Santo Spirito

Florence, designed by 1434, foundation stone laid 1436, finished 1482

Architect:  Brunelleschi




Construction of the Church          


1434.  In 1434 the Augustinian monks of Santo Spirito in Florence approved Brunelleschi's plan for a church that would replace the existing Gothic structure.


1436.  Construction began two years later, but work was soon suspended.


1444.  Work is resumed in 1444.


1446.  Brunelleschi died in 1446, and only the foundation and part of the outer walls had been built.  He was succeeded by several builders who made changes to some parts of his design.


1471.  In 1471, most of the old church and convent was destroyed by fire.


1482.  The new structure was completed in 1482.


Construction of the Sacristy

Between 1488 and 1496 a sacristy designed by Giuliano da Sangallo was added between the nave and cloister.


Construction of the Façade

The façade was begun in the 1480s, at which point it was decided to incorporate three portals and not four.  This facing was not completed until the eighteenth century, which accounts for the presence of its graceful Rococo curves.






This church is similar to San Lorenzo in many ways.


Early Christian Basilica Form

Both churches resemble Early Christian basilicas because they have flat nave ceilings supported by arcades carried on columns.


Modular Determination of Plan

The proportions of both churches are based on modular systems in which the crossing squares are repeated for the choir and transept arms, halved for the nave bays, and quartered for the side-aisle bays.


Pendentives Carrying Domes

At both churches, pendentives support the central dome, and pendentive vaults, or sail domes, cover the side-aisle bays.  Had the dome of San Lorenzo been built according to Brunelleschi's design, it would probably have been similar to the dome of Santo Spirito.


Impost Blocks for Adjusting Proportions

At both churches, impost blocks between the capitals and the arches enabled Brunelleschi to adjust the arch height so that it would be exactly half that of the column height.





Absence of Constraints

Unlike San Lorenzo, where construction began as an expansion of the east end rather than as a replacement for the whole church, Santo Spirito was not constrained by pre-existing conditions.


Consequently, Brunelleschi was free to work out some of the problems encountered with his earlier design for San Lorenzo.


Measurements Based on Column Centers

The modules on which the church's lateral proportions are based were measured from the centers of the columns, rather than from their outer edges as they were at San Lorenzo.  This refinement made it possible to apply whole-number ratios to the main parts of the church without factoring in the space between modules.


Latin-Cross Shape

The shape of Santo Spirito is a perfect Latin cross in contrast to the ragged T-shape of San Lorenzo.


Continuous Outer Aisle

The entire perimeter of the church can be traversed through a line of small connecting bays that form side aisles and a passage around the east end.


Apsidal Chapels

Semi-circular chapels extend from each of the outer bays of the aisles that surround the nave, transept, and choir.


Because these chapels were planned from the start, their proportions and shapes were better integrated with the whole than the unplanned chapels that had been added to San Lorenzo.





Modular Basis of Nave-Arcade Height

The height of the nave arcade equals the width of the nave, which is defined by the crossing-square module.


Ratio of Nave Arcade to Upper Wall

The height of the nave arcade is equal to the height of the clerestory, meaning that the height of the nave arcade is half of the total height of the nave. The 1:1 ratio of nave arcade to clerestory at Santo Spirito differs from the 5:3 ratio at San Lorenzo.


Height of Entablature

The entablature is wider than that of San Lorenzo.  Because the frieze is plain, it resembles a strip of wall between two moldings rather than the central member of an entablature.


Spaces between Moldings

The entablature does not touch the moldings of the arches below, which gives the spandrel area greater continuity than at San Lorenzo.





Trip to Rome in 1433

The increased plasticity of Santo Spirito, which gives Brunelleschi's later work a more sculptural and monumental character, tends to affirm that in 1433, he took a second trip to Rome, where these qualities could be observed at many ancient Roman sites.


Thicker, More Closely-Spaced Columns

The use of columns that are proportionately thicker and spaced closer together contributes to the church's monumentality.


Higher-Relief Moldings

The contours of the moldings project further outward and cast wider shadows.


Half-Columns Instead of Pilasters

The presence of half-columns instead of pilasters, as at San Lorenzo, increases the plasticity of the perimeter, which contrasts with the flatness of the nave arcade.


Apsidal Recesses Along Outer Wall

The concave curves of the side chapels and the sail domes in combination with the convex curves of the columns and half-columns produce a ripple of curves and counter-curves.






During the completion of the church, Brunelleschi's architectural successors changed several features of its design.


Entrance into Nave Instead of Foyer

Although Brunelleschi had intended that the aisle around the perimeter be continued across the entrance wall where its four bays would serve as an entrance foyer, only the outer two bays were completed as part of an outer aisle. The inner two bays were integrated into the nave.


Three Doors Instead of Four

In conjunction with the use of four bays for an entrance foyer, Brunelleschi had planned four doors on the entrance façade.  Although architects like Giuliano da Sangallo campaigned against changing Brunelleschi's design, in the end, the façade was built with the traditional three doors.


Flat Instead of Contoured Exterior Walls

Although Brunelleschi had intended for the exterior side walls to exhibit a series of convex forms in correspondence to the concave interior side chapels, a feature seen on some Romanesque churches, subsequent builders concealed the contours behind straight outer walls. Because the chapels were planned from the beginning, their proportions and shapes were integrated with the whole.



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Brunelleschi 7 of 8




Brunelleschi's Santo Spirito, Florence