church of Santa Maria Novella

ca 1246 - today

A brief description.

The Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Firenze was in earlier time a piece of land with the 9th-century oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne.
When the site was assigned by the city council to the Order of the Dominicans in 1221, they decided to build a new church (Maria Novella) and an adjoining priory.

Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

A part of the land remained a play area and square for manifestations. So it was used by Cosimo I for the yearly chariot race (Palio dei Cocchi). This custom existed between 1563 and late in the 19th century. The two obelisks marked the start and the finish of the race. They were set up to imitate an antique Romen circus. The obelisks rest on bronze tortoises, made in 1608 by the sculptor Giambologna (1524-13.08.1608).In 1850 they were preserved on another place.

Church of Santa Maria Novella.

The new church ‘Santa Maria Novella’ was designed by two Dominican architects Sisto Fiorentino (+1289)  and Ristoro da Campi (circa 1220/25-1283). The building began about 1246, on the site of the l0th-century oratory of S. Maria delle Vigne. The nave and aisles went up in 1279, - first stone on 18th October 1279.  The building was finished about 1360 under the supervision of Jacopo Talenti, O.P.  The Romanesque-Gothic bell tower was built ca 1330 and was also watch tower and observation post of fire. The church was consecrated in 1420.

The facade.

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, separated by pilasters, with below Gothic pointed arches, striped in green and white, capping noblemen's tombs. This same design continues in the adjoining wall around the old churchyard.

The facade was remodelled between 1456 and 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti (the original facade was early 14th century) who created the splendid portal and everything above it, articulated in inlaid squares and bordered by the heraldic sails of the Rucellai family who commissioned the work.
Two large reversed volutes tie the lateral masses together with those in the centre, articulated by four engaged pilasters and terminating in a triangular pediment.
Ignazio Danti, O.P. resided at this priory and designed the first gnomon on the facade in 1572.

The cloisters.

The gate to the left of the facade leads to the First Cloister, in Romanesque style (1350) frescoed with Scenes from the Old Testament by Paolo Uccello (now in the Refectory). From here, through the Chiostrino dei Morti, one arrives at the Chiostro Grande, with more than fifty arches and completely lined with frescoes by Florentine masters of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The interior.

The vast interior is based on a basilica plan, designed as a Latin cross and is divided into a nave, two aisles with stained-glass windows and a short transept. The large nave is 100 metres long and gives an impression of austerity. There is a trompe l'oeil-effect by which this nave towards the apse seems 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 in pointed arches with the four diagonal buttresses in black and white.
The interior also contains Corinthian columns that were inspired by the Classical era of Greek and Romen times.

The stained-glass windows date from the 14th and 15th century, such as 15th century Madonna and Child and Saint John and Saint Philip (designed by Filippino Lippi), both in the Filippo Strozzi Chapel.
Some stained glass windows have been damaged in the course of centuries and had to be replaced. The one on the facade, a depiction of the Coronation of Mary dates from the 14th century, based on a design of Andrea Bonaiuti.

The pulpit, commissioned by the Rucellai family in 1443, was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and executed by his adopted child Andrea Calvalcanti. This pulpit has a particular historical significance, because from this pulpit the first attack came on Galileo Galilei, leading eventually to his indictment.

The Holy Trinity by Masaccio.

The Holy Trinity, situated almost halfway in the left aisle, is a pioneering early renaissance work of Masaccio, showing his new ideas about perspective and mathematical proportions. Its meaning for the art of painting can easily be compared by the importance of Brunelleschi for architecture and Donatello for sculpture. The patrons are the kneeling figures of the judge and his wife, members of the Lenzi family.
The cadaver tomb below carries the epigram: "I was once what you are, and what I am you will become".

Of particular note in the right aisle the mmonument to the Beata Villana de' Botti by Bernardo Rossellino (1409-23.09.1464) in 1451. Also  the Bust of Saint Antoninus Pierozzi (in terra cotta) and the tomb of the Bishop of Fiesole by Tino da Camaino.

