The Bacci Chapel of the Basilica of St. Francis

The Bacci Chapel in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo is a Renaissance masterpiece, famous for its frescoes "The Stories of the True Cross" by Piero della Francesca. Commissioned by the Bacci family, the chapel combines historical narrative and religious symbolism. The Bacci family, wealthy merchants from Arezzo, financed the decoration out of religious reconciliation. The artist Bicci di Lorenzo began the work in 1447, but it was Piero della Francesca who completed it, introducing technical and stylistic innovations. Today, the chapel is a state museum that preserves this extraordinary artistic heritage, continuing to attract global visitors.
Cappella Bacci Arezzo - Bacci Chapel

Discovering the Bacci Chapel

The Bacci Chapel, located in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, is a jewel of the Italian Renaissance and an outstanding example of 15th-century art. This chapel is renowned for its fresco cycle “The Stories of the True Cross” by Piero della Francesca, one of the most influential masters of the Renaissance. Commissioned by the prestigious Bacci family, the chapel represents a unique work of art for its combination of historical narrative and religious symbolism. The frescoes, painted between 1452 and 1466, illustrate the legend of the True Cross, a sacred story from the “Legenda Aurea” by the Dominican friar Jacopo da Varagine. The Bacci Chapel testifies not only to the talent of Piero della Francesca, but also to the religious fervor and commitment of Arezzo’s patrons in promoting art and culture. Today, the Bacci Chapel continues to attract visitors from all over the world.

The History of the Bacci Family

The Bacci family was one of the most influential and respected in Arezzo during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Wealthy merchants, the Bacci family amassed a considerable fortune through trade and financial activities, despite the fact that some of these practices, such as lending and foreign exchange, were considered usury by the Church. Baccio di Maso Bacci, a prominent member of the family, left a generous bequest in his will in 1417 for the decoration of the choir of the Basilica of San Francesco. This act of patronage reflected a desire for religious reconciliation and a desire to secure the salvation of the soul, a common practice among wealthy merchants of the time. Baccio’s heirs, thirty years later, put his provisions into action, initiating the work that led to the creation of the splendid Bacci Chapel.

The Historical and Cultural Context

The historical and cultural context in which the Bacci Chapel was created was characterized by a transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a period of great social, economic and artistic change. During this period, Italy was seeing a flowering of the arts and sciences, supported by increasing patronage by wealthy merchant families such as the Bacci. However, trade and financial activities, including money lending, were often in conflict with ecclesiastical doctrines that regarded such practices as usury. This led many merchants to make significant donations to the Church, seeking to make up for their sins and secure eternal salvation. It should also be mentioned that the Renaissance marked a renewed interest in classical art and technical innovations, such as perspective and symmetry, which profoundly influenced artists such as Piero della Francesca.

Bicci di Lorenzo and the Beginning of Work

The beginning of work in the Bacci Chapel was entrusted in 1447 to Bicci di Lorenzo, a Florentine artist known for his style still rooted in late Gothic. Bicci di Lorenzo was master of one of the most active workshops in Florence and was chosen to decorate the main chapel of the Basilica of San Francesco because of his experience. His initial work included painting the four Evangelists in the spandrels of the vault, the two Doctors of the Church (Gregory and Jerome) in the upper part of the sub-arch, and a Last Judgment in the outer elevation of the triumphal arch. However, in 1452, Bicci di Lorenzo fell seriously ill and died soon after, leaving the work unfinished. His death paved the way for an artistic breakthrough for the Bacci Chapel, as the Bacci heirs decided to entrust the completion of the work to Piero della Francesca.

Piero della Francesca: The Artist of the Bacci Chapel

Piero della Francesca, born about 1415 in Sansepolcro, is an emblematic figure of the Italian Renaissance. After beginning his training at the workshop of Antonio d’Anghiari, he moved to Florence, where he was a pupil of Domenico Veneziano. There, he absorbed the revolutionary artistic innovations of the time, influenced by masters such as Masaccio, known for his advanced understanding of perspective and chiaroscuro. Piero then worked for important Italian courts, including Ferrara, Rimini and Urbino, gaining fame for his technical mastery and use of perspective. Despite his success, he remained deeply attached to his native land, contributing significantly to local art. His appointment to complete the decoration of the Bacci Chapel in 1452, after the death of Bicci di Lorenzo, represented a crucial turning point. Moreover, with the fresco cycle “The Stories of the True Cross”, Piero della Francesca solidified his role as one of the innovators of the Renaissance.

