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Information about Oratorio


Oratorio di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria all'Antella

Built approximately in 1354 by commission of the powerful Florentine Alberti family, the Oratorio di Santa Caterina d' Alessandria appears both linear and simple from the outside as well as richly decorated and painted with frescoes in its interiors. Its small hall, covered by cross-vaults and closed by a small apse, is in fact a real explosion of colours celebrating the life of princess Catherine of Alexandria, so-called "of the wheels"due to the torture she was inflicted by the pagan persecutors.
Particularly worshipped during the centuries of the late Middle Ages, the saint martyr was considered a protector for judges and notaries and therefore, by dedicating the chapel to her, the Alberti family, coming from the castle of Catenaia in Casentino, wished to underline their role in the judiciary bench when they had arrived in Florence, as opposed to their banking and commercial activities which allowed them to obtain power and wealth.

The painting decorations, based on the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varagine, were accomplished in two clearly separated phases. Approximately in mid 14th century the fresco painting of the chapel was started, beginning from its apse. In four scenes, distributed among two lunettes and two panels, the martyrdom of Saint Catherine was described: at the Court of the pagan Emperor Massenzio, Catherine refused to forswear her Christian faith and argued with other philosophers that, instead of disproving her, were converted. The young girl was flogged and put between two cogwheels, to be tortured to death: but some angels broke the torture stocks and saved her. The paintings are carried out alternatively by the so-called Maestro di Barberino, a painter of the Orcagna school, presumably author of almost the total decoration of the small apse, including the Annunciazione e i due Santi, put beside the elegant single lancet window of the back wall, as well as the background painting of the cap vaults, with busts of Saints and Prophets; he was joined in his work by Pietro Nelli, a heir of Daddi, who opposed to the Maestro's volumetric angular features of bodies and architecture his plasticity made of fading tones and liveliness focusing on elegant details: he accomplished the magnificent portrait of Saint Catherine in the right part of the triumphal arch. Some stylistic considerations lead the art critics to place this first part of frescoes in the 7th decade of the 14th century.

The cycle of paintings was probably finished after about twenty years, as commissioned by Benedetto di Nerozzo, one of the most powerful people of his age and the main character in the Alberti family.
Politically involved in the struggle for power against the Albizi family and forced to exile, when leaving for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, ordered in his last will that the burial of the saint on Mount Sinai should be represented in the chapel in Antella.
A will expressed by such character convinced Benedetto's heirs (after his death in Rhodes in 1388) to continue the embellishment of the chapel, confirming the familiar worship of the Alexandrian Saint: Spinello Aretino was commissioned with the same, being an already known artist, who had previously worked in San Miniato al Monte by commission of the Alberti family. Thanks to his frescoes in the walls of the second span, Aretino charms the viewer for his refined equilibrium between architecture and characters, between vivacity of attitudes and expression intensity.

Frescoes by Spinello Aretino represent a masterpiece survived as if by miracle up till nowadays. A part of the paintings had already been covered in 1628, as per Francesco Venturi's will( as he was the bishop of San Severo), but the most serious risk was run by the building in the first half of the 19th century, when during a restoration intervention the experts called to decide about the paintings' destiny, did not manage to reach a mutual agreement about their attribution. Some of them assigned the same to Giotto, others to some of his followers, while other experts assigned them to some unspecified "student of an ancient school" or even considered that the whole cycle of paintings was lacking any interest and therefore should not be safeguarded.
The Oratorio became a property of the Municipality of Bagno a Ripoli by the end of the eighties of the 20th century, after having been used as a base of operation of the English army during the second World War, as well as a repository for agricultural equipment or even as a poultry house; between 1996 and 1998 the Oratorio and its frescoes were submitted to a careful restoration process. Today it is a prestigious venue for exhibitions, concerts, cultural meetings and conferences.


How to get to Oratorio

A1 motorway, Firenze Sud exit . Take the first turn on the right going towards Bagno a Ripoli - Grassina. Once at the roundabout, keep going towards Grassina along via Chiantigiana. Once you have passed the motorway underpass, next to a large crossroads, keep your left and proceed towards Ponte a Ema, passing again below the motorway underpass. Once you have passed San Piero a Ema church, after 200 metres approximately, turn right following the signs indicating Oratorio. Keep going for another 100 metres and when you get to a small roundabout, turn right in via del Carota and follow the signs indicating Santa Caterina.

Chianti. From Greve, once you have passed the village of Grassina, at the large crossroads of Ponte a Niccheri follow the signs indicating Ponte a Ema. Once you have passed the motorway underpass and the church of San Piero a Ema, after 200 metres approximately, turn right in via del Carota and follow the signs indicating Santa Caterina.

Valdarno - Valdisieve. From Pontassieve, reach Bagno a Ripoli following via di Rosano. Once at the community centre called "Circolo Ricreativo", turn left towards Ponte a Ema. Drive along the whole via di Ritortoli and, once at the small roundabout of piazza Bacci, follow the signs indicating the Oratorio di Santa Caterina.

ATAF buses
: from Florence Santa Maria Novella central station: lines number 31 and 32, get off at Chiantigiana 7 bus stop. Easy walk to the Oratorio di Santa Caterina.