Santa Maria Novella is one of the major churches in Florence. It is a Dominican church that is situated near the train station. From an art standpoint, it is a wonderful place, full of great pieces that are important to a study of Renaissance art.
Imagine the hustle and bustle of Florence in the 13th and 14th centuries! Santa Maria Novella was one of four major construction projects within the city at that time (to include the cathedral) so artisans would have no problem finding work.
To enter the church, go through the gate to the right of the church façade, follow the pathway that winds around the courtyard and then brings you back to the church halfway around. As of January 2012, admission was €3.50 and well worth the price for the quality of art within the church.
As you enter the church, you can immediately see Masaccio’s Holy Trinity across the room on the wall. This fresco (1426) is a very important painting in the development of Renaissance artwork; often considered the most perfect piece of early Renaissance art. First, look at the architecture painted in the fresco – doesn’t it give the feeling that the wall is going in…a three dimensional effect. The use of reds gives depth. Your eyes actually look towards the back because the classical pillars and ceiling of the painting give the feeling of added space to the room. Masaccio used this one point perspective in his Tribute in the Brancacci Chapel as well. It was Masaccio that Michelangelo said he was inspired by.
But there’s more to this painting than the perspective. Look at the people in the lower part of the painting – the ones outside the little room created by the perspective. These are the patrons – the ones that paid for the work; they are the same size as the other figures in the painting – Christ, Mary, John the Evangelist – which demonstrates a new dignity of the wealthy that we don’t see in earlier works where the patron is small and rather insignificant to the piece. These figures create a large triangle within the work – Christ at the top point and the patrons the lower points. And within this triangle is a smaller triangle of Christ, Mary, and John. Also, the patrons are harmonious with the saints in the colors of their robes (note: the female patron’s robe is supposed to be the same color as Mary’s but it was later repainted, which explains its different color). If you look closely at Mary’s robe, you can see the faint grid pattern used by the artist to set up the painting.
And the Holy Trinity is symbolized in the painting – Christ the Son; God the Father at the top, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (the white collar-like thing between God and Christ).
Finally, look at the skeleton below – just so that you don’t become complacent with your life, it reminds you “I was once what you are now and what I am, you will become.”
For an informative video about this magnificent and ground breaking painting, visit the Khan Academy website.
Now turn around and look at the church itself (I had to get that painting discussion out of the way – it is one of my favorites and felt it should get top priority in this tip!). The black and white stripes indicate the Dominicans. You can see a visible altar, a new thing back when this was being built – the altar used to be behind a screen.
As you are looking towards the altar from back near the Masaccio, look up at the crucifix hanging from the ceiling in the center of the church. This is a very famous Giotto work, devotional in nature, creating a very realistic Christ on the cross. It was painted on wood and is original to the church and considered one of their more valuable artworks.
Heading up towards the altar, you will find several smaller chapels, including two commissioned by the wealthy Strozzi family. The chapel on the far left of the transept was painted by Orcagna and his brother, Nardo di Cione. The fresoes were inspired by Dante’s Inferno and show the Last Judgment where even the wealthy and churchmen find themselves in a hell that is compartmentalized according to their sins. This chapel was done after the plague and the altarpiece is a return to that former conservative pre-plague look.
Turn back and head towards the altar, stopping just before at the chapel to the left of the altar. The crucifix hanging in this chapel was designed by Brunelleschi after bragging to Donatello that he could sculpt a more human and lifelike Christ than Donatello had done (Donatello’s Crucifix can be seen across town in Santa Croce Church). In the end, it was agreed that Brunelleschi’s Christ was indeed the more human looking of the two.
The altar is decorated with frescoes by Ghirlandaio, who it is said gave his patrons their monies worth. The frescoes show the Tournabourni family (relatives to the Medici) portrayed in various scenes from the Virgin Mary’s life. Giovanni Tournabourni can be easily recognized by her full brocade dress in the scene Nativity of Mary (bottom right scene on left side of chapel). Notice anything else in this scene? Look at the red/pink architecture in the background at the top of the steps – looks like this artist was influenced by Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. The influence of Donatello’s choir stalls from the Cathedral (seen at the Cathedral Museum) can also be seen in this scene.
On the top right scene on the right hand side, there is some work possibly by a very young Michelangelo – notice the naked male (one of Michelangelo’s trademarks) and in a pose reminiscent of Masaccio’s Tribute.
Beside the altar on the right is the second Strozzi Chapel, done by Filippino Lippi on the lives of St. John and St. Philip.
Before you walk away from the church, be sure to look at the façade on the front. This façade was designed by Alberti, who had to work around tombs that were already in the front of the building (the brown doors. This façade is classically influenced and it geometrically designed.
There is more to see at Santa Maria Novella; these tips only highlight the Renaissance works. I will create a separate tip for the Green Cloister and Museum of the church, which is worth a visit as well (it is a separate fee as it is connected with the church’s museum).
Open weekdays 9 a.m. - 5.30 p.m.
Fridays 11 a.m. - 5.30 p.m.
