The magnificent Chiesa di San Salvatore in Ognissanti
The Chiesa di Ognissanti in Florence is a one-of-a-kind Franciscan church: its magnificent facade and its richly decorated interiors emerge decisively from the sober canons of the order. This is one of the most beautiful and interesting churches in the whole city, inside you can admire extraordinary works made by some of the greatest masters such as Giotto, Taddeo Gaddi, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio.
In Florence we find both a Piazza Ognissanti and a street called Borgo Ognissanti. The Church of Ognissanti is located exactly at the intersection of the road and the square, which is also very beautiful and overlooks the Arno.
History of the church
The church of Ognissanti (Ognissanti means All Saints) was built starting from 1251 by the order of the Umiliati who had arrived in Florence from Alessandria in 1239. The Umiliati settled outside the city walls of the time, first in San Donato in Polverosa and then at the Church of Santa Lucia. From the church of Santa Lucia they expanded on the “borgo” to create a convent complex in which they built the new church ad honorem Sanctorum Omnium (or the Church of Ognissanti). The complex was completed around 1294.
The convent of the Umiliati friars was in a favorable position at the confluence of the Mugnone stream and the Arno river. Here the Pescaia of Santa Rosa was built which was used to facilitate the exploitation of the hydraulic energy that fed the mills and fullers. This, on the one hand, allowed the development of numerous productive activities in the neighborhood and on the other, helped the order to increase its importance and prestige in the city.
A very positive consequence of this situation was that several families in the neighborhood began to finance the order and its church. Soon the Church of Ognissanti began to enrich itself with extraordinary works of art created by the most important artists of the time. In 1310 Giotto’s Majesty (now in the Uffizi Gallery) was placed on the high altar, followed by other works by the same master such as the fabulous Crocifisso di Ognissanti.
Later, again in the fourteenth century, Taddeo Gaddi also worked for the church of Ognissanti, while in the fifteenth century the church was enriched with the works of Sandro Botticelli (who among other things is buried here) and Ghirlandaio.
This was the church of the Vespucci family, the family of the great explorer Amerigo Vespucci. It was they who hired Ghirlandaio who created two admirable frescoes, one along the right aisle and one in the refectory.
The Franciscans at Ognissanti
During the sixteenth century the order of the Umiliati lost power and prestige and in 1571 was definitively dissolved. The religious building and the adjoining monastery were assigned to the Franciscan friars who brought with them numerous furnishings and works of art in their possession as well as a relic of St. Francis of Assisi.
The Franciscans between the 1500s and 1600s made various changes and extensions with the construction of two cloisters, the creation of new altars and the reconstruction of the façade which became Baroque.
The Franciscans rededicated the church in 1582 naming it after San Salvatore in Ognissanti, in honor of their previous church of San Salvatore al Monte.
Description of the church of San Salvatore in Ognissanti
The current facade of Ognissanti dates back to 1637 and is the work of the architect Matteo Nigetti. Initially it had been entirely covered in pietra forte but in the nineteenth century a restoration was necessary and the pietra forte was replaced by travertine from the Rapolano quarries. The facade is richly decorated with many architectural elements and a magnificent lunette with the Coronation of the Virgin and saints by Benedetto Buglioni. At the top in the center you can also admire a large coat of arms with the lily of Florence, added during the nineteenth-century restoration.
Although many of the works that once existed in Ognissanti have been moved to museums, the church still holds masterpieces that deserve to be seen. Furthermore, it is a Franciscan building with an unusual appearance, very sumptuous and in contrast with the customs of the order.
Of great artistic interest is the second altar in the right aisle where the chapel of the Vespucci family is located. The frescoes placed as ornamentation are by Ghirlandaio and were painted around 1470, when the artist was in his early twenties. It is a Deposition and the Madonna della Misercordia. It should be noted that the Virgin, under her cloak, welcomes the postulants who are none other than the members of the Vespucci family. Among these it is also possible to recognize the great Amerigo (the young man to Maria’s left).
In the center of the nave, instead, the paintings of Sant’Agostino by Botticelli and San Girolamo, also by Ghirlandaio, should be observed, but the greatest attention should be paid to Giotto’s wooden crucifix, better known as the Crocifisso di Ognissanti. Until a few years ago it was considered a work carried out by some of his relatives. Only after careful restoration by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in 2005 was it possible to attribute the correct authorship.
These are just some of the main works that you can admire inside the Church of Ognissanti. Among the other great artists who have worked to make this church so beautiful I also point out Santi di Tito, Maso da San Friano, Matteo Rosselli, Giovan Domenico Ferretti, Giovanni da San Giovanni and Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio.
Cloister and refectory
In the great cloister we find a cycle of frescoes with the Stories of St. Francis made by various authors including Jacopo Ligozzi and Giovanni da San Giovanni, while in the refectory a large Cenacle by Ghirlandaio is visible.