At the end of the passage in which the sacristy is situated is the exquisite little Cappella Medici, which Michelozzo, the architect of S. Marco and the Palazzo Medici, and for a while Donatello’s partner, built for his friend Cosimo de’ Medici, who though a Dominican in his cell at S. Marco was a Franciscan here, but by being equally a patron dissociated himself from partisanship. Three treasures in particular does this little temple hold: Giotto’s “Coronation of the Virgin”; the della Robbia altar relief, and Mino da Fiesole’s tabernacle. Giotto’s picture, which is signed, once stood as altar-piece in the Baroncelli chapel of the church proper. In addition to the beautiful della Robbia altar-piece, so happy and holy—which Alfred Branconi boldly calls Luca—there is over the door Christ between two angels, a lovely example of the same art. For a subtler, more modern and less religious mind, we have but to turn to the tabernacle by Mino, every inch of which is exquisite.
On the same wall is a curious thing. In the eighteen-sixties died a Signor Lombardi, who owned certain reliefs which he believed to be Donatello’s. When his monument was made these ancient works were built into them and here and there gilded (for it is a wicked world and there was no taste at that time). One’s impulse is not to look at this encroaching piece of novelty at all; but one should resist that feeling, because, on examination, the Madonna and Children above Signor Lombardi’s head become exceedingly interesting. Her hands are the work of a great artist, and they are really holding the Child. Why this should not be an early Donatello I do not see.
The cloisters of S. Croce are entered from the piazza, just to the right of the church: the first, a little ornate, by Arnolfo, and the second, until recently used as a barracks but now being restored to a more pacific end, by Brunelleschi, and among the most perfect of his works. Brunelleschi is also the designer of the Pazzi chapel in the first cloisters. The severity of the facade is delightfully softened and enlivened by a frieze of mischievous cherubs’ heads, the joint work of Donatello and Desiderio. Donatello’s are on the right, and one sees at once that his was the bolder, stronger hand. Look particularly at the laughing head fourth from the right. But that one of Desiderio’s over the middle columns has much charm and power. The doors, from Brunelleschi’s own hand, in a doorway perfect in scale, are noble and worthy. The chapel itself I find too severe and a little fretted by its della Robbias and the multiplicity of circles. It is called Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, but I prefer both the Badia of Fiesole and the Old Sacristy at S. Lorenzo, and I remember with more pleasure the beautiful doorway leading from the Arnolfo cloisters to the Brunelleschi cloisters, which probably is his too. The della Robbia reliefs, once one can forgive them for being here, are worth study. Nothing could be more charming (or less conducive to a methodical literary morning) than the angel who holds S. Matthew’s ink-pot. But I think my favourite of all is the pensive apostle who leans his cheek on his hand and his elbow on his book. This figure alone proves what a sculptor Luca was, apart altogether from the charm of his mind and the fascination of his chosen medium.