Saturdays 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sundays and religious holidays 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Once you have had your fill of the church, there is more Renaissance art to see next door in the Santa Maria Novella cloisters, including some works by Uccello.
The Green Cloister and museum at the Church of Santa Maria Novella are separate from the church and have a separate admission fee (January 2012 it was €2.70). If you are interested in art, this would be a good place to visit; if art isn’t really your interest, then I suggest skipping this one.
The two primary things to see in the cloisters relating to Renaissance art would be the Spanish Chapel and the frescoes by Paolo Uccello in the walkways.
You find the museum to the left of the church’s façade – head down the short steps and enter through the door. You pay right there and then you can proceed straight ahead to the cloister walkway.
As you walk into the cloisters, be on the lookout for the Uccello frescoes on your right side; they are not too far into the cloisters from the museum lobby. The primary one to look at is the Noah and the Ark scene, which was painted by Paolo Uccello in 1431. Much of the paint is gone (this happens when it is outside) and so the painting isn’t in great shape and has a green tint to it. But it is a great painting demonstrating perspective (Uccello was obsessed with perspective!).
Starting from the left and moving right, you can see the entire flood scene. On the left the ark is large and there are people fighting outside it as the rain begins. As your eyes move towards the back (there’s that one point perspective again) you can see the storm raging, lightning striking, and trees bending. As you continue to look to the right, the storm ends, Noah releases the dove, and then gets out to survey the damage, including the birds pecking at the dead bodies. The people in the center of the painting show emotion as they try to stay afloat in barrels. Great fresco by a master of perspective.
Now proceed to the end of the walkway and turn left. About mid-way down this part of the walkway will be the Spanish Chapel in the old Chapter House, which is also where St. Catherine of Siena was brought to demonstrate if she was a witch or not. Look around at the frescoes all over the walls, done by Andrea di Bonaiuto.
On the right side you see scenes that include the Dominicans (in the black and white robes). Of note, the black and white dogs at the bottom of the fresco are attacking brown dogs (symbolic of the Franciscans). The overall scenes demonstrate the dogma of the Dominicans that would tell people the Dominicans’ role in salvation. You also see a Florence Cathedral with a dome – this was done before there was a dome or any vision of how to finish the cathedral. They just had faith that at some point someone would come around and know what to do.
On the left side of the Chapter House the frescoes show The Triumph of Catholic Doctrine with a line up of famous saints, virtues, and men of the arts.
I didn’t visit the museum part of this venue, but it is in the old refectory (dining hall) and displays old liturgical objects and some remains of frescoes from the Church.
Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday 9 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.
Holidays 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Days of closure
Closed on Friday, Sundays and New Year's Day, Easter, May 1, August 15 and Christmas
It was a Monday on my trip to Florence, so after we finished with Santa Maria Novella, we took a short break before heading to Orsanmichele, a church with a museum on its upper floors – and the museum is open only on Mondays.
Located near the city's main train station, Santa Maria Novella is the oldest basilica in Florence. Its construction began in 1279 and ended in 1360, several decades before the Duomo and Santa Croce were completed. Even though the latter two churches are more popular with visitors, Santa Maria Novella is also worth visiting, especially for the amazing art treasures hidden in its chapels. Several of the city's most influential artists were commissioned by wealthy citizens to decorate the basilica and, in some cases, work continued until the 16th century. I thought the Tornabuoni Chapel, which contains Ghirlandaio's depictions of the lives of St. Mary and St. John the Baptist, was particularly impressive. Another work of art worth seeing at Santa Maria Novella is Masaccio's "Holy Trinity", famous for its early use of perspective and "trompe l’oeil" techniques. It's also interesting to know that the same kind of "trompe l’oeil" technique was used for the construction of the church; indeed, as you get closer to the back of the church, the nave's pillars are set slightly further apart, which gives the impression that the 100 m long nave is even longer.
Admission to Santa Maria Novella costs 5 Euros. Entrance is through a side door that actually leads to the basilica's old cemetery. You should also make sure once you're done visiting the church to take a few minutes to walk around its lively piazza. Piazza di Santa Maria Novella was built at the same time as the basilica, and from the very beginning it was - and still is - used for different celebrations and festivities. For example, Amerigo Vespucci's return from America was celebrated there, and in the 16th century, when Cosimo I de Medici decided to reintroduce the concept of Roman chariot races in Florence, the races took place at this piazza around the large obelisks (sculpted by Giambologna) that can still be seen today.
Santa Maria Novella is one of the most attractive churches of Firenze. Ir was built in the 13th and 14th centuries by Sisto da Firenze and Ristoro da Campi and finished only in 1348 by Jacopo Talenti. The bell-tower in Romanesque Gothic style was added in 1330. The marvelous front facade was remade between 1456 and 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti, who designed the portal and the wall above it. In adjacent to the church there is the old cemetery.
The interior of this one nave and two aisles church is stunning, rich of splendid chapels adorned by the works of leading artists of the age. Worth of visiting are two adjacent cloisters, Small Cloister of the Dead in Romanesque style with number of tomb slabs and the Great Cloister with over fifty arches, completely frescoed by the greatest Fiorentine painters of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Santa Maria Novella was built on the site of the 10th-century Dominican oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne. Building began in the mid-13th century, and was finished in the mid-14th century.
