Florence: San Carlo dei Lombardi

San Carlo dei Lombardi.

Every day thousands of people pass by the church of San Carlo on the busy Via dei Calzaiuoli. The church itself is seldom open though. During my most recent visits to Florence I found the doors of the building shut each and every time. The ultimate insult must have been that someone deposited a couple of filthy trash bags on the steps leading to the church entrance. One evening in January of 2024 I closely studied the sheet of paper that had been posted on the doors. It announced a mass at San Carlo on the evening before Epiphany. I decided to come to the church well before the advertised time, found the doors of the church open and was able to walk around at leisure and take pictures. I have to admit that I subsequently skipped mass.

Between 1342 and 1343 Florence was ruled by the self-declared Duke of Athens. This Walter VI of Brienne was deeply hated, and on 26 July 1343 he was expelled from the city. As this was the feast day of Saint Anne, a Florentine fraternity known as the Compagnia dei Laudesi had a chapel dedicated to her built between 1349 and 1352. The architects were Neri di Fioravanti (died 1374) and Benci di Cione (ca. 1310-1388). Both were later also involved with the construction of the cathedral of Florence. Later in the fourteenth century the chapel was rebuilt as a proper church by Simone di Francesco Talenti, who was the son of the architect Francesco Talenti, who was also involved in the construction of the Duomo. The former chapel of Saint Anne was now dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel. After all, the Compagnia dei Laudesi was alternatively known as the Compagnia di Or San Michele. This explains the presence of the letters OSM above the church entrance. They were also included twice in the altarpiece of Niccolò di Pietro Gerini that will be discussed below. It should not come as a surprise that the brotherhood was also responsible for the church of Orsanmichele, which can be found opposite the San Carlo.

Interior of the church.

In 1616 the church of San Michele was granted to the Compagnia di San Carlo dei Lombardi. This fraternity was dedicated to Saint Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584), who had served as archbishop of Milan until his death. Carlo Borromeo was canonised in 1610. The fraternity renamed and re-dedicated the church, and henceforth the building became known as San Carlo dei Lombardi. There is not much to say about the exterior of the church and the sandstone façade. Decorations are virtually absent. The interior of the church is rather plain and simple. At the back we find a number of frescoes about the life of Carlo Borromeo and a painting featuring the saint by Matteo Rosselli (1578-1650), but the artworks fail to make an impression. The reason that I really wanted to visit the church was the aforementioned altarpiece by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini (died 1415). The work was moved to the Uffizi in 1781 and then in 1841 to the Accademia. In 1931 it was returned to the San Carlo. The panel painting was thoroughly restored in 2015.

The painting features the Lamentation of the Dead Christ. In the central scene we see how Christ is entombed, but above that scene the Risen Christ is depicted. The Dead Christ is surrounded by a large group of people. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea put the deceased in his tomb, John is kissing his hand and among the mourning women are the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen. Both the shroud and the sarcophagus are beautifully decorated. The Risen Christ is flanked by angels holding instruments of the Passion, i.e. the cross and the spear that was used to pierce his side. In the lower part of the panel the letters OSM of the Compagnia di Or San Michele have been painted. Between the letters we see the prophet Isaiah (ISAIAS PROPHETA according to the caption). The text on his scroll comes from Isaiah 53:4 (“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering”).

Lamentation of the Dead Christ – Niccolò di Pietro Gerini.

Lamentation of the Dead Christ – Niccolò di Pietro Gerini.

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