade was used for burials and that is the reason we find several sarcophagi here. The very few decorations of the front and side of the building feature the two types of stone that are very popular in Prato: green marble (marmo verde di Prato or serpentino) and pietra alberese. The pietra alberese has turned brown here and there, the result of a natural process.

Side view of the church.

Interior of the church.

Crucifix by Lorenzo di Niccolò.

Regretfully we did not have much time to inspect the interior of the San Domenico. A mass was about to start, so we had to be quick. The seventeenth century interior is plain and simple and has few highlights (see the image above). Among those highlights is a crucifix by the painter Lorenzo di Niccolò (ca. 1373-1412). His work has been discussed previously on this website. We may assume that the crucifix survived the 1647 fire. It has one great detail, and that is the Tree of Life which has been painted above the crucified Christ. In the tree sits a mother pelican that pecks her chest to feed her three young with her own blood.

When mass started, we fled to the adjacent cloister. It dates from the fifteenth century and it is very enjoyable to go for a stroll here. The cloister also offers a nice view of the campanile of the church, which was completed in 1314. It was now time to walk to the restaurant that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. When we arrived, we quickly learned that it opened at 19:00 instead of 18:00. It was then that we decided to have dinner outside Prato.

Cloister next to the church.

Sources: Italian Wikipedia and the Città di Prato website.

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