The opus sectile of Florence’s Rucellai sepulcher: wind and good fortune

According to art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, the marble inlay on the walls of the 15th-century Rucellai sepulcher, inside the deconsecrated church of San Pancrazio in Florence, prove that the great humanist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) believed “geometric shapes, in their verity, prompted the viewer to meditate on the verity of faith itself, predating the Neo-platonic aesthetic that would dominate Florentine culture by the end of the century.” It also proves that “Alberti considered visible shapes as bearers of precise, ideological meanings” (translated from G. C. Argan, “Storia dell’arte italiana”, vol. 2, Sansoni, Florence 2002).

There is no doubt that an “ideological” motive is what also convinced merchant Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, who commissioned the work, to have his family’s coat of arms added to the thirty green and white marble tiles inspired by Florence’s Romanesque tradition. Thus, amongst the geometric motifs, there is an image of “Fortuna with sail”, which according to expert Alessandro Perosa clearly alludes to “the violence of waves, the changeability of winds, the difficulties of sailing.”

Rucellai found the solution so fitting that he used it “not only to decorate the top of his emblem, but also […] to add a schematic ornament (with a sail or a series of sails) to the surface of the San Pancrazio sepulcher, the friezes on the façade of the Palace on Via della Vigna and the church of Santa Maria Novella” (translated from A. Perosa, “Studi di filologia umanistica”, vol. 2, Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, Rome 2000).

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

South wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

South wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

Coat of arms of Piero de' Medici, West wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

Coat of arms of Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, South wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

North wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

North wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

North wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

South wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

Coat of arms of Cosimo the Elder, North wall

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

East apse

Decorazioni Tempietto Santo Sepolcro, Firenze, Leon Battista Alberti - Marble inlay of the Rucellai sepulcher, Florence

Coat of Arms of Lorenzo the Magnificent, East apse

The opus sectile of Florence’s Rucellai sepulcher: wind and good fortune

Florence
Piazza di San Pancrazio

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