Medici Chapel History

Medici Chapel History

If you plan a trip to Florence, the legacy of its iconic Medici family can be witnessed within the magnificent Basilica di San Lorenzo and its stunning component, the Medici Chapel. As the most powerful bankers in Europe and the rulers of Florence, the Medici clan had their official church in San Lorenzo and their family mausoleum in the Medici Chapel. Commissioned to Michelangelo, one of the towering figures of the Italian Renaissance, by Pope Leo X, Medici Chapel history began in the early sixteenth century, with its construction getting completed roughly two centuries later.

As influential patrons of art who ushered in the High Renaissance, the Medici family’s mausoleum has three major sections, namely the Crypt, the Chapel of the Princes, and the New Sacristy. Adorned with sculptures full of symbolism and artworks depicting Christian beliefs, Medici Chapel is renowned as one of the rare architectural works completed by Michelangelo and is a paradise for art and history lovers.

Explore the Medici Chapel


The Crypt is an important part of the history of Medici Chapel and is the resting place of numerous members of the Medici family. The tombs of Grand Dukes are situated within vaults that are supported by pietra serena pilasters, while glass display cases showcase a portion of the priceless Treasure of San Lorenzo. From precious gold and silver reliquaries commissioned by Medici Grand Dukes of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries to papal gifts like pearl-studded papal headdress and processional banner with Medici coat of arms, the collection of rare artefacts in the Crypt is unmatched. Other highlights of the Crypt include a bronze statue of Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici, and the tomb of Cosimo the Elder.

The Chapel of the Princes

The most significant part of the Medici Chapel history is the Chapel of the Princes, which was constructed as the main mausoleum for the Medici clan. Magnificent in its opulence and massive space, it rivals the grandeur of the Basilica di San Lorenzo of which the Medici Chapel is a part. Commissioned by Cosimo I, the Chapel of the Princes was designed by Matteo Nigetti with insight from Giovanni de Medici. Adorned with polychromatic marble and semi-precious stones, the chapel walls symbolise the immortality of the Medici clan. Six niches are carved into the walls, where life-size statues of two Medici Grand Dukes stand along with urns bearing ducal crowns and shields of Florence’s 16 cities. The High Renaissance chapel also has stunning frescoes by Pietro Benvenuti.

Michelangelo’s New Sacristy

The ultimate creation in Medici Chapel history is the New Sacristy by Michelangelo, which marks the high point in Renaissance architecture in the Medici Chapel. Considered “sculpted architecture”, the New Sacristy was designed and decorated by Michelangelo, who created a Mannerist marvel with unusual configurations. A distinct break from classical architectural styles is seen in the structure, where the cupola was inspired by the Roman Pantheon and adorned with terracotta art. The windows of the Sacristy were placed so that they lit up the tomb sculptures according to the time of day they represented. The seven tomb sculptures, including Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day, along with Madonna with Child, represent deep symbolism of life, time, and immortality and adorn the tombs of the most renowned of the Medici.

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Medici Chapel Timeline

  • 1513: Giovani di Lorenzo de Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of the Renaissance period, becomes Pope Leo X.
  • 1520: Pope Leo X hired Michelangelo to design and build a chapel as a family mausoleum for the Medici clan, marking a turning point in Medici Chapel history.
  • 1521: Pope Leo X dies, and his successor Pope Clement VII continues with the ambitious project.
  • 1524: The architecture of the Medici Chapel is completed and Michelangelo moves on to different projects. The architecture reflected the influence of Brunelleschi in its white walls and pietra serena interiors.
  • 1527: The Medici family is overthrown by Florentine citizens, whom Michelangelo joined, and a republic is established, which was a dark time in the history of Medici Chapel and its completion.
  • 1530: Medici regains control of Florence, forcing Michelangelo to take refuge in a secret room under the basement of the New Sacristy.
  • 1531: Pope Clement VII pardons Michelangelo and work on Medici Chapel restarts.
  • 1534: Due to personal disagreements with Alessandro Medici, the new head of the Medici family, Michelangelo leaves Florence and the work on Medici Chapel after 14 years, leaving his assistants in charge of the work, which was another major turning point in Medici Chapel history.
  • 1545: Sculptures created after Michelangelo’s departure are installed in the chapel by Niccolo Tribolo.
  • 1555: Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati complete work on the New Sacristy on the orders of Cosimo I, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany.
  • 1568: Cosimo I commissions the construction of the magnificent Chapel of the Princes, a significant addition to Medici Chapel history.
  • 1604: Work on the Chapel of the Princes begins under the orders of Ferdinand I. Bernardo Buontalenti was the artist responsible for its creation.
  • 19th century: The Crypt of the Medici Chapel, where minor members of the Medici clan rest, is cleaned, along with the numerous tomb slabs.
  • 20th century: Work on the Chapel of the Princes is finally completed, which means the construction history of Medici Chapel lasted over four centuries.
  • 1978: Michelangelo’s secret room under the basement of New Sacristy is discovered, revealing more than a hundred sketches, of which 97 are attributed to Michelangelo.
  • 2021: Michelangelo’s sculptures in New Sacristy are cleaned using modern scientific methods.


Why is the Medici Chapel important?

The Medici Chapel was constructed as a celebration of the Medici family, the influential rulers of Florence and one of the most important clans in European history. As the Medici patronised arts, their chapel holds significance to the world of art, primarily as one of the only architectural works ever completed by Michelangelo and as the home of iconic sculptures and artworks of the High Renaissance.

How long did it take to build the Medici Chapel?

The construction of the Medici Chapel was a long-drawn affair that faced numerous obstacles and was completed over more than two centuries. While some parts of the Medici Chapel like the Chapel of the Princes were completed in the 20th century, much of the structure was completed by the eighteenth century.

Who painted the ceiling of the Medici Chapel?

The ceiling of the Medici Chapel was painted by its main architect and designer, Michelangelo, who also created many of the sculptures and frescoes that adorn the interiors of the Medici Chapel.

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Who is buried in the Medici Chapel?

The Medici Chapel was the resting place of the members of the Medici family, who ruled Florence and later Tuscany from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries and were among the most influential and powerful clans in Europe’s history. The Italian bourgeoisie family were bankers who transformed Florence into the hotspot of the High Renaissance.

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How old is the Medici Chapel?

The history of Medici Chapel can be traced back to 1520 when Pope Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to the construction of a family burial ground. While it took many years to complete the work on the chapel, the Medici Chapel is more than 500 years old.

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What are the best attractions to see in Italy?

Italy is a country rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, offering a plethora of attractions. Here are some of the best attractions to see in Italy:

  • The Colosseum (Colosseo) - Rome: A symbol of Ancient Rome, the Colosseum is a historic landmark. To reduce wait times, it's advisable to purchase skip-the-line tickets.
  • Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia) - Florence: Home to Michelangelo's renowned sculpture, David, the Accademia Gallery is a key attraction in Florence. Ensure a seamless visit by purchasing Accademia Gallery tickets in advance.
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendente) - Pisa: The globally recognized Leaning Tower of Pisa is a landmark. For panoramic views from the top, it's advisable to book Leaning Tower of Pisa tickets in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.

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