Florentine Architecture: The Fire within Santa Maria del Carmine

It was on my first trip to Florence that I came across Piazza del Carmine, a square not too far from my student hostel. I was on my way to cross Ponte Vecchio and enter the tourist hub of the city, when my day plans were quickly altered. A great wooden door enticed me through its opening to enquire within; and never again will I think twice about abruptly walking into an open building. I experienced an awe-inspiring moment stepping into Santa Maria del Carmine, a baroque church of the Carmelite Order. The glorious cream marble, chandeliers and checkerboard tiles of this church struck me. From my very first glimpses of the interior, a desire within me caused me to gaze in reverence and wonderment.

Upon my first visit, Santa Maria del Carmine was ironically empty of human life, however seemingly beaming with happiness and spirit. The warmth of the church was holy in feel, rousing enough memories and emotions that I decided to sit in peace, by myself (for what ended up being a couple of hours) to notice every detail of my life and the church itself. At this point in my life I had been travelling through Europe for nearly a month and was getting used to living with few obligations and schedules. This meant I could watch the Rococo ceiling by Giovanni Domenico Ferretti dance with colour, inspect the Latin cross plan and famous frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino. These frescoes are considered to be the first masterworks of the Italian Renaissance and my eyes relished; for they had not seen such artistic beauty.

Unforeseeably, this is not the first time Santa Maria del Carmine has kindled a warm desire or flame within its walls. A significant fire in the year 1771 destroyed much of the interiors and saw a subsequent renovation in the Rococo style. Much to my delight, the fire did not touch the sacristy, thus the stories of Saint Cecilia remain unharmed. These ornamental paintings speak of the history and musical talent of Saint Cecilia, and remain there today because a bold Florentine woman denied the overwriting’s of the frescoes. This is just one significant story behind the interior architecture.

As with many Florentine churches, such as the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the façade of the church was never completed. It seems unfortunate that this is the case, however, it is also the “unfinished” aspect and non-existent exterior, which subtly entices inquiring visitors.

When I was first at the site of Santa Maria del Carmine, those few years ago, I was worried I would not be able to capture the exterior simplicity and interior beauty I had found in the church that day. However, I am thankful to say it has not mattered, because since my first trip to Florence I have since returned and sat in silence under those magnificent frescoes again. If I was to have a holy place, I would say Santa Maria del Carmine is it.

References:

1. Brion, Marcel. The Medici: a great Florentine family. Paul Elek, 1969.

2. Carniani, Mario. Santa Maria Del Carmine: And the Brancacci Chapel. Becocci, 1990.

3. Schevill, Ferdinand. Medieval and Renaissance Florence. Vol. 1. Harper & Row, 1963.