It was designed by two Dominican friars, Fra Sisto da Firenze and Fra Ristoro da Campi. On a commission from the Rucellai family Leone Battista Alberti designed the black and white marble facade of the church (1456-1470). Giorgio Vasari was the architect for the first remodelling of the church, which included removing its original rood-screen and loft. The second remodelling was designed by Enrico Romoli, and was carried out between 1858 and 1860.
The interior is designed as a Latin cross and is divided up into three naves.
The centre nave is 100 metres long.
The chapels include the della Pura Chapel, the Rucellai Chapel, the Bardi Chapel, the Filippo Strozzi Chapel, and the Gondi Chapel.
Artists who produced items for the church include Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Brunelleschi, Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi, Vasari.... to mention some of the most famous italian artists.
Its really a strange sight for me , when I passed by her , she was wearing a dark brown brick gown...but when I saw her again when I was on the other side , she is white pearl with intricate light green and pink colour.
So mystique, strong and plain one side,
So beautiful, soccolourful on the other ...
Just like the human character ....
Original Latin cross plan church by Fra Sisto and Fra Ristoro, 1278 to 1350. Renaissance facade by Alberti, begun 1456.Architecture of Gothic with Italian Renaissance facade
This big church was built in the 13th century. It has a wonderful marble façade which was completed in the middle of the 15th century. The interior is just gigantic and seems to be much larger because of an architectural trick: the architect reduced the pillar’s distances from the entrance to the altar. Moreover the church has a multitude of frescos inside.
Dominican friars began to build the church in 1246 on the site of a l0th century Dominican oratory. The nave and aisles were finished in 1279 and the building was finished in the middle of the 14th century. The campanile and the Sacristy were done by Jacopo Talenti. The facade was remodelled between 1456 and 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti to replace an earlier one from the 14th century. The inlay work on top is bordered by heraldic sails of the Rucellai family who commissioned the building of the church.
This gothic church contains some of the most important works of art in Florence. It was built by the Dominicans starting in 1246 and finished in the mid 14th century. The beautiful facade was completed in two phases, a century apart from one to another but I believe it comes together just fine. Inside you can see Masaccio's Trinity one of the first works of art to employ perspective, announcing the arrival of the Renaissance. Look also for the wooden crucifix by Filippo Brunelleschi and for the beautiful chapels that line the walls, frescoed by famous Florentine artists.
Close to the main railway station, this could be the first of the great churches/monuments that most tourists see (although chances are its not). Clad in the white (from Cararra) and green (from Prato) marble similar to the Duomo.
Begun in the 11th century, the exterior is essentially a mix of 14th century ground floor with 15th century upper storey, with the avelli arcade (burial vaults) running round the cemetery.
Interetsing though it is, its the extraordinary OTT interior, the clever architectural deisgn of decreasing he distance between the central columns the closer they get to the altar, making the nave look longer than it actually is, along with Masaccio's 'The Trinity' fresco and early use of (successful) perspective and classical proportion. But if longer for more classical Italian art fix, then Ghirlandaio's altar pics are worth checking out, there's Filipino Lippi's frescoes and there's even a Brunelleschi 'Crucifix'.
Fancy a stop in Florence for a day trip? Maybe taking the train between Rome and Venice? You can leave the bas at Left Luggage in the Station. As you come off the train the Deposito Bagagli is to your left. They are open from 6am to Midnight.
The cost is:
Left luggage fares IN Euros is (for each bag):
• 3.80 for the first 5 hours
• 0.60/hour from 6th to 12th hour
• 0.20 for any additional hour
There is a website for the station, but it is a nightmare:
Click on Left Luggage and a map comes up.
This service is EXPENSIVE, but quick and easy. You can negotiate with a nearby hotel to leave it cheaper. We did this in Rome for 2 Euros for the whole day. Does require some negotiation and a willingness by a hotel.
If you enter Florence by train or bus, this is one of the first things you'll pass on your way to the historic center of town. We were on our way to the Duomo and couldn't resist this beautiful church.
You enter through the cloister (yes, there's a fee) and enter the church. As soon as you enter, you realize the facade was added years after the church was built.
There is a wonderful painting by Masaccio that has fairly recently been restored and is one of the very earliest works using perspective. Fascinating.
The outside of Santa Maria Della Novella did not look impressive. It was smaller than the other churches we saw in Florence. The outside was attractive but not as eye catching as the Duomo or Santa Croce. However once inside any doubts about it are erased. It is filled with artwork and beauty. This picture shows some of the beautiful stained glass the nave. Like everything else in Florence it was memorable and masterful.
The building of the monastery complex the largest in the city was initially undertaken by two Dominican architects, Fra'Sisto and Fra' Ristoro. Later directed by their fellow monks, Fra' Jacopo Talenti and Fra' Giovanni da Campi, work was completed during the mid-14th century.