Santa Maria Novella
Church and Cloisters
 
 
Map
Museum's plan
Timetable
Entrance
Address
Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Birth of St. John the Baptist
 

 

In 1219 twelve Dominican friars led by Fra Giovanni da Salerno came from Bologna and two years later obtained as their Florentine dwelling the church of Santa Maria delle Vigne, outside the city walls.
The much larger church we see today was begun in 1279 to a design by two Dominican converses, Fra Sisto and Fra Ristoro, and was almost concluded with its adjacent convent by the middle of the 14th century.
Its internal structure resembles that of Cistercian gothic churches, the nave being separated from the aisles by wide bays and covered with gothic vaulting. Among the first works of art to reach the church was Duccio’s Maestà (1285), known as the ‘Rucellai Madonna’, which is now in the Uffizi; the Crucifix documented inside the church in 1312 was painted by the young Giotto.
The major 14th-century decorative schemes that have come down to us date from the years after the Plague of 1348. In the left transept, between 1350 and 1357, Nardo di Cione frescoed the walls of the Strozzi Chapel with the Last Judgement, Hell, and Paradise; the stained glass is also by Nardo. On the altar the panel, signed and dated 1357, with Christ giving the Keys to St. Peter and a Book to St. Thomas Aquinas, with the Madonna, St. John the Baptist and other Saints, and its predella, are the work of Nardo’s brother, Andrea di Cione, known as Orcagna (signed and dated 1357). Between 1367 and 1369 Andrea di Bonaiuto frescoed the convent’s chapter room, known as the ‘Spanish Chapel’: on the altar wall are the scenes of the Passion, Crucifixion and Descent of Christ into Limbo; on the entrance wall are Scenes from the life and miracles of St. Peter Martyr; the right-hand wall has an Allegory of the Church Militant and Triumphant, and the left-hand wall the Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas. The segments of the vault have the Resurrection, Ascension, Barque of St. Peter and Pentecost.

The Renaissance style was introduced into Santa Maria Novella with Masaccio’s celebrated fresco of the Trinity with the Madonna, St. John the Evangelist and two patrons (1427). Filippo Brunelleschi’s wooden Crucifix in the Gondi Chapel was intended, according to Vasari, as a response to the vigorous naturalism of Donatello’s version in Santa Croce. In 1439 Santa Maria Novella was the scene of the Council of Florence, convoked to bring about the reunion of the Greek and Latin Churches. Pope Eugenius IV stayed for many months, and it was a brilliant moment in the convent’s history. Subsequently Paolo Uccello painted Scenes from the Life of Noah in the Green Cloister, and Leon Battista Alberti completed the church’s façade in 1470. Towards the end of the 15th century two important fresco cycles were painted for the church by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi.
In 1485 Giovanni Tornabuoni commissioned from Ghirlandaio frescoes and stained glass for the chapel of the high altar, with Scenes from the life of the Virgin and Scenes from the life of the Baptist, filled with figures from the upper-class Florentine society of the time.
Quite different was the chapel of Filippo Strozzi, decorated with frescoes and stained glass by Filippino Lippi and finished in 1502. The side walls illustrate scenes from the Life of St. Philip and the Life of St. John the Evangelist, while on the end wall the chiaroscuro painting provides a monumental setting for the tomb of Filippo Strozzi by Benedeto da Maiano (1495). In 1565 Santa Maria Novella was subjected to a programme of restoration ordered by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and directed by Giorgio Vasari.
Part of this scheme was the Gaddi Chapel, rebuilt by Giovanni Antonio Dosio in 1577. It was frescoed by Alessandro Allori with scenes from the Life of St. Jerome and Virtues, and has an altarpiece by Agnolo Bronzino of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus.
Among the most important pictorial witnesses between the late 16th and early 17th century is the fresco cycle in the Great Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, with scenes from the Lives of Christ and the Dominican Saints. The artists included Santi di Tito, Alessandro Allori, Cigoli, and others. From the south side of the Cloister one gained access to the old pharmacy and perfumery, which is today reached from Via della Scala.

