London, Henry S. King & Co., 1877; Transcribed and Photographed, Carolyn Carpenter




Chapter XXXII:  Sta. Maria Novella – (Continuation)

The first chapel to the left of the choir belongs to the Gondi family, and is encrusted with marbles, arranged after a design by Giuliano di San Gallo; it is dedicated to St. Luke, and is sometimes called the Chapel of the Crucifix, because it contains the crucifix of Filippo Brunelleschi, made after seeing a crucifix by Donatello, now in Sta. Croce, which he stigmatised as the representation of a peasant – contadino.253

The Gaddi Chapel is dedicated to St. Jerome, and was decorated by Giovanni Antonio Doscio, a pupil of Raffaello da Montelupo, in 1533.  The columns of pietra-serena have very beautiful capitals.  The altar-piece, of Christ restoring to Life the Daughter of Jairus, is a feeble production of Angelo Bronzino.  On the sides of the chapel are reliefs by Giovanni dell' Opera, a pupil of Baccio Bandinelli:  the Marriage of Mary and Joseph, and the presentation in the Temple.  Above, in the ceiling, are frescos of the Life of St. Jerome.

The chapel in the southern transept is reached by a flight of steps, in the same manner as the Rucellai Chapel opposite.  It belongs to the Strozzi family, and is dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas.  Here are preserved the relics of a certain Beato Alessio degli Strozzi, who caused the chapel to be paved with marble about the middle of the fourteenth century.  The walls are painted in fresco by the brothers Andrea and Bernardo Orcagna,254 and represent the Last Judgment, the Pains of Hell as described by Dante, and the Glories of Paradise, with a numerous assemblage of saints and holy personages.  These frescos were probably executed prior to the altar-piece, which is also by Andrea Orcagna, and bears the date 1357.  The Last Judgment is at the end of the transept, and covers the walls on either side and above the window.  The Saviour in the clouds dispenses blessings and curses, and is accompanied by angels who bear the symbols of the Passion.  To the left, the Virgin is kneeling; six of the Apostles are beside her; the Baptist is at the head of the remaining six to the right.  Beneath the Virgin are patriarchs and prophets – Noah with his Ark, Moses and Abraham, saints and martyrs.  In a corner of the foreground angels help one of the chosen, who is rising from the grave.  The condemned, who are on the side below St. John the Baptist, show their despair by their gestures.

Although the painting on the wall to the left has suffered much from damp and restorations, enough of the fresco remains to enable us to judge of Andrea's composition.  The Saviour and the virgin – a sweet, yet dignified and queen-like woman – are seated side by side on a throne, and higher up on either side are fiery seraphim and cherubim; beneath, the angels play on musical instruments. The rest of the space is covered with a multitude of figures – apostles, prophets, saints, and martyrs, each accompanied by his or her guardian angel, who play on instruments, sing, or are engaged in prayer.  An angel in the foreground is introducing a nun into Paradise.  The Inferno – Hell – on the opposite wall, has been wholly repainted.  Ghiberti, in his "Commentaries," attributes this fresco to Bernardo Orcagna.

