On a sunny morning in April of this year I visited the former abbey (badia) of Flora and Lucilla in Arezzo. I had the church of the abbey practically to myself: apart from an expert who was busy restoring the famous fresco of San Lorenzo by Bartolomeo della Gatta there was no one else in the building. Unfortunately this also meant that there was very little light in the church, which was a pity, as there is a lot to see.
Flora and Lucilla are two fairly obscure female martyrs. According to tradition they were Roman sisters who were martyred in the third century. Their remains then ended up in Ostia. In the ninth century bishop Giovanni of Arezzo managed to get his hands on the relics. These were handed over to a group of Benedictines who founded an abbey at Torrita di Olmo, southwest of Arezzo. At the start of the thirteenth century the city council ordered the monks to settle within the city walls. The small church they had there was replaced in 1278 by a larger Gothic church, while the adjacent convent dates from 1315. As of 1489 this convent was replaced by Giuliano da Maiano (ca. 1432-1490) with a Renaissance-style convent.
The present church of Sante Flora e Lucilla is largely the result of an extensive renovation which started in 1564. This project was led by the famous architect, painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), who was himself from Arezzo. The result of the renovation was a considerable enlargement of the church, which is evident from the rather asymmetrical façade. On the left one can see the extension, while slightly to the right of the centre elements of the Gothic church – a portal and a Gothic window – are still visible. It should be noted that this has not always been the appearance of the façade. The Gothic elements were only rediscovered during a restoration in 1914. I presume that before that the whole façade was plastered and gave a greater display of unity. At the back of the church we furthermore see the bell-tower, built between 1649 and 1711.
As Vasari truly left his mark on the church, it should not come as a surprise that once we are inside we see a number of works from his hand. The paintings on the high altar are by Vasari and so is the so-called Pala Albergotti (1567) on the right side of the church. Both works are, by the way, originally from the church of Santa Maria della Pieve elsewhere in Arezzo. This was the parish church of the Vasari family and the great architect and his wife were buried there. Only in 1865 were the aforementioned works moved to the Sante Flora e Lucilla. The central scene on the high altar is the calling of Saints Peter and Andrew by Christ. This scene is flanked by images of Saints Donatus (bishop and patron saint of Arezzo) and Stephen (on the left), and Saints Paul and George (on the right). The central themes of the Pala Albergotti are the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin.
As was already mentioned above, the fresco of San Lorenzo by Bartolomeo della Gatta (1448-1502) from 1476 was just being restored when I visited the church. A good photo of the fresco can be viewed here. The fresco must once have been part of a much larger cycle, but nothing of this cycle has been preserved. The church moreover possesses two crucifixes that warrant closer inspection. The first crucifix was painted by Segna di Bonaventura (ca. 1280-1331) and dates from 1319. Segna was a student or follower of Duccio di Buoninsegna. The second crucifix is almost two centuries younger. It dates from the beginning of the sixteenth century and was made by Baccio da Montelupo (1469-1523). Of the works on the left side of the church I especially liked a painting by Marco Mazzaroppi (1550-1620). In the foreground Mazzaroppi painted Saint Benedictus and his sister Scholastica, in the background the famous abbey of Montecassino.
The most interesting artwork in the church is undoubtedly an imitation dome, painted on canvas by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). Pozzo was a Jesuit, but also a painter and architect. For the church of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Rome he painted a similar canvas with a fake dome. The canvas in Rome is much larger than that in Arezzo, but then again the Sant’Ignazio di Loyola is a lot bigger than the Sante Flora e Lucilla.
Further reading: Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla | Discover Arezzo