The Crucifix painted by Giotto, the wooden Crucifix sculpted by Brunelleschi, and Masaccio’s Holy Trinity would suffice in themselves to establish the glory of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, but the church boasts many other works of art – both in painting and sculpture, as well as in architecture, as evidenced by the beautiful facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti.
THE MAJOR WORKS
Masaccio's Trinity (1425-1426): Covered by Giorgio Vasari with a stone altar and the altarpiece of the Madonna of the Rosary in 1570, the fresco was found during restoration of the church in the 19th century, and was detached and placed on the wall inside of the facade. In 1952, the image of the skeleton lying at the base of the Trinity by Masaccio was discovered under the plaster and restored. It bears the inscription "I was already what you are and that which I am you will be", the words spoken by Jesus to God the father in the Easter prayer before his death.
Giotto's Crucifix (1288-1289): Magnificently restored in 2000, the painting of the cross was put back at the center of the Basilica. Highlighting the theme of passion it is inspired by the Franciscan school of the “patient Christ.” It is the image of Christ's body caught in the instant of abandoning life symbolized by the blood gushing from his wounds. Here, the extraordinary beauty lies in the realism of the model that is no longer idealized as in Byzantine art, but true to nature.
Brunelleschi's Crucifix (1410-1415): Following Giotto's Crucifix, Brunelleschi reworked the figure of Christ as a sculpture, bent on the cross adding a slight twist to the left, creating spaces around itself, forcing the observer in a semicircular path around the figure in order to see it completely. The work is characterized by a careful study of the anatomy and proportions, evidencing the essentials (inspired by ancient art), which enhances the sublime dignity and harmony of the work. Christ is more idealized and measured, and the mathematical perfection of forms, recalling the Vitruvian ideal man, is also an echo of the divine perfection of the subject.
Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella Maggiore): Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was made by the Ricci family and decorated with frescoes by Orcagna in the middle of the 14th century. The frescoes had already seriously deteriorated after a century and were badly damaged by fire in 1357. The frescoes visible today are those created by Ghirlandaio. Executed at the request of the new patrons of the chapel, the Tornabuoni, they depict stories of the life of the Virgin, the apocryphal gospels, John the Baptist and the Four Evangelists. Master Ghirlandaio had the help of many other artists, including a young Michelangelo for a short period. Characters of that time are depicted, especially of the Tornabuoni family, as well as artists, writers, and philosophers.
The Basilica: The marble facade of Santa Maria Novella is one of the most important works of the Florentine Renaissance, despite having been initiated in earlier periods. It was only completed in 1920. Alberti grafted a modern solution to the underlying Gothic structure, harmonizing the existing elements with those of the new style.
Filippo Strozzi Chapel: Its fame is due to the frescoes by Filippino Lippi. Begun during the late 1480s and completed around 1502, the artist ended his painting life with this cycle. The theme of the cycle of frescoes are the stories of the lives of saint Philip the Apostle and John the Evangelist – Philip because of the name of the buyer, and John as an homage to the previous patron of the chapel.
Gondi Chapel: The chapel is dedicated to Saint Luke, and was built by Fra Ranieri alias “the Greek” in 1264. The Dominican cardinal Latino Malabranca laid the foundation stone for the erection of the Basilica here on October 18, 1279, on the feast of Saint Luke. The chapel belonged to the Scali family from 1319 to 1503, and then passed to the Gondi, who entrusted the renovation of the chapel to Giuliano da Sangallo. In 1571-72 the friars decided to move the precious Crucifix by Brunelleschi to this chapel, where it resides since then.
Gaddi Chapel: Dedicated to Saint Jerome, the patron saint of the Gaddi family, the architecture is by Giovanni Antonio Dosio, a disciple of Michelangelo, who followed the style of his master. The precious marbles that decorate the chapel were stolen from Rome in the 16th century.
Mantua Strozzi Chapel: Built between 1340 and 1350 in honor of Saint Thomas Aquinas, thanks to the generosity of the Mantua branch of the Strozzi family, it was later painted by Nardo di Cione, brother of Andrea Orcagna. The realms of heaven structured according to the vision of the Divine Comedy of Dante are depicted on the walls.
The museum includes the first two cloisters of the convent, the Spanish Chapel and the vast area of the Refectory.
The most famous place is the Green Cloister, which owes its name to the predominant color of the remarkable series of paintings with stories of Genesis that decorate three of the four sides. Dating from the first half of the 15th century, and including the famous scenes of Original Sin and the Flood, they were painted by Paolo Uccello.
On the same side of the Green Cloister, overlooking the 14th century chapter house of the convent, you will find the Spanish Chapel, ceded in 1566 to the Spanish community that had settled in the wake of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. The space is entirely decorated by a complex cycle of frescoes by Andrea di Bonaiuto (1365-1367), an allegorical celebration of the triumph of the Catholic Church against heresy and the active and contemplative life of the Dominican order.
The Green Cloister leads to the chapel of the noble family of the Ubriachi and the large adjoining convent refectory, where a spectacular mural painting by Alessandro Allori and a large painting of the Last Supper by the same artist (1584-1597) overlap with the remains of the original fresco decoration from the end of the 14th century. The two spaces are home to paintings from different places of the monumental complex, including a rare signed and dated altarpiece by Bernardo Daddi, and a wide selection of furnishings and vestments belonging to the ancient treasure of the basilica.