A record in the Strozzi collection of documents mentions that a certain Tomaso di Rossello Strozzi, whose remains are laid beneath the chapel, ordered Andrea Orcagna to paint the altar-piece in 1354, on condition of its being finished in a year and eight months; but Orcagna was unable to fulfil that part of the contract.  The panel is divided in five compartments.  The Saviour, on a throne, is in the centre; above him are seraphim and cherubim.  He presents the Gospel to St. Thomas Aquinas, who is led to him by the Virgin, and the keys to St. Peter, who is supported by John the Baptist.  The saints kneel, and angels play musical instruments.  St. Catherine and St. Michael are behind the Virgin, St. Lawrence and St. Paul behind the Baptist.  In the centre-piece of the predella, our Saviour is saving St. Peter, who is sinking on the waters.  On one side is the celebration of mass, on the other a king dying amidst the lamentations of a crowd of spectators, whilst a monk and two angels weigh the soul of the departed in a balance, and save it from the expectant demons.  Cavalcaselle considers this altar-piece the finest panel picture by Orcagna.
St. Thomas Aquinas is represented on the coloured glass of the window, holding a head, from whence emanate rays which fall on a church he has in his other hand.   Above are the Strozzi arms, and a Virgin and child.  The window was probably also designed by Andrea Orcagna.  Beneath the staircase leading to the Strozzi Chapel, is the imitation of a sepulchre under a low arch, in which is an Entombment of Christ, attributed to Giottino.  Above is the portrait of Messer Fuligno di Carbone de' Galli da Campi, Bishop of Fiesole, who died in 1348, and was buried here.  To the right of the staircase is a small door leading to the lower church and cemetery of the friars, entered from the cloisters, the walls of which are painted in frescos attributed to Greek artists who came to Florence in 1225, and to whom the Italian painters, among whom was Cimabue, were indebted for much of their skill in art.  A small chapel contains a fresco of St. Anthony, and in the vaulting above is represented the Life of St. Benedict.  In another chapel, dedicated to St. Martin, are paintings attributed to Jacopo da Casentino, of the fourteenth century.  There is also, in a cloister adjoining this cemetery, a fine Robbia representation of Mary Magdalene in the Garden.
The door, on the left side of the staircase to the Strozzi Chapel, leads to the Bell-tower – Campanile – which was built by Fra Giovanni da Campi, a monk of Sta. Maria Novella, assisted by another friar, Fra Jacopo Talenti, in 1334.  They were both well-known architects, and rebuilt the bridge of the Carraia when it had been destroyed by a heavy flood.

The Sacristy beyond was built after a design by Fra Jacopo Talenti, and intended for a chapel for the Cavalcanti family.  It is now surrounded by presses of walnut-wood, containing the priests' garments, reliquaries, &c.  To the left of the entrance is a beautiful lavatory of terra-cotta, by Luca della Robbia – a Madonna and Child with angels, surrounded by a rich garland of flowers.  Within the arch is a landscape, and on the pilasters delicately wrought arabesques, flowers, and fruit.  The corresponding lavatory, by one Fortini, has heads of cherubim well executed.  Above the door is a Crucifix, in relief, attributed to Masaccio, but more probably by a sculptor of that name, who lived in the fifteenth century.  The window of old stained-glass here is very rich.  In one of the presses is preserved, within a reliquary, the only remaining banner of the twelve which Peter Martyr presented in this church to the twelve captains whom he sent forth on Ascension Day, 1244, to destroy the Paterini, or Heretics, in Florence.255  Here also is preserved the parchment bull256 of Gregory IX., 1227, which confirmed the order of St. Dominick. Leaving the sacristy, at the corner of the transept is a granite vase brought from the little village of the Impruneta, south of Florence, where is a miraculous picture of the Virgin:  it rests on a marble figure, the work of Michael Angelo.

The first altar in the aisle, after leaving the sacristy, contains the bones of the Beata Villana.  Above it is a picture, by Bronzino, executed in 1592, of St. Hyacinth, a Polish missionary saint, who belonged to the Dominican order.

The Organ Gallery, of perforated marble, is a copy from the original, by Baccio d' Agnolo, which the monks sold, and which is now in the Kensington Museum in London.  There are no other works of interest in this aisle, except a monument by Andrea da Fiesole, who was assisted in his work by his two scholars, Angelo Maso Boscoli and Silvio Cosini da Fiesole.  This monument, which is a simple black marble sarcophagus, was placed here to the memory of a jurisconsult named Antonio Strozzi.
The marble pulpit, with bas-reliefs picked out in gold, was executed for the Rucellai family by Maestro Lazaro, after a design by Filippo Brunelleschi.  The subjects are the Annunciation; the birth of the Saviour; the Presentation in the Temple; and the Virgin in glory, letting down her girdle to St. Thomas.

