Santa Maria Novella is a Florentine church situated just across from the main railway station of the same name mentioned in Dan Brown’s novel Inferno. Historically, it is the first great basilica in Florence, and it is the main Dominican church in the city.
The name Novella (New) comes from the substitution of a previous 9th century oratory dedicated to Santa Maria delle Vigne, located outside the city walls. In 1221, the entire area was acquired by the Preachers Domenican order, which decided to build a new church and an adjoining cloister.
The church we see today was designed by two Dominican friars, Fra Sisto Fiorentino and Fra Ristoro da Campi. Construction started in 1246 and was finished about 1360 under the supervision of Fra Iacopo Talenti with the completion of the Romanesque-Gothic bell tower and sacristy.
At that time, only the lower part of the Tuscan gothic facade was finished. The three portals are spanned by round arches, while the rest of the lower part of the facade is spanned by blind arches, with Gothic pointed arches below striped in green and white capping the tombs of noblemen.
Between 1456 and 1470, 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, today a Renaissance masterpiece.
Here Alberti, framing this first frieze of the mid Trecento in the duotone of the general drawing, used the Renaissance principles of architecture to create harmony with the existing parts of the facade. Architecture is considered a scenario of elements, ordered by mathematical and geometrical rules, to be viewed as if it were a painting.
He added the four columns with Corinthian capitals on the lower part of the facade, a broad frieze decorated with squares and other things above it, including the four white-green pilasters and a round window, crowned by a pediment with the Dominican solar emblem, and flanked on both sides by S-curved volutes. These were used, among other things, to hide the sloping roof over the side naves.
While the pediment and frieze are clearly inspired by antiquity, the S-curved scrolls are new and without precedent. The scrolls, found in churches all over Italy, originate from the design of this church.
The vast interior is based on a basilica plan, designed as a Latin cross. It is divided into a nave, with two aisles with stained glass windows and a short transept. While the large nave is 100 metres long, there is a trompe-l’oeil effect by which the nave, when looking towards the apse, appears longer than its actual length.
The slender compound piers between the nave and the aisles are ever closer when you go deeper into the nave. The ceiling in the vault consists of pointed arches with four diagonal black and white ribs.
The pulpit, commissioned by the Rucellai family in 1443, was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and has a particular historical significance, because from this pulpit the first attack came on Galileo Galilei, eventually resulting in his indictment.
Inside, the Basilica contains one of the early Renaissance masterpieces: the magnificent Holy Trinity, produced by Masaccio between 1425 and 1427, and situated almost halfway in the left aisle.
This early work of Masaccio displays his new ideas about perspective and mathematical proportions. Its meaning for the art of painting can easily be compared with the importance of Brunelleschi on architecture and Donatello on sculpture.
There are many chapels inside the Basilica: the Filippo Strozzi Chapel, the Gondi Chapel, the Strozzi di Mantova Chapel, the Della Pura Chapel, the Rucellai Chapel, and the Bardi Chapel. The most important of these are the Strozzi Chapel and the Gondi Chapel. The former is located on the right side of the main altar; the latter, on the left side.
The Strozzi Chapel was the place where began the first tale of the Decamerone by Giovanni Boccaccio, when seven ladies decided to flee the town from the Black Plague to the countryside.
The Gondi Chapel, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, dates from the end of the 13th century, and contains on the back wall the famous wooden Crucifix by Brunelleschi, one of his very few sculptures.
The Strozzi di Mantova Chapel houses, at the end of the left transept, important frescoes realized by the Italian painter Nardo di Cione and his brother Andrea di Cione, better known as Orcagna. These works are inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.
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 and oldest cloister on the right of the doorway is the Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister), with its 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.
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. It was given this name because of meetings held there 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), who exalts 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.
Picture by it.wikipedia.org