This spacious gothic-style building forms part of the ancient convent erected around the Church of Santo Spirito by the Eremite friars of Saint Augustine starting from about the middle of the 13th century. Built in the 14th century, presumably by the sixth decade, it was one of the few parts of the original nucleus of the convent to remain unscathed in the fire of 1471 and the only one to conserve its original structure. In ancient times it was used as a Cenacolo (Refectory) and probably remained as such until the new refectory was built in the latter half of the 16th century. Since then it has had a variety of uses. Between the late 18th and early 19th century, the pictorial decorations were covered and the eastern end wall already showed the wide central opening flanked by small rooms that led to the loss of large parts of the 13th-century fresco, now visible again on the wall. It later became a storeroom for the omnibuses and more recently, the studio of sculptor Raffaello Romanelli, before the original structures and decorations were finally restored between 1938 and 1944.
The original use of this building as a refectory is evident in the fresco decorating the entire eastern end wall, one of the largest mural paintings from the 14th
century to survive until today despite mutilations to the lower section. Commissioned by the Cambi di Napoleone family, it was painted by Andrea di Cione, called Orcagna (1320 ca. – 1368), most probably in the latter years of his activity with the help of his workshop and perhaps also the collaboration of his brother Nardo di Cione. At the top it portrays the Crucifixion
and at the bottom, a few fragments of the Last Supper
, recurrent themes in the decorating of convent refectories, alluding to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ renewed through the sacrament of the Eucharist. The scene of the Crucifixion
, which has lost its original blue background and the lower part of the central representation, stands out thanks to the unusual narrative style animating the crowded group of figures, painted in minute detail with an extraordinary variety of gestures, expressions and medieval costumes. The busts of the evangelists and prophets alternate with the Cambi di Napoleone coats of arms in the frieze framing the scene. The lower register, almost completely destroyed, showed Christ in the act of establishing the Eucharist sacrament in the presence of the twelve apostles, with a bishop saint and an Augustinian saint at either end. The figures of two of the apostles, possibly Thaddeus and Matthew, are partially conserved, as well as that of the Augustinian friar, presumably identifiable with Saint Augustine Novello.