THE CLOISTERS
The monumental complex of the cloister, considered an extraordinary example of Italian Gothic architecture, was begun around 1340 by Fra` Sisto e Fra` Ristoro.
The first cloister on the right of the doorway is the so-called Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister) with strong yet harmonious proportions. It takes its name from the frescoes originally painted in "green clay" by many artists of early 15th century including Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), one of the greatest Florentine Renaissance masters, who painted here some of his best works like the Flood and the Sacrifice of Noah.
The cloister gives access to the Refectory (and from here to the Large Cloister decorated at the end of the 16th century) and to the Cappellone degli Spagnoli. In the 16th century this was the chapter house and was given this name because of meetings held in this location by the Spanish followers of Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I. This large section of the building still preserves the complex frescoes by Andrea di Bonaiuto (mid-14th century), which exalt the work of the Dominicans, to whom the church belonged. The fresco representing the Church militant features the cathedral in the background or rather the original project of Arnolfo for the Cathedral of Florence.
The Chiostro Verde also gives access to the Chiostrino dei Morti and the Strozzi Chapel, decorated with 14th century frescoes.

MASACCIO`S TRINITA c. 1428
Masaccio places the forms symmetrically in the composition. Each has its own weight and mass, unlike earlier Renaissance works, the fresco is calm, and creates a sadmood. The mood is furthered by the darkness of the work, and the heavy shadows cast. It is considered he first painting in the world to use mathematical perspective (probably with Brunelleschi help).

The cadaver tomb below carries the epigram:
IO FUI GIÀ QUEL CHE VOI SIETE E QUEL CHE IO SON VOI ANCOR SARETE
(I was once what you are, and what I am you will become)

 

 

 
Church Santa Maria Novella
 
Nave
 
Pulpit - 1443
by Andrea Cavalcanti
(Adopted son of Filippo Brunelleschi)
 
Altar
Giotto
Crucifix - c. 1290
Nave
 
Nave with the Crucifix of Giotto
Tornabuoni Chapel
Frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio
 
Strozzi Chapel
Frescoes by Filippino Lippi
Green Cloister
 
Large Cloister
Large Cloister
 
Cloister of the Dead
Large Cloister - Detail
 
On a commission from Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, a local textile merchant,
Leone Battista Alberti, designed the upper part of the inlaid black and
white marble facade of the church (1456 - 1470).
 
Green Cloister - Detail
Green Cloister - Detail
 
Masaccio
Trinità - c. 1428
See text
Perspective
 
Green Cloister
Paolo Uccello - Adam and Eve
Green Cloister
Paolo Uccello - Scene from the Life of Noah
 
Spanish Chapel
Frescoes by Andrea da Bonaiuto - c. 1368
Allegory of the Church Militant and Triumphant
St. Dominic Hearing Confessions and Showing the Way to Paradise
Spanish Chapel
Andrea da Bonaiuto - c. 1368
Allegory of the Church Militant and Triumphant
The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas
 
Spanish Chapel
Frescoes by Andrea da Bonaiuto - c. 1368
Crucifixion
Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Annunciation
1485 - 1490
 
Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Nativity of Mary
1485 - 1490
Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Zechariah Writes John's Name
1485 - 1490
 
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi, the wife of Giovanni Tornabuoni's only son, Lorenzo.
The similarity between this portrait and her depiction in the Visitation
fresco is probably because she died in childbirth before the fresco was started.
 
Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
The Visitation
1485 - 1490

Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Massacre of the Innocents
1485 - 1490
 
Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
The Four Evangelists
1485 - 1490
Strozzi Chapel
Andrea dell'Orcagna
Altarpiece - 1357
 
Large Cloister
Frescoes
Histories of St. Dominic
Large Cloister
Frescoes
Histories of St. Dominic
 
Large Cloister
Frescoes
Histories of St. Dominic
Large Cloister
Frescoes
Histories of St. Dominic
 
The tombstones in Via degli Avelli
Refectory
In showcases, sacred vestments, liturgical garments,
gold and sacred shrines
 
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