Chiesa di Santa Trìnita ☆☆

"Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule" (1483–85) by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Florence, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
'Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule' (1483–85) by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel

A church by the river with amazing, courtly Renaissance frescoes by Ghirlandaio

This was the first Gothic church in Florence, built in 1250–58, perhaps by Nicola Pisano (but likely by a lesser-known artist), and best-known for the richness of its Renaissance frescoes—especially the courtly works by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel.

There's plenty of good art in the chapels along the aisles—including works by Neri di Bicci, Empoli, Il Passignano, and especially the Cappella Bartolini Salimbeni (fourth chapel on the right aisle), which was frescoed by Lorenzo Monaco in the 1420s.

The Sassetti Chapel

Santa Trìnita's real claim to sightseeing fame is a chapel up in the choir: the Cappella Sassetti. It was frescoed in 1483–85 by Domenico Ghirlandaio (once Michelangelo's fresco teacher).

The frescoes are nominally of religious events, but they are populated by parades of contemporary figures (including Lorenzo de' Medici and his kids) dressed in the fashions of the day and set against backdrops that reproduce faithfully the squares and streets of late 15th century Florencelike a window into the Florence of the Renaissance.

The best example is the painting of St. Francis Receiving the Rule of Orders from Pope Honorius. It was an important moment in church history, as it was the first establishment of a monastic order. Why is it here, though? Because St. Francis was the namesake of the man who commissioned the chapel, Francesco Sassetti.

This action—the kneeling friar and his followers, the pope on his throne—is squeezed into the middle distance of the scene—center stage, but flattened as if to de-emphasize the section. It;'s what surrounds the action that's truly interesting.

Behind the holy group extends Piazza della Signoria as it appeared in the 1480s, before the Uffizi was built (you can see the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio way back on the left, and the arches of the Loggia de Lanzi in the center).

It's the foreground of the fresco that's the most fascinating, though, because of its famous portraits.

Painting in a portrait of the patron who paid for the job was pretty common in Renaissance art. He usually appeared at the margins of the scene, or sometimes kneeling before the throne of the main saint or Virgin Mary.

Ghirlandaio, though, took this practice to an extreme, populating his frescoes with the entire extended families of his patrons, dressed in the latest fashions and finery and mingling as if at a cocktail party with other famous and powerful people of the day.

This fresco is no exception. On the right edge of the frame stands, indeed, the patron himself and donor of the money to decorate the chapel: Francesco Sassetti, shaved-headed and wearing a crimson cloak. Next to him stands his young son.

To the right of Sassetti, that brutish-faced, dark-haired gentleman in the pale red robes is none other than Lorenzo "The Magnificent" de' Medici, ruler-in-all-but-name of Florence.

To Lorenzo's right stands another local notable in blue, Antonio Pucci. Coming up the stairs toward them is the hawk-nosed profile of Agnolo Poliziano—famed poet, humanist, and tutor to Lorenzo de' Medici's children, who are accompanying their teacher up the stairs.

The chapel altarpiece, also by Ghirlandaio, has an Adoration of the Shepherds flanked, once again, by the donors: Francesco Sassetti and his wife, Nera Corsi.

The Sassetti sarcophagi are also in this chapel, carved from black porphyry by Giuliano da Sangallo.

Another of the frescoed scenes in the chapel, The Miracle of the Boy Brought Back to Life (pictured below), features another Florentine street scene.

This time, it's Piazza Santa Trìnita itself, just outside this very church (you can see the church facade to the right, with a line of monks being led out of the doors and into the piazza). In the background you can see the old Ponte Santa Trìnita bridge (lined with little shops, as the Ponte Vecchio still is).

Piazza Santa Trìnita

One element of the current Piazza Santa Trìnita that the fresco doesn't show (but is pictured in the photograph at the top of this page) is obvious as soon as you exit the church: bang in the center of the piazza rises a single column. If it looks out of place, it is.

This granite "Column of Justice" actually came from the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome, a gift from Pope Pius IV to Duke Cosimo I de' Medici in 1560 (some 75 years after the frescoes were painted). It is topped by a 16th century statue of Justice carved by Tadda of porphyry marble and cloaked in bronze.

Photo gallery
  • The facade, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Italy (Photo by LivornoDP)
  • The nave, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Italy (Photo by Larry Lamsa)
  • The Cappella Bartolini Salimbeni, frescoed by by Lorenzo Monaco in the 1420s, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Italy (Photo by Baldiri)
  • Ceiling frescos (1631–33) by Matteo Rosselli and Fabrizio Boschi‎ in the Cappella Usimbardi, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Fragment of a fresco of the
  • The late 12C crypt, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The cloister, Chiesa di Santa Trìnita, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Piazza Santa Trinita with the ancient Roman granite
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Tips

How long does Chiesa di Santa Trìnita take?

Figure on spending may 20–30 minutes in the church.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).