Il monastero di Santa Chiara
The ancient monastery of Santa Chiara was founded in 1226 to the west of the old wall circle, erected over a pre-existing Cistercian convent already recorded before the year 1000. The construction of the present building dates to 1339, when it was commissioned by Michele Portigiani, belonging to a family that had always supported the Franciscan order and which a few decades later also ordered the construction of another monastery for the nuns of the Order of Saint Clare. Dedicated to San Paolo, the latter convent was located inside the town walls and was also intended to serve as a refuge for the community of Santa Chiara located outside the perimeter of the city walls in the religious institutes, the monastery for the nuns of the Order of Saint Clare. Dedicated to San Paolo, the latter convent was located inside the town walls and was also intended to serve as a refuge for the community of Santa Chiara located outside the perimeter of the city walls in the event of war. In 1785, to circumvent the laws regulating the suppression of the religious institutes, the monastery was transformed into a "conservatory" for the education of girls. Later, after the unification of Italy, the institute passed to the ministry of Education, and it is still a school premises today. The original nucleus of the building is arranged around a cloister with arcades, which were walled up in the ninenteeth century, and also comprises a chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene, founded at the instance of Stefano Buonincontri in 1532, as confirmed by the inscription on the marble tile portaying Mary Magdalene set above the entrance portal (the original is conserved inside the museum), that was incorporated into the convent church in the fifteenth century to become the sacristy. The appearance of the interior of the church is the result of a renovation carried out in the late seventeeth century, which nonetheless preserved the original layout with a single aisle and wooden trussed ceiling. The seventeeth century modifications in fact involved the decoration of the church, with the construction of new altars in Baroque style – note the characteristic spilt pediment – and the decoration of the wooden trusses and the rear façade, with a painted coffered apse which is revealed to us by two angels in flight holding back a red curtain. This decoration, entrusted to the workshop of the artist Antonio Domenico Bamberini, was joined in the nineteeth century by the imitation marble panels in the upper section of the walls. Set above the high altar is the magnificent painting of the Immaulate Conception, by Iacopo Chimenti known as Empoli (Florence 1551-1640) dated 1596 and characterised by the didactic language typical of so much Florentine art of the period, faithful to the principles of the Counter-Reformation. By the same artist are the Saint Francis in Ecstasy and Saint Claire in Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, above the doors leading into the chapel of Saint Mary Magdalene. On the left-hand altar, dedicated to Saint Anthony, is the seventeeth-century painting of Saint Anthony of Padua in Adoration of the Virgin and Child between Saint Louis of Tolouse and Saint Francis, which can be attributed to the workshop of Simone Pignoni. The right-hand altar, dedicated to the Pietà, conserves a fine painting by Pier Francesco Foschi (Florence 1502 – 1567) The Dead Christ supported by Angels, which reveals the clear influence of his master Andrea del Sarto. Up to the nineteenth century the altar also housed the urn containing the remains of Saint Craton the Martyr, a gift from Pope Alexander VII to the Community of Santa Chiara, now displayed in the niche to the right of the entrance. The Martyrdom of the Faith by the San Miniato painter Vincenzo Baldini (1796-1839) was set up in its place. Among the works belonging to the collection of the museum we would note two very fine painted crosses from the fourteenth century, one by Deodado Orlandi, and the other attribuited to Iacopo di Mino del Pellicaio and the Noli me tangere, by Ludovico Cardi known as Cigoli (Cigoli 1559 – Rome 1613) which portrays, with gentleness of Venetian imprint that characterised the artist from his most youthful phase, one of the most moving episodes in the life of Mary Magdalene: her meeting with the risen Christ. The collection also comprises liturgical furnishings, reliquaries - including the magnificent exemplar in ebony and ivory donated by the Buonaparte family in the eighteenth century- and artistic artefacts comprised in the dowries of the girl who decided to take the veil, as well as splendid embroideries executed by the nuns themselves, including several extraordinary silk paliotti or altar frontals.