The San Lorenzo Project

The San Lorenzo Project

In 1995, Robert Gaston, of the Art History Department at La Trobe University, and John Stinson, of the Music Department, began a collaborative research project on the liturgy at San Lorenzo in Florence.

Both had published on closely related topics, Gaston on the liturgy at San Lorenzo[1], and Stinson on medieval chant manuscripts. They were later joined by Peter Howard, a specialist on preaching in renaissance Florence. Their research was first of all supported by La Trobe University in 1966 and from 1997 to 1999 by the Australian Research Council. From the beginning, the project was to be interdisciplinary: the formal title of their ARC application was ‘Liturgy and Devotional Practice in Renaissance Florence: a study of the interrelationship of art, architecture, music, preaching, theology and patronage in the church of San Lorenzo.’

In 1998, Gaston and Stinson organised a conference on Liturgy in Historical Perspective, at which eminent scholars from Europe and the United States joined with local scholars. This conference was supported by the Institute of Italian Culture and La Trobe University. A feature of the conference was a performance of directly-related music directed by John Stinson.

At the millennial conference of the Renaissance Society of America in Florence, 2000, there was a session dedicated to San Lorenzo at which the three researchers presented papers on their special topics[2]

In 2008, the project was taken up by the Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. The goal of the I Tatti project was ‘to produce the most comprehensive monograph ever devoted to San Lorenzo, and one that will be useful over a reasonably long span of time’[3]. The following year, I Tatti hosted a conference on ‘San Lorenzo: A Florentine Church’, at which 19 of the scholars contributing to the proposed publication of the same name presented papers reflecting their current research on the project

In May, 2017, the final outcome of this project was published as San Lorenzo: a Florentine Church, edited by Robert Gaston and Louis Waldman, in the Harvard I Tatti series.

San Lorenzo: a Florentine Church, edited by Robert Gaston and Louis Waldman


Publisher’s abstract: This comprehensive, interdisciplinary collection illuminates many previously unexplored aspects of the Basilica of San Lorenzo’s history, extending from its Early Christian foundation to the modern era. Brunelleschi’s rebuilt Basilica, the center of liturgical patronage of the Medici and their grand-ducal successors until the nineteenth century, is today one of the most frequently studied churches in Florence. Modern research has tended, however, to focus on the remarkable art and architecture from ca. 1400–1600. In this wide-ranging collection, scholars investigate: the urban setting of the church and its parish; San Lorenzo’s relations with other ecclesiastical institutions; the genesis of individual major buildings of the complex and their decorations; the clergy, chapels and altars; the chapter’s administration and financial structure; lay and clerical patronage; devotional furnishings, music, illuminated liturgical manuscripts, and preaching; as well as the annual or ephemeral festal practices on the site. Each contribution offers a profound exploration of its topic, wide-ranging in its chronological scope. One encounters here fresh archival research, the publication of relevant documents, and critical assessments of the historiography. San Lorenzo is represented in this volume as a living Florentine institution, continually reshaped by complex historical forces.

In the course of research, Stinson created a searchable database of all of the relevant entries in the sacristans notebooks (the Libri d’entrata) in which inventories and expenditure were recorded. The detailed contents of six surviving liturgical manuscripts discussed in his ‘The Early Liturgical Books of San Lorenzo’, with links to the Cantus Index and the Gregorio Database, are presented on this site (see links below):


[1] Robert Gaston, ‘Liturgy and patronage in San Lorenzo, Florence, 1350 – 1650’ in Patronage, Art, and Society in Renaissance Italy Edited by F. W. Kent and Patricia Simons with J. C. Eade, OUP 1987; Robert W. Gaston (1993). ‘Iconography and Liturgy at St Mark’s’. Plainsong and Medieval Music, 2, pp 181-189.

[2] Robert Gaston, ‘The San Lorenzo Constitutions and Liturgical Change, 1369-1566
John A Stinson, The Liturgical Books of San Lorenzo: A Synoptic Study of Chant, 1353-1668’
Peter Howard. ‘Preaching at San Lorenzo’

[3] Personal letter from Joseph Connors, Director of I Tatti, to John Stinson, February 8, 2008