There are many chapels with works of arts, stained glass windows and tombs. So the Filippo Strozzi Chapel, the Gondi Chapel, the Cappella Strozzi di Mantova, Della Pura Chapel, Rucellai Chapel. For information and description see internet.

The sacristy.

The sacristy, at the end of the left aisle, was built as the Chapel of the Annunciation by the Cavalcanti family in 1380. Now it houses again, after a period of fourteen years of cleaning and renovation, the enormous painted Crucifix with the Madonna and John the Evangelist, an early work by Giotto. He had rediscovered the ideal proportions for the human body, as established by the Romen architect Vitruvius (1st century AD, see also: Vitruvian Man).

The sacristy is also embellished by a glazed terra cotta and a marble font, masterpieces by Giovanni Della Robbia (1498). The cupboards were designed by Bernardo Buontalenti in 1593. The paintings on the wall are ascribed to Giorgio Vasari and some other contemporary Florentine painters. The large Gothic window with three mullions at the back wall dates from 1386 and was based on cartoons by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini

The Spanish Chapel of former chapterhouse of the priory.

The Spanish Chapel.

The Spanish Chapel (or Cappellone degli Spagnoli) is the former chapterhouse of the priory. It is situated at the north side of the green Cloister (Chiostro Verde). It was commissioned by Mico Guidalotti as his funerary chapel. Construction started c. 1343 and was finished in 1355. It was called "Spanish Chapel", because Cosimo I assigned it to Eleonora of Toledo and her Spanish retinue.

The Spanish Chapel contains a smaller Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament. The Spanish Chapel is decorated with 14th century frescoes by Andrea Bonaiuti also known as Andrea da Firenze. The large fresco on the right wall depicts the Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order.

It is especially interesting because in the background it shows a large pink building that may provide some insight into the original designs for the Duomo of Florence by Arnolfo di Cambio (before Brunelleschi's dome was built), although this interpretation is fantastical as the Duomo was never intended to be pink, nor to have the bell tower at its back side.
This fresco also contains portraits of Pope Benedict IX, cardinal Friar Niccolò Albertini, count Guido di Poppi, Arnolfo di Cambio and the poet Petrarca.

The frescoes on the other walls represent scenes from the lives of Christ and Saint Peter on the entry wall (mostly ruined due to the later installation of a choir), The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Allegory of Christian Learning on the left wall, and the large "Crucifixion with the Way to Calvary and the Descent into Limbo" on the archway of the altar wall.
The four-part vault contains scenes of Christ's resurrection, the navicella, the ascension, and Pentecost.

The five-panelled Gothic polyptych that was probably originally made for the chapel's altar, depicting the Madonna Enthroned With and Child and Four Saints by Bernardo Daddi dates from 1344 and is currently on display in a small museum area accessed through glass doors from the far end of the cloister. Together, the complex iconography of the ceiling vault, walls, and altar combine to communicate the message of Dominicans as guides to salvation.

Sources : Internet, wikipedia. Casa Editrice Bonecchi.




Calcio Storico Florentino, seculo XV.


Postal card on the occasion of the Calciofil '90
in Italy.


Italy 1990. Postal card.






Painting by the Italian painter Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1486-1490
for the altar in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Firenze.
The entire painting, - triptych -, is moved in 1804 and the middle part
was sold by the King Luis I of Bavaria in 1816. On this painting on the
left St. Dominic with a book and the text: 'Disciplinam et Sapientam docuit
eis beatus Dominicus.' 'Saint Dominic teached them Order and Wisdom.'
The painting is now preserved in the Alte Pinakothek in München.

Manama 1972, Mi 1225.





On the Piazza of Santa Maria Novella is situated  the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella.



On the stamp a reproduction of a football-game in the 16th century, before 1572.
In the background the front of the church and the bell tower.


Monaco 1963, Mi 748, Sc 567.



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