By Costanza Beltrami

Let’s start building! On 13 April 1518 the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared on a verdant hill just outside the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. A few days later, on 28 April 1518, work officially started on the construction of a new church on the site. Four operai (or superintendents) were chosen to manage the works. The building was designed Antonio Giamberti, also known as Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (c. 1453 – December 27, 1534), who submitted a final project on 14 May. Four more operai were appointed on the same day. The design is inspired by Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato, designed by Giuliano, Antonio’s brother. The construction of the church was encouraged by the civic community, although Pope Leo X and Cardinal Antonio Del Monte were also involved in the project.

As known from documents in Montepulciano’s Archive, Giamberti was present at the church’s worksite from the first day of work until the end of his life. These documents also reveal that on 9 July 1520, the Florentine authorities stopped the works as they feared that the church would weaken the defense of the nearby Sasso fortress. The dispute was resolved by modifying the design of the church, which now features one rather than two belltowers. Giamberti’s death slowed the works down, but in 1542-43 another architect, Baccio d’Agnolo, took control of the works, eventually completed around 1580. Until 1603, the dome was covered with colored maiolica tiles.

Reference: Paola Zampa, Arnaldo Bruschi, ‘Giamberti, Antonio, detto antonio da Sangallo il Vecchio,’ Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 54 (2000). 

Top four pictures: San Biagio, Montepulciano, begun 1518. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom picture: Santa Maria delle Carceri, Prato, begun 1485. Souce: Web Gallery of Art.

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