Basilica of Santa Croce: interior

Inside, the number of chapels is truly surprising: there are twelve of them. In the largest, we find Gothic expression in its most authentic form: slim, high windows, sharp-profiled umbrella ceiling, the almost breathtaking vertical dynamic. The light from the stained glass windows spills into the space in a riot of colors, adding to those already magnificent and still brilliant colors of the paintings. The walls are totally frescoed with the Stories of the True Cross, Agnolo Gaddi’s masterpiece: it refers to the original church that, even in the 1200s, possessed a massively venerated relic of the Holy Cross.

A little further on, to the right of the apse, there are the two chapels of the Bardi and the Peruzzi families, rich Florentine bankers and merchants. The frescoes on the walls are the artistic legacy of the greatest innovator of 14th century art: Giotto. At the time, the artist was already well along in years, and his fame already huge.

Giotto dedicated himself first to the Peruzzi chapel, covering it with the stories of the saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. But it is in the second chapel, that of the Bardi, family, in which he painted seven episodes from the life of St. Francis, that his work rose to such lofty heights — in the intense expressivity of the figures, the realism of the bodies and architectonic spaces, combined into a perfect synthesis: it is the highest point of his pictorial work and generations of future artists were to come to Santa Croce to admire and to learn.