Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence
The majestic basilica of Santa Maria Novella was founded by Dominican monks who came to Florence from Bologna at the beginning of the XIII century. A few years later the order received at its disposal the small ancient church of Santa Maria delle Vigne, which became a Dominican oratory, and a piece of land outside the city walls surrounding it. It was here that the present church with the adjoining monastery was erected, which for a long time flourished thanks to the generosity of the noble Florentine families and papal patronage.
The monumental complex of Santa Maria Novella is now managed by various organizations, including the local municipality. Thanks to an agreement reached in 2012, it is possible to visit the basilica, the cemetery of Avelli and the museum, which includes a number of monasteries, chapels and a refectory, with a single ticket. Tip from unitalia.co.uk – be sure to allow time to visit the site, even if it is extremely limited.
The Church of Santa Maria Novella was built by two Dominican brothers, Sisto Fiorentino and Ristoro Campi. The idea for its construction arose in 1242, and four years later all those who had time to contribute financially to the project received certain preferences from the Pope. In spite of the fact that the ceremony of laying the first stone took place in 1279, the works began somewhat earlier. It lasted almost a hundred years and was actually completed around 1360, after the bell tower, sacristy and the cloister adjoining the church had been erected. The official consecration of the church took place in 1420.
Later on, the church of Santa Maria Novella was repeatedly reconstructed, reconstructed and restored. They were made by Giorgio Vasari and Giovanni Antonio Dozio in the XVI century, by Enrico Romoli in the XIX century, etc. Some of the most important works were carried out in 1999, and the last renovations of the facade were carried out in 2006-08. The basilica is more than 99 m long and more than 28 m wide. It was the first in Florence to be built with elements of Gothic architecture. The bell tower is 68 m high.
Today, this monumental heritage of Florence is an architectural and historical complex that includes the church, promoted in 1919 as a minor basilica, the beautiful sacristy (access is in the left transept), the cemetery Avelli with the tombs of important Florentine families, the chapel of Pura (accessible from the transept of the basilica) and the museum that combines monasteries, courtyards, refectories and chapels.
To see a schematic of the Santa Maria Novella complex, go HERE
The sumptuous marble façade of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, which resembles an enormous inlaid casket, is considered one of the most important works of the Florentine Renaissance. It was designed by architect Leon Battista Alberti in 1456-70 during the reconstruction of the basilica commissioned by one of Florence’s richest merchants and patrons of the arts, Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai. His name is carved in large letters on the upper pediment, and inside the basilica there is a chapel dedicated to him.
In the center of the pediment is a radiant sun with the face of the infant Jesus.
On the facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella one can see astronomical instruments: a bronze armillary sphere and a marble dial with a gnomon that were made by the Dominican monk, astronomer and cartographer Iignazio Danti of Perugia in 1555-86. With them he was able not only to discover the difference of a few days between the Julian calendar, in use since 46 B.C., and the astronomical year, but also to successfully demonstrate his research to Pope Gregory XIII. This is how the world found the Gregorian calendar, which still has no alternative.
The unique facade, which received its final completion in 1920, is clad in white and dark green marble. It is decorated with rhythmic rectangles, triangles and circles, arches, heraldic symbols of the Ruscellai family, portals with semi-circular lunettes by Ulisse Ciocchi (1616-18), the entablature, the central rose window, and other decorative elements.
Interior of the Church of Santa Maria Novella
The three-aisled structure has a T-shaped plan. It is divided into 6 large spans, covered by cross vaults with pointed arches, supported by columns. Worth seeing are the 14th and 15th century stained glass windows, including those by Fillipino Lippi (Strozzi Chapel), tombstones and busts.
The Church of Santa Maria Novella holds a huge number of valuable works of art from the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the central aisle the grandiose Crucifixion by Giotto (1288) soars, and under the third vault of the left aisle we can see the famous fresco of Tommaso Guidi (Masaccio) “The Trinity” (1425-27), preserved for posterity thanks to Giorgio Vasari.