The Fresco Cycle: The Stories of the True Cross

The fresco cycle “The Stories of the True Cross” in the Bacci Chapel is considered one of the masterpieces of Renaissance painting. Created by Piero della Francesca between 1452 and 1466, the cycle narrates the legend of the True Cross, taken from the “Legenda Aurea” by the Dominican friar Jacopo da Varagine. The frescoes are organized in three overlapping registers, with scenes that do not follow a chronological order, but are arranged according to an aesthetic and symbolic criterion. At the top are outdoor scenes, in the middle register are court scenes with architectural backgrounds, and at the bottom are battle scenes. This arrangement creates a visual symmetry that reflects Piero’s mastery of perspective and use of space. The frescoes depict key episodes such as the finding of the Cross by St. Helena and the battle between Heraclius and Cosroes, combining historical and theological narrative with extraordinary artistry.

The Artistic Innovation of Piero della Francesca

Piero della Francesca is renowned for his innovative artistic techniques, which brought a new dimension to Renaissance art. In the Bacci Chapel, Piero masterfully applied perspective, creating a sense of depth and realism that was revolutionary for his time. The symmetrical arrangement of scenes in his frescoes not only enhances visual aesthetics, but also reflects a complex web of symbolic and theological meanings. Every detail, from the posture of the figures to the configuration of spaces, is designed to convey harmonious balance and intense spirituality. Piero also introduced the use of light and shadow to shape forms, giving his figures an unprecedented three-dimensionality. These innovations not only elevated the quality of the Bacci Chapel frescoes, but also profoundly influenced contemporary and later artists, solidifying Piero’s role as one of the pioneers of Renaissance art.

The Great Painted Cross of the Master of St. Francis

Inside the Basilica of St. Francis in Arezzo, alongside Piero della Francesca’s frescoes, is another work of great artistic value: the Great Painted Cross, attributed to the Master of St. Francis. Dating from the late 13th century, this cross represents a significant example of Umbrian art of the period. Suspended above the high altar, the Cross depicts Christus patiens, the suffering Christ, with St. Francis kneeling at his feet in adoration. This depiction of Christ in agony, with an expression of deep suffering, is typical of medieval iconography and reflects the emphasis on Jesus’ passion and sacrifice.  Master of St. Francis, while remaining anonymous, left a lasting impression with this work, which is distinguished by its emotional intensity and precision of detail. The presence of this cross in the Basilica further enriches the artistic and spiritual value of the place, offering visitors a profound and engaging experience.

The Bacci Chapel Today: A State Museum

Today the Bacci Chapel in the Basilica of St. Francis in Arezzo is a state museum, open to the public and dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of its extraordinary artistic heritage. The chapel attracts visitors from all over the world, fascinated by Piero della Francesca’s masterpieces and other works preserved in the basilica. State management ensures the protection and maintenance of the frescoes and structures, preserving their beauty for future generations. Visitors can admire up close the fresco cycle “The Stories of the True Cross” and the large painted Cross by the Master of St. Francis, immersing themselves in the historical and spiritual atmosphere of the place. In addition, the Bacci Chapel regularly hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events, which help to keep interest in Renaissance art and the history of Arezzo alive.

The Legacy of the Bacci Chapel

The Bacci Chapel is not only an artistic treasure, but a witness to the rich interweaving of religious devotion, patronage and artistic innovation during the Renaissance. Piero della Francesca’s frescoes, with their technical mastery and symbolic depth, continue to inspire scholars, artists and visitors alike. Piero’s work represents a harmonious fusion of aesthetics and theology, offering a unique vision of the legend of the True Cross. The generosity of the Bacci family, which enabled the creation of this masterpiece, reflects the crucial role of patronage in the evolution of Renaissance art. Today, the Bacci Chapel is a symbol of Italian cultural heritage, a place where history, art and spirituality meet. Its preservation as a state museum ensures that future generations can continue to appreciate and study these extraordinary works, keeping alive the cultural and artistic legacy of Arezzo and the Italian Renaissance.

Contemporary comfort surrounded by the charm of history

Book directly on this website, at the best online rates

Comfort Contemporaneo, avvolto nel fascino della storia

Prenota direttamente su questo sito web, alle migliori tariffe online