Santa Maria Novella

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on August 30, 2005

After lunch, we visit the Santa Maria Novella church, built by the Dominicans and completed in the 14th century. Its imposing white-and-green marble facade, one of the few authentic Gothic facades in Florence, was completed in the 15th century. It provides an interesting contrast with the Franciscan Santa Croce. Santa Maria Novella has a number of rules: no shorts, no picture-taking, no loud talking, many no-go zones, no smiling (just kidding). It takes itself very seriously.

When we first enter, we meet an angry German fellow with a church-supplied shawl around his waist to cover up his legs. Frankly, he looked a lot more fey and irreligious in the "skirt" than he would have without it. Later, I get busted for taking pictures, even though our guidebook says it's permissible and there are no signs forbidding photography. One of the attendants is incensed that I would even try to take photos and stares at me the rest of the time we’re there.

All that being said, it is nevertheless worth visiting. The church itself houses numerous beautiful works: the "Crucifix" by Brunelleschi, one by Giotto, Vasari's "Madonna of the Rosary," Masaccio's "Trinity," the "Miracle of Jesus" by Bronzino, and frescoes by Ghirlandaio. You can see photos of some of these on my photo website. There is also a cloister next door that holds a number of notable paintings and frescoes. It costs extra to visit the cloister. Today, it is unexplainably closed.

The interior is somewhat like the Duomo, somber and dignified. We walk down the left hand side after entering. Halfway down is the "Trinity." We spend time in the rear taking in the whole scene, especially Giotto’s "Crucifix" hanging in the nave’s center. We continue up the right side to the main altar and its two side chapels with their frescoes and stained-glass windows done by Filippino Lippi. The sanctuary behind main altar and the side walls were frescoed by Ghirlandaio and are incredibly well preserved. Hanging in the left altar is Brunelleschi’s "Crucifix," which he carved after seeing Donatello’s version in Santa Croce—the "ideal," God-like version versus the "real," peasant-like version. It helps that we have a guidebook to identify what we are seeing.

I postulate to Tom that the different ambiance of each church is a function of their founding orders—Dominicans, intellectual and forbidding like St. Dominic, Franciscans, emotional and accessible like their founder, St Francis of Assisi. Tom comments that I sound like a Dominican.

Closed Tuesdays. The entry fee is about 3€, extra for the cloister. Picture-taking is possible if you are sneaky.

Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Florence, Italy, 50123
+39 055215918

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