Santa Maria Novella basilica

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Leon Battista Alberti see all

Filippo Brunelleschi see all

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Early Renaissance

Renaissance

Santa Maria Novella is a church in Florence, Italy, situated just across from the main railway station which shares its name. Chronologically, it is the first great basilica in Florence, and is the city's principal Dominican church.

The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapterhouse contain a store of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance. They were financed through the generosity of the most important Florentine families, who ensured themselves of funerary chapels on consecrated ground.

This church was called Novella (New) because it was built on the site of the 9th-century oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne. When the site was assigned to Dominican Order in 1221, they decided to build a new church and an adjoining cloister. The church was designed by two Dominican friars, Fra Sisto Fiorentino and Fra Ristoro da Campi. Building began in the mid-13th century (about 1246), and was finished about 1360 under the supervision of Friar 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, 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 church was consecrated in 1420.

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). He was already famous as the architect of the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, but even more for his seminal treatise on architecture De Re Aedificatoria, based on the book De Architectura of the classical Roman writer Vitruvius. Alberti had also designed the facade for the Rucellai Palace in Florence.

Alberti attempted to bring the ideals of humanist architecture, proportion and classically-inspired detailing, to bear on the design while also creating harmony with the already existing medieval part of the facade. His contribution consists of a broad frieze decorated with squares and everything 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 enormous S-curved volutes. The four columns with Corinthian capitals on the lower part of the facade were also added. The pediment and the frieze are clearly inspired by the antiquity, but the S-curved scrolls in the upper part are new and without precedent in antiquity. The scrolls (or variations of them), found in churches all over Italy, all find their origin here in the design of this church.

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1465

April 10

There passed through Florence a son of Don Ferante, King of Naples, on his way to Milan to fetch the daughter of the Duke of Milan to be wedded to his brother. This lad was twelve or thirteen years old; he was made much of, and was lodged at Santa Maria Novella. And afterwards he returned through Florence with the bride, accompanied by many signori and dukes, with a large troop of horse; and besides other things, there were so many damsels and matrons in his train that it was magnificent. And at this time a man was found coining false money, and he was beheaded.

1478

October 6

Six Sienese were arrested here, one of them being the Podesta of Castelnuovo, which had been regained.

October 11

A boy was found sick of the plague at the gate of the hospital of San Pagolo,(1) and no one could be found to carry him to the hospital of La Scala.

1480

October 15

This hermit died at Santa Maria Novella, having been tortured in various ways. It was said that they skinned the soles of his feet, and then burnt them by holding them in the fire till the fat dripped off them; after which they set him upright and made him walk across the great h all; and these things caused his death. Opinions were divided as to whether he were guilty or innocent.

1481

April 13

The Pope sent us an Indulgence, to be obtained by attending six churches: Santa Maria del Fiore, the Nunziata dei Servi, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, and Sa' Jacopo in Campo Corbolini.(1) And it began on this day and lasted till Easter. Everyone who wished to obtain it had to visit these six churches on three mornings, confessing and doing penance; and had to lend aid, at the said churches, to the forces sent against the Turks.

1483

September 7

Ambassadors came to Florence from the King of France, on their way to Rome to arrange peace in Italy; and whilst they were here they received the news that their king had died on the 30th May, 1483. And on the 13th September one of these ambassadors died at Santa Maria Novella, and the others set out for Rome.

1490

December 22

The chapel, that is, the Capella Maggiore, of Santa Maria Novella was opened. Domenico del Grillandaio had painted it, at the order of Giovanni Tornabuoni. And the choir of carved wood was also made round the chapel. The painting alone cost 1000 gold florins.

1494

December 6

Entry from "A Florentine Diary" by Luca Landucci:

1495

February 5

5th February. The French Cardinal Sammalò,(1) who had just been made cardinal by the Pope, entered Florence. He had come here with the King of France as a bishop; and now he was returning to France. He had many horsemen with him. He was lodged in Santa Maria Novella in the papal apartments. All this time it was said that the King of France was in a bad situation, and there was cause for fear.

1503

October 24

Leonardo da Vinci is assigned the Sala del Papa in S. Maria Novella to begin work on the cartoon for the Battle of Anghiari.

1504

May 4

The mural for the Council Hall of Florence was commissioned from Leonardo with a contract of 4 May 1504, signed by Machiavelli as secretary of the Republic; but Leonardo had already begun working on the cartoon in the Sala del Papa in S. Maria Novella, which had been assigned to him on 24 October of the preceding year.
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