The Certosa del Galluzzo is prominently situated on a hillside just south of Florence and is clearly visible as a huge walled structure to travellers on the motorway from Florence to Sienna and on the SR1 road from Florence to San Casciano. Niccolò Acciaiuoli, one of the most powerful citizens of 14 C Florence, had the Certosa of Galluzzo built in 1341 not only as a religious centre but also for the education of the young. The Acciaiuoli (Acciaioli) Palace where the youth of Florence were taught towers upwards alongside the religious buildings of the monastery.
Galluzzo was one of the most influential monasteries in Europe and was immensely wealthy, with a population of hundreds of monks and, until the Napoleonic depredations, large numbers of works of art. Its huge library is now dispersed.
The Church of Saint Lawrence is Mannerist in architectural style and filled with frescoes and pictures, a sumptuous marble altar of the 16 C and a crypt containing many tombs, mainly of the Acciaioli family. The church gives access to the beautiful Renaissance cloister with its large terracotta well by Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia. The monks' cells open onto this cloister, and those which are open to the public give an idea of Carthusian monastic life. Each consists of a room for sleeping and a room for praying. Their furnishings are severe but, as in all Carthusian monasteries, each has a tiny enclosed garden which was cultivated individually by the inhabitant. In addition to the large cloister, the small Chiostro dei Conversi is open to the public. This consists of two superimposed loggias, and gives access to the refectory which is decorated with a large wash basin in pietra serena and a pulpit from which lessons were read during meals. Five fresco lunettes by Pontormo showing scenes from Christ's Passion were originally in the large cloister, but are now found in the monastery's gallery with other works of art of the 14 C to 18 C.
In 1957, a small group of Cistercian friars replaced the Carthusian monks as the inhabitants of the Certosa. They are largely self-supporting and maintain their old traditions such as the distillation of herb liqueurs and the manufacture of small handmade religious articles. Visits are possible under the guidance of a monk from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am-12pm and from 3-6pm.
A tour of the Certosa of Galluzzo
The monastery can be reached by car from Florence by taking Via Senese from Piazzale di Porta Romana as far as Galluzzo, passing through about three km of hills covered in olive groves and dotted with Tuscan villas, and then along a short avenue climbing up to the Certosa. It can also be be reached by bus 37 that leaves from outside the main (Santa Maria Novella) railway station. From Greve in Chianti, take the road to Florence that passes through Ferrone (i.e. not SS 222 through Strada and Grassina)
The first building of the monastic complex that you encounter is Palazzo Acciaiuoli, a compact palace that the founder built for himself although he was never able to occupy it because only the first floor had been built at the time of his death in 1365. The palace was only completed and attached to the rest of the Certosa in the mid 16 C. The 14 C part of the building is now occupied by the Vieusseux library laboratories for book restoration, while the lower level contains the picture gallery, where you start your tour.
The remaining moveable art works of the Certosa are on display in the picture gallery and, despite extensive depredations over the centuries, it still contains a large number of very interesting paintings and other art representing Florentine artistic output between the second half of the 14 C and the 18 C, including notable paintings by Jacopo del Casentino, Raffaellino del Garbo, Cigoli, Sebastiano Ricci). The Certosa is famous for the extraordinary frescoes executed by Pontormo for the cloisters in 1523-25, when this genius of the Tuscan Mannerist school stayed at the Certosa to avoid the plague that was running rife in Florence. The dramatic atmosphere of the frescoes that so annoyed Vasari is in fact a major feature of the five Stories of the Passion of Christ.
In contrast to the Palazzo Acciaiuoli, the monastery was completed in just a few years and consecrated in 1395, though it has a somewhat composite aspect today due to the numerous alterations and enlargements that continued up until the end of 17 C. The Certosa is basically a late Renaissance group of buildings, characteristic for their measured classicism, visible when you come out of the picture gallery and turn right into the main courtyard. The latter was constructed in the mid 16 C to link the palace to the Church of San Lorenzo.
Certosa of Galluzzo chiostro grande
The Church of San Lorenzo is divided into two longitudinally placed and separate areas: the first was for the "lay brothers", who carried out various practical duties for the monks, while the second, nearest the altar, was reserved for the cloistered monks. The first part of the church and the facade were built at the same time as the courtyard, while the "church of the monks" still maintains its ancient Gothic structure, a single room, roofed over with cross vaults. The interior was however completely remodelled in the 16 C, enriched with the marble altar, the new chancel, and decorated with wooden inlays and the frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti. This co-existence of mediaeval structures with later additions characterises the whole of the monastery, starting with the corridor on the left of the church where, once a week, the monks were allowed to gather together and interrupt their vows of silence. At the end of the corridor there is a fine Christ carrying the Cross by Andrea della Robbia and the elegant little cloister that acts as a fulcrum for the entire complex. From here a door, decorated with a St. Laurence between two angels in terracotta by Benedetto da Maiano, leads through to the refectory, the main cloister and the Chapter House, where the monks used to meet to discuss any problems that touched upon their community.
The Chapter House is a small room with a fine fresco of the Crucifixion by Mariotto Albertinelli (1506) and the funerary monument of Leonardo Buonafé by Francesco da Sangallo (1550), who also carried out the polychrome marble flooring. From here you pass behind the church to the huge open area of the main Cloister of the Monks. The 18 cells in which the Carthusian monks spent most of their lives, coming out only for Mass and meals on feast days, line the sides, elegantly divided by arches dating from the early 16 C. The luminosity of the cloister and the extremely elegant decorations (the beautifully carved capitals, the busts in terracotta by Giovanni Della Robbia and the frescoes above the doors of the cells), which once also included the frescoes by Pontormo, make this cloister worth close examination. From here you return to the courtyard and to the great flight of stairs that climb up to the picture gallery.