In the center of Arezzo is the Church of San Francesco, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. It was begun in 1290, but various rebuildings and extensions continued down to the present century (campanile c. 1600; most recent renovation work 1900-20). The facade overlooking the square is completely without ornament, articulated only by narrow string-courses projecting from the brickwork.
Chiesa di San Francesco Map
Piazza San Francesco, I-52100 Arezzo, Italy
The interior (53m/174ft long, 17m/56ft wide), is aisless, as is normal in the churches of the Mendicant Orders. The chapels entered from the left- hand side of the church were added in the 15th century. At the far end are one large and two small choir chapels.
Above the doorway is a circular window by Guillaume de Marcillat ("Pope Honorius III approving the Rule of St Francis"). The church is mainly celebrated, however, for its frescoes, brought to light again only at the beginning of the 20th century. To the right are two pictures of Saints by Andrea del Castagno and an "Annunciation" by Spinello Aretino; in the lateral chapel on the right (Cappella Guasconi) are pictures of Saints by Spinello and in the chapel on the left (Cappella Tarlati) are a "Crucifixion" by Spinello and an "Annunciation" which is believed to be by Luca Signorelli.
The church's principal attraction is the main choir chapel, with frescoes by Piero della Francesca telling the story of the Cross - a theme particularly dear to the Franciscans. Following the account given in the "Golden Legend", Piero - the leading master of the Early Renaissance in Italy - painted this cycle in the 15th century creating the greatest series of paintings in Arezzo; they rank among the most expressive works in the whole of Italian painting. The solemn figures, aware of the importance of the events in which they are involved and set against a background of landscapes, flowers and stately apartments, in compositions of consummate skill, radiate an air of extraordinary sublimity. The first scenes depict the death of Adam and the life-giving tree growing from his tomb; then the Queen of Sheba kneels before the wood of the tree, which, being found unsuitable for the building of a temple, was used as a bridge; the Queen appears before Solomon; the Jews take the wood out of the water and use it to make Christ's Cross; the Roman Emperor Constantine has a dream in which the Cross appears as a symbol of victory; he conquers his rival Maxentius; a Jew named Judas tells the Emperor's mother, Helena, where the Cross is buried; three crosses are found; the True Cross brings a dead man back to life; King Chosroes of Persia, having carried off the Cross, causes himself to be worshipped as a god, but is defeated and killed by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius; Heraclius brings the Cross back to Jerusalem. The cycle is completed by two figures of Prophets and an Annunciation. The late 13th century painted Crucifix which formerly hung in this chapel is now in a lateral chapel on the left.