The church of Santa Felicita is home to one of the most extraordinary altarpieces in the whole of Florence. The painting can be found in the Cappella Capponi, which was originally designed and built for Bartolomeo Barbadori by Filippo Brunelleschi. In 1525 the chapel was sold to the Capponi family, who commissioned Jacopo Carrucci (1494-1557), better known as il Pontormo, to paint it.
Pontormo worked on the chapel from 1525 until 1528 and his painting of the Deposition is one of the masterpieces of Mannerist art. The altarpiece is one of the strangest images that you are likely to see anywhere in Florence and it may come as no surprise to learn that, according to Vasari, Pontormo actually walled up the chapel for three years to prevent anyone from seeing what he was painting.
Gone are the qualities of balance, harmony and equilibrium, which characterised the work of artists such as Raphael and Leonardo. Pontormo’s composition is congested with figures, in which it is difficult to make out which space is occupied by which figure. The range of colours -pinks, acid greens, magnetic blues - is quite remarkable. On the extreme right, stands a young man with a curly beard and staring eyes. This is thought to be a self-portrait of the artist.
Pontormo was assisted in the chapel by Agnolo di Cosimo Tori (1503-72), better known as il Bronzino. It is not certain which of the paintings of the four Evangelists (in the tondoes in the pendentives) are by Pontormo and which are by Bronzino .
The frescoes in the cupola, which depicted God the Father and the four Patriarchs, were destroyed between 1765 and 1767 when the dome was lowered to enlarge the coretto.
Santa Felicita was founded in the 4th century, which makes it the second oldest church in Florence (the oldest is San Lorenzo). However, the church we stay today mostly dates back to 1736-9 when the interior was almost entirely reconstructed by Ferdinando Ruggieri (1691-1741).
Since December 1565, it has been possible to access Santa Felicita from the Corridoio Vasariano (Vasari Corridor). The corridor, which was commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici (r. 1537-74) to link the Palazzo Vecchio (his power base) and the Palazzo PItti (his home), gave access to the coretto, a private gallery at the back of the church. Members of the Medici family were thus able to attend religious services without having to mix with the congregation. If they wanted to receive the sacraments, they were able reach the main body of the church via a private staircase.