Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio

An image of the Madonna and Child, painted on the side of a vat used for tanning leather and called a "calcinaio" (lime vat) because of the quick lime used for this purpose, began to perform miracles in this place on Easter Sunday in 1484. This sacred image is still visible at the main altar, very probably in the place of the ancient tabernacle. The shoemakers' guild, the proprietor of the tannery, decided to erect a "holy temple" as a result of the increased devotion that also manifested itself in the continuous donation of alms by the devout. The chosen location posed uncommon difficulties for the construction due to the steepness of the land and the stream that flowed through it. These and other problems were brilliantly solved by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, the architect chosen by Luca Signorelli at the request of the shoemakers' guild. Martini, who was one of the greatest Renaissance architects, accepted the commission and drew up the project that very year, 1484. Work started in 1485 and the church had already assumed its final appearance, at least externally, by the end of the first quarter of the 16th century. Thus it appears in fact in a fresco by Papacello, which can be dated to around 1525, in the great Passerini Palace at Cortona. The cupola, designed by the Florentine architect Pietro di Domenico di Norbo and realized from the drum up between 1509 and 1514, can also be seen rising up in the fresco. The final construction stages proceeded more slowly, so much so that the main portal was not finished until 1543 and the pavement not until 1549 (the present pavement is the fruit of recent renovation). The church was initially entrusted to care of the Scopetini (1487), but it was taken from them in 1653 to unite it with the episcopal seminary. The seminary was reopened right on the site of the suppressed convent adjacent to the church. The seminary was re-closed (1674) and then, after a period of abandonment, restored and put in order by the Scolopi, who reopened it to worship in 1730. The complex was returned to the seminary when the Scolopi moved to the city (1777), but it was too much of a burden on the finances of that institute, so the San Biagio a Salcotto parish title was transferred there in 1786. The church consists of a nave flanked by side chapels with a transept and cupola at the intersection of the equal arms of the presbytery. It was laid out by Martini with the rigorous and clear application of Renaissance architectural principles of proportion and perspective. This space resounds with Albertian echoes and is not immune to Brunelleschian assonance, but Francesco di Giorgio's construction is completely original, so much so as to represent one of the highest levels of Renaissance spatial synthesis. The outside of the building, though seriously degraded due to the deterioration of the stone material, appears to the visitor to be an imposing block that preannounces by its sober decorations the geometric rationality that is so evident in the interior. The ample extensions of surfaces are divided into horizontal and vertical lines by string-course moldings and pilasters and are animated by gabled windows. All the paintings located in the chapels are tied to Marian iconography, from the Annunciation to the Assumption, from the Immaculate Conception to the various portrayals of the Madonna with the Saints. A panel by the Florentine painter Jacone, datable between 1528 and 1530, is placed at the third altar on the left. This altar is made of pietra serena like the other nineteenth-century altars rather than the original wood. The panel depicts the Enthroned Madonna and Child with Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Thomas of Canterbury (patron saint of the Cortona Shoemakers Corporation), Saint Roch and Saint John the Baptist. A beautiful stained glass window by Guillaume de Marcillat (1516) decorates the oeil-de-boeuf window of the counter-facade. The iconography is based on the Madonna of Mercy who gathers under her cloak numerous faithful, among whom Pope Leo X, Emperor Maximilian I of the Habsburgs, and Bishop of Cortona Francesco Soderini can perhaps be identified. The coat of arms that appears in it is that of the Cortonese family Ridolfini, who had commissioned the work. A small panel attributed to Alessandro Allori is located in the chapel to the right of the main altar. It is among other Marian subject paintings that decorate the church and depicts the Madonna and Child with Saint Elisabeth and Saint Giovannino.

Related book: Cortona e la Valdichiana aretina


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