The Hidden Treasures of the Fraternita dei Laici

At the corner of Via Giorgio Vasari and Piazza Grande, the Palace of the Fraternita dei Laici in  Arezzo stands out.  It will be noted for its enviable position on Platea Magna for the different styles mixed in its facade under the bell tower and for the clock. You are in front of the headquarters of an institution which contains centuries of history of the city.

A bit of history

Fraternita dei Laici officially exists since 1262; the date is recorded in the oldest statute approved by the Bishop of Arezzo Guglielmino degli Ubertini. Born as a community of devotees, it soon became very active in charity with the name of Pious Fraternita della Misericordia, in the worship of Our Lady.

In the beginning the organization gave support only to the fallen nobles who were not allowed to carry out manual crafts nor to ask for alms because of their social class. Over time, the audience of the needy beneficiaries expanded considerably. The institution was structured and strengthened to provide the city with health care and burial services of the deceased. It also cared for the training of the poor, the protection of orphans and their education.

Among other things, from the Fourteenth century we recorded the list of confreres automatically with the birth and baptism within the walls of Arezzo; this caused the pious society to begin to write down the personal data of the citizens in a sort of register of civil status.

The Palace of the Fraternita dei Laici from the outside: Spinello Aretino and Bernardo Rossellino

The San Lorentino Hospital and the Pieve of Santa Maria Assunta were the meeting places of the Fraternita dei Laici in Arezzo, until it was decided to build the building overlooking Piazza Grande. The works started in the second half of the Fourteenth century and were completed around 1690. Fundamental was the legacy of the wool merchant Lazzaro di Feo Bracci, one of the many donors who fed the coffers of the institution.

While the structure widened in the direction of the Pieve, Spinello Aretino, in 1395, painted in the lunette above the entrance portal the Christ in Mercy. What you see today is a copy of the original, which was  detached from its original site in 1952.

Look at the facade where you can recognize Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements. If the bell tower was designed by Giorgio Vasari, Bernardo Rossellino signed with his talent the Madonna of Mercy – the relief in which Mary, flanked by Saints Lorentino and Pergentino, protects the faithful under her cloak. The two statues on the sides of the work, depicting the protectors of Arezzo San Donato and Pope Blessed Gregory X, are also by Rossellino.

Entering the Palazzo!

For the Palace of the Fraternita dei Laici, the Madonna del Manto is a recurring iconography. Just turn left in front of the ticket office to be enchanted by Madonna of Mercy and Saints by Parri Spinelli in the Audience Room; here  the Virgin welcomes under her hood the rectors of the pious society of Arezzo.

Pallade Athena by Angelo Ricci greets you at the stairs which you will climb to reach the first floor, where most of the art pieces of the Museum of Palazzo di Fraternita are located. Paintings, sculptures, frames and drawings form the collection  which is exhibited in elegant rooms.

Focus on the details of the rooms along with those of the works. Here, illustrious personalities, who made the history of the Fraternita dei Laici and Arezzo, are honored. Try to memorize their names: Francesco Redi, Vittorio Fossombroni, the Laura loved by Petrarca, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Peter Leopold of Lorraine… You can also play at finding the buildings of Arezzo in the backgrounds of the paintings and seek to orient yourself in the territory of Arezzo with the plan of the  duct by Vasari.

Time flies as you head from the first room to that of the aqueduct to the Hall of the Grand Dukes and the Hall of Women.  Then, keep on your tour in the corridor dedicated to the Bartolini Collection and proceed to the rooms reserved for donations and works of the Academy.

Did you know that the Fraternita dei Laici also founded the Free School of Drawing and Modelling and a library and that some restorations of the museum’s heritage were financed by companies and benefactors? These gestures of generosity towards the institution continue today as evidenced for example by a contemporary work inspired by Piazza Grande.

A room of Palazzo di Fraternita
Some art pieces of the Museum of Palazzo di Fraternita

A Surprise which keeps ticking

It is not over yet because at the top of the Palace of the Fraternita dei Laici, there is something which will take your breath away. As you climb the stairs which lead you to the tower, you get an unmistakable clue, being guided by a definite ticking in the small room of the astronomical clock.

Felice da Fossato realized it in 1552. It is a very rare treasure in Europe, a mechanical model without rivals in Italy for its size and type and it is still working. Every fifteen minutes this jewel of engineering can make you speechless with its unique and pleasantly noisy show of levers and gears, bumps and wheels in operation.

The view from the terrace next to the clock room will be the icing on the cake of your experience at the Fraternita dei Laici. Roofs, bell towers and city towers are granted to you from an exclusive view. Now get down from there, discover Arezzo and love it.

Orologio astronomico ad Arezzo
The astronomical clock is wound every day by hand

Find out more:

The Palace of the Secular Fraternity