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Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Visit the museum

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The Monumental Complex

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The Dominican order, or Order of Preachers, reached Florence in the wake of Fra' Giovanni da Salerno in 1219 and settled in the 1221 in the ancient church of Santa Maria Novella, which the cathedral canons granted the friars. Their preaching skills, particularly evident in the sermons of Fra' Pietro da Verona (1244), drew large congregations, and so fairly soon the brothers began to plan the construction of a larger church. The foundation stone was blessed in 1279, but a start must have been made on building work some time before that. In any event, the church was completed in the following century and consecrated in 1420. The convent complex was gradually enlarged throughout the 14th century thanks to the generosity of the Florentine Republic and of the city's leading families, whose crests decorate many parts of the structure. In the meantime, the Dominican community consolidated its key role in the city, its Studium, or university, becoming one of the most prestigious of its day. In 1439 the convent's guesthouse and the adjacent Chapel of the Popes were to host the Council of Florence, providing accommodation for visiting papal delegations. The community flourished throughout the early modern era, but it was suppressed first by Napoleon, and again in 1866 after a brief revival. A part of the monumental complex entered the ownership of the municipality at that time, while further transfers of ownership since then have resulted in the complex currently being managed by a variety of different institutions.

 

 

The Basilica

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The church lies behind a magnificent façade inlaid with green and white marble, the upper part of which was completed to a design by Leon Battista Alberti with funds from the Rucellai family in 1470. The interior, with a central nave and two side aisles scanned by Gothic piers, was originally divided into two parts by a huge stone screen separating the body of the church, for the faithful, from the crossing and choir which were reserved for use by the friars. Giorgio Vasari removed the screen in 1565 after Cosimo I ordered him to restructure the church and its altars. Despite this transformation, and a further restoration in 1858-60, the basilica continues to sport much of its original decoration and it is home to countless masterpieces. Its most ancient works of art include a large Crucifix painted by Giotto, although Duccio di Buoninsegna's Maestà has now been moved to the Uffizi. The north aisle contains Masaccio's celebrated fresco of the Trinity, where the artist's handling of perspective reveals an affinity with the ideas of Filippo Brunellsechi, who made the Crucifix in the Gondi Chapel. Also worthy of note are the paintings in the Strozzi di Mantova Chapel by Nardo and Andrea di Cione, known as Orcagna, the Tombstone of Fra' Leonardo Dati by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Sandro Botticelli's Nativity, the Tornabuoni Chapel frescoed by Domenico del Ghirlandaio and his workshop, Filippino Lippi's Strozzi Chapel and the cycle of 16th century altarpieces.

Works of art

Interactive Map

 

 

The Museum
   
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The museum, which the Florentine municipal authorities instituted in the complex of Santa Maria Novella in the early 20th century, includes the first two cloisters of the former convent, the Spanish Chapel and the huge refectory. The most famous of these is the Green Cloister,  which was built towards the middle of the 14th century on the north wall of the basilica, to which it is joined by a door preceded by steps. It owes its name to the dominant colour in the extraordinary fresco cycle of Stories from Genesis painted on three of its four sides. These frescoes, dating back to the first half of the 15th century, include the famous scenes of Original Sin and of the Great Flood painted by Paolo Uccello. A slype links the Green Cloister to the Cloister of the Dead, which opens off it to the north along the same wall of the church. This cloister is so named because it began to be used principally for burials almost immediately after its construction, between the 13th and 14th centuries. The remains of admirable fresco decoration in the chantry chapels which certain noble Florentine families erected there in the 14th century, and numerous tombstones from different periods, still bear witness to the cloister's former function.  Just next to the slype in the Green Cloister stands the 14th century friars' chapter house, rechristened the Spanish Chapel when it was granted in 1566 to the Spanish community that took up residence in the city in the entourage of Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. This dazzling chapel is entirely covered with a complex cycle of frescoes by painter Andrea di Bonaiuto (1365-1367), celebrating in allegorical form the triumph of the Church of Rome against heresy, and the active and contemplative life of the Dominican Order. 

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The Green Cloister also gives on to the chapel of the Ubriachi, an aristocratic Florentine family, and to the large Refectory adjacent to it, where a spectacular mural by Alessandro Allori and a large canvas by the same painter (1584-1597) depicting the Last Supper conceal the remains of the late 14th century fresco decoration. The two rooms now house pictures from various different locations in the convent, including a rare polyptych dated and signed by Bernardo Daddi and a broad range of liturgical accoutrements, canonicals and vestments from the basilica treasury. The most prestigious canonicals include a silk altar frontal embroidered with scenes designed by Paolo Schiavo in 1466, a 17th century altar hanging showing  St. Thomas Becket, the Venetian-made Reliquary of the Inscription on the Cross, two extremely delicate  late 14th century wooden reliquary busts, and a large processional cross in silver and gilt bronze by goldsmith Francesco Maringhi.


The Great Cloister

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The Great Cloister is named after the dimension of its fifty-six semicircular archs. It was built between 1340 and 1360 with the contribution of several prominent Florentine families, their emblems were carved on the pillars of the loggia. The walls were painted with a series of frescoes by a group of artists from the Accademia Fiorentina, thanks to the donations of Cosimo I de’ Medici and other wealthy families. These frescoes depict the life of St. Domenico and other Dominicans saints, various scenes from the life of Jesus Christ and portraits of distinguished members of the religious community of Santa Maria Novella: its size, beauty and magnificence makes it one of the most representative cycles of the Catholic-Reformation.

The entire area is defined by the buildings that were built during the first decades of the fourteenth century. The structures on the south side were originally used as infirmary and apothecary, now known as Officina Farmaceutica, which also includes the chapel of St. Nicholas founded in 1332 by Dardano Acciaioli. In the eastern side there are the Refectory and the adjacent Ubriachi or Magi Chapel, which are now part of the Santa Maria Novella museum. In the western and northern sides there were dormitories for the friars.

The Northern Dormitory probably sums up the level of magnificence of the entire structure. It is divided in three parts by two opposite rows of monolithic pillars supporting an intersection of vaults which create an interesting architectural perspective. The walls were probably entirely painted, as demonstrated by the remains of frescoes that are still visible on some random points and on two of the vaults, beautifully decorated with Christological scenes.

The papal apartments were built on the upper floors of the western and northen sides during the second decade of the fifteenth century. The first part was set-up to receive Martino V in 1419 on his return from Costanza where he was elected pope. After a few years, in 1439, they were expanded in order to host the ecumenical council called for the unification of Eastern and Western churches.

The Sala Grande (Great Hall) was used by Leonardo da Vinci during his preparatory studies for the Battaglia di Anghiari that was meant to decorate a wall of Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio. The original location of this hall is still marked by an epigraph that can be seen from the Great Cloister.

The council hall and the papal apartments were demolished in 1563 for building the Monastero Nuovo or  Monastery of the Immaculate Conception, founded by the Duchess  Eleanor of Toledo, Cosimo I’s wife. The Cappella del Papa (Papal Chapel) was saved from the demolition process and it is still located on the northern side.

 The Cappella was prepared for the arrival in Florence of Pope Leo X de’ Medici, on November 30 1515. The decoration was assigned to Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, who depicted the scene of the Coronation of the Virgin on the opposite side of the door. The work was completed by Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo, which depicted both the figures with  the putti on the vaults and the famous Veronica on the walls up to the entrance, which is now considered one of the most extraordinary pieces of Florentine painting of the sixtheenth century.

 

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città di firenze
Comune di Firenze
Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria
50122 FIRENZE
P.IVA 01307110484
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