Basilica of Santa Maria Novella


Info

Chiesa Santa Maria Novella
Opening hours: 9am-5pm, Fridays 11am-5:30pm. Sundays and public holidays 1-5pm.

Admission: € 5 (includes Museum of Santa Maria Novella). Concessions available.

Officina Profumo Farmaceutica
Opening hours: 9:30am-7:30pm at Via della Scala 16. With the church of Santa Maria Novella behind you, cross the piazza to the far right hand corner and turn right into Via della Scala. The Farmacia is a few doors down on the right.
Admission: Free


Description

Holding some of the world's most important Gothic and early Renaissance masterpieces, the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is a true treasure trove and a wonderful example of wealthy Renaissance patronage of the arts.

The unique facade is one of the only true examples of a Renaissance church facade in Florence. Designed by architect Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) and completed in 1470, the beautiful Romanesque facade was created perhaps taking cues from the medieval design of San Miniato al Monte, which guards over Florence from the top of the southern hill.

The entire facade was paid for by the wealthy textile merchant and banker, Giovanni Rucellai (1403-1481), Alberti's best patron, who included a Latin inscription of large letters advertising his name and the date across the top of the church with the repeated design of billowing sails of a ship, the Rucellai family coat of arms. A rather bold form of publicity, Rucellai himself wrote in his memoirs in 1473 that he gained great pleasure and satisfaction in patronising art to help decorate the church because it served “the honour of God as well as the honour of the city and the commemoration of myself.” Indeed there was great competition among the wealthiest families to show off their wealth and prestige by creating the most beautifully frescoed chapels, contributing in turn to the rich beauty of the city. The many frescoes of Santa Maria Novella are a wonderful example of this patronage.

Santa Maria Novella's interior was designed to fit large congregations to allow the Dominicans to preach to as many people as possible. Along the 100-meter long nave, multi-styled pillars in pietra forte stone are arranged closer together as they reach the altar in a tromp-l'oeil effect that makes the nave seem even longer when viewed from the bottom of the nave. The vaults and arches are emphasized by two-toned marble.

To the left of the main altar in the Gondi family's chapel is the recently restored Christ on the cross carved in wood by Brunelleschi in the early 1400's. The proportions are mathematically perfect following the rules of Vitruvius's ideal man and befitting the perfection of the subject according to Brunelleschi. Compare the Christ with that of Masaccio's Holy Trinity fresco opposite the visitors entrance, thought to be the earliest example of linear perspective, and almost certainly produced with the help of Brunelleschi. Hanging above the central nave is Giotto's wooden crucifix, painted in the late 1200's. Leaving behind the stylised images of the Byzantine tradition, Giotto painted subjects true to life making him one of the earliest renaissance artists.

Next door, the Museum of Santa Maria Novella includes the magnificently frescoed Spanish Chapel, given by Cosimo I to his wife, Eleonora di Toledo and her Spanish attendants.

Also housed in the former Dominican monastery is the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica, perhaps the oldest pharmacy in the world. The Farmacia has been producing its famous perfumes, soaps, candles, essences, herbal remedies, liqueurs and cosmetics with a secret mix of traditional Florentine herbs and oils for centuries.