Franciscan Presence in Greve

13:31 01 October in Insights

francescani_greveThe hospice of San Francesco in Greve was, for centuries, a significant Franciscan settlement in the Greve area, subordinate to the larger Croce convent in San Casciano that, together with the important settlements of San Vivaldo (Montaione) and of Vivaio (Incisa), was among the principal Franciscan centers of the Strict Observance in the area south of Florence. Everything in the small complex in Greve evokes a Franciscan spirituality: from the simplicity of the structure to the iconographic repertory of the sacred images housed in the oratory, both in those carried out for the hospice itself but also in those that arrived here from other churches in the area.

The themes and subjects are varied and tied to the order’s spirituality, which the artists and artisans expressed through different characteristics and materials in order to spread a message of great communicativity: first of all are the representations of Saint Francis who is portrayed in a rigidly frontal pose, but with a solid and intensely human appearance, in the marble bas-relief from the first half of the 15th century coming from San Pietro in Sillano; the saint is deep in thought and has a more elegant bearing in the late 15th century panel by Granacci that was once on the altar of the church of Santa Maria in Cintoia; in the 18th century fresco that adorns the ceiling of the small oratory, finally, he is triumphantly raised into the glory of the heavens.

Connected with the Franciscan friars’ intense preaching activity is the use of images having an immediate  emotional  impact, of which an exceptional example is the sculptural group of the Mourning on the altar. Both the subject of this work (with the anachronistic but significant presence of Saint Francis in it) and the technique adopted, in simple painted terracotta, constituted the privileged artistic production in the commissions of the Franciscans, who saw, in the use of emotionally involving artistic representations, an efficient means for popular evangelization, as also evidenced by the analogous sculptural groups in the convents of: La Verna, San Salvatore al Monte in Florence and the Osservanza in Siena.

In the oratory’s presbytery, this reference to images of strong popular appeal is confirmed by the frescoes with Saint Bernard of Siena and Saint Anthony of Padua, both Franciscans and dear to popular devotion; in particular, Saint Anthony is also shown kneeling devotedly at Mary’s feet in the 17th century painting by Curradi that comes from Santa Lucia in Barbiano.

Lia Brunori Cianti

in, Museo d’arte sacra di San Francesco a Greve in Chianti. Guida alla visita del museo e alla coperta del territorio, a cura di Caterina Caneva. Polistampa 2005