In the altarpiece and transepts of the basilica are several chapels that, according to unitalia.ru, deserve special attention.
- The Chapel of Tornabuoni (or Maggiore), the main chapel of the basilica in the center of the temple, behind the main altar, is dedicated to Madonna Assunta, the patroness of the church. The walls of the chapel were painted by Ghirlandaio in 1485-90 with a cycle of life stories of the Virgin and St. John the Baptist taken from the apocryphal Gospels.
- The Gondi Chapel is to the left of the main chapel. Inside you can see Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous Crucifixion wooden sculpture (1410-15), as well as the oldest Greco-Byzantine frescoes extant in Florence.
- Cappella Gaddi, a chapel in the left transept with a work by the painter Agnolo Bronzino, Jesus Resurrecting the Daughter of Jaro (1570-72) and bas-reliefs by Giovanni Bandini. This is Florence’s first chapel inlaid with marble and semi-precious stones.
- Filippo Strozzi’s Chapel – located in the right transept. Here we can see a series of frescoes by Filippo Lippi from the end of the XV century that recount the lives of St. Philip and St. John the Evangelist. Behind the altar rests the Florentine banker himself, who began but never had time to complete the Palazzo Strozzi.
- The Bardi Chapel is next to the Strozzi Chapel. There are fourteenth-century wall paintings with stories from the life of St. Gregory attributed to the anonymous Bolognese artist Pseudo Dalmazio and a splendid fresco of the Madonna del Rosario by Giorgio Vasari. The chapel was originally dedicated to Pope Gregory I, called the Great, and since the eighteenth century to St. Domenico, founder of the Dominican order.
For this article, unitalia.ru mentioned just a few of the names associated with the rich artistic and religious history of the Church of Santa Maria Novella.
Santa Maria Novella Museum
The cemetery of the Avelli is located along the street of the same name and is a series of arcosolium niches designed to house sarcophagi. Here are buried: Domenico Ghirlandaio, representatives of the most important families of Florence, including the Medici, Gondi, Corsini, Ponciatici, Alberti, Corsini and others.
The Spanish Chapel, decorated with an impressive cycle of frescoes by Andrea Bonaiuto, can be reached through the courtyard. It was built in 1343-55 and got its name from the Spanish colony that was located here in the time of Eleonora of Toledo, the first wife of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici.
Today the chapel is part of the Museum of Santa Maria Novella, as are the three monumental monasteries adjacent to the basilica:
- Green – built in the mid-14th century and named for the color of the pigment dominating Paolo Uccello’s cycle of frescoes (first half of the 15th century). From the monastery you can get to the refectory;
- The Grand, or Great, is considered the largest in Florence. It appeared after the Green Monastery, in the second half of the XVI century. It is decorated with numerous frescoes by famous Florentine painters;
- The Abode of the Deceased is the oldest part of the monasteries and it owes its name to the tombs with tombstones and monuments. Part of the cloister was demolished during the construction of the Santa Maria Novella station. The frescoes are in a serious state of deterioration and were last damaged during the great flood of 1966. The chapels-mausoleums were at one time patronized by members of the noble Florentine families. A number of rooms contain the Dominican Library with over 40,000 volumes of ancient and modern publications.
Another attraction of the complex of Santa Maria Novella is the Chapel of the Popes, an important part of the papal apartments of the great monastery. Here you can see the most valuable frescoes of the young Pontormo – representative of the Florentine school of painting and one of the founders of Mannerism, based on the subjects of the Vatican rooms of Raphael, as well as paintings by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. The chapel was erected in 1515 on the occasion of the arrival of Pope Leo X in Florence. The site is closed to the general public as it is part of the Carabinieri School. It is only accessible by prior request.
On the southern side of the monastery courtyards is the ancient perfumery pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, the oldest in Europe. It has been in continuous operation since the XVII century. The entrance is from the Via della Scala.
Excursions to Santa Maria Novella
Guides will help you get to know the landmark in more detail. They will share secrets, show the most curious corners and answer all questions of interest.