The Cloisters of Sta. Maria Novella, which are entered from the church, are very large, and adorned with fresco paintings.  The Green Cloister – Chiostro Verde – so called from the frescos around painted in terra-verde, was built early in the fourteenth century.  On the wall, close to the steps leading to the church, is a painting in tempera, by Spinello Aretino, who died in 1400 – the pupil of Jacopo da Casentino – representing Saints of the Dominican order:  San Vincenzio Ferraris, a Spaniard, 1357 – 1455, and Santa Caterina of Sienna, with the archangel Raphael.  The frescos round the cloisters contain scenes from the Old Testament.  Those nearest the church, turning to the left, are by Paolo Uccello, and represent the Creation, the Expulsion from Paradise, the Building of the Ark, and the Deluge, which last is one of the most remarkable for truth to nature, powerful drawing, and perspective – a man clings to the Ark by his fingers, whilst others are drowning; among whom one in the foreground wears a primitive specimen of a life-preserver.  The last of the series, executed by Uccello, is Noah's Sacrifice.  They were all painted between 1446 and 1448, and are the more valuable as his genuine works are rarely found in public galleries.257 The remaining frescos are by Dello Delli, 1404, inferior in execution to Uccello.  Near the entrance to the old cemetery is a fresco, in a dilapidated condition, of the crucified Saviour, probably by a scholar of Giotto's.  Within the cemetery is a fresco of great interest by Giotto; the meeting of Joachim and Anna.  It has been admirably described by Mr. Ruskin.258

Beyond the gates of the cemetery is a door with two beautiful windows, formed by an arch and twisted columns, belonging to the Spanish Chapel, so called because used on particular feat days by the Spaniards who came to Florence to attend Eleanora of Toledo, on her marriage with the Grand-Duke Cosimo I.  The frescos were then cleaned.  The altar-piece, by Alessandro Allori, represents St. James, the patron saint of Spain; and the tribune is painted in fresco by Pocetti.  The chapel was built about the middle of the fourteenth century, at the expense of a certain Buonamico Guidalotti, a rich and devout Florentine citizen, for the purpose of celebrating the festival of the Holy Sacrament, or corpus Christi, instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV.  The architect employed by Guidalotti was a Dominican monk, Fra Jacopo da Talenti da Nipozzano, of the diocese of Fiesole, who has been already mentioned as having assisted in the construction of the sacristy.  The architecture is simple; the roof groined, and supported by intersecting pointed arches.  The spaces between the ribs, and the four walls beneath them, are richly decorated with frescos, which have been usually attributed to Taddeo Gaddi and Simone Memmi, of Sienna.  There is some doubt whether Memmi painted any of the frescos, since when Guidalotti made his will in 1355, none of them were finished, and Simone Memmi died in 1345.259  The subjects were selected by another Dominican, Fra Jacopo Passavanti,260 a man of considerable literary eminence, whose writings are praised by Silvio Pellico.  He was born at Florence towards the end of the thirteenth century, and was the grandson, by his mother, of Giovanni Tornaquinci, who contributed to the choir of Sta. Maria Novella, and who fell in battle, valiantly defending the Caroccio, on the Guelphic side, at Montaperti.  Passavanti was sent by the Dominicans to Paris to complete his studies in Divinity and Humanity.  He became the Superior in the Convents of Pistoia, San Miniato, and lastly Sta. Maria Novella, and died at the age of sixty in 1357.  His monument is believed to be that beneath the Chapel of San Giovanni in the church, on which the figure of a monk may still be traced.  He was the author of the "Speechio della vera Penitenza," a book of devotion, considered a model of purity and grace of style, worthy of Boccaccio, whom he preceded by ten years.

The series of frescos commence on the eastern wall, the subject of each ascending to the space above.  The four frescos on the roof, and the whole of the wall to the left, are attributed to Taddeo Gaddi; that to the right to Simone Memmi.  Vasari relates, that Taddeo was engaged to paint the whole chapel, and had only completed part when the prior of Sta. Maria Novella invited Memmi, who had gained universal admiration by his frescos in Santo Spirito, to assist in this work.  The subject on the eastern, or altar wall, is the Procession to Calvary, the Crucifixion, and the Descent into Hades.  On the roof above is the Resurrection, painted by Taddeo Gaddi.  Lord Lindsay observes, that it is the first instance in which the Saviour's body is made the source of illumination.  On the western or entrance wall opposite, are frescos which fill up the space between the windows, the door of entrance, and the side walls; but they are so much injured by damp that they are hardly recognisable.  They represent scenes from the lives of various Dominicans – St. Thomas Aquinas receiving the habit of his Order, the Murder of St. Peter Martyr, and several miracles performed by Dominican saints.  On the ceiling above is the Ascension of our Lord, by Taddeo.  On the northern wall is the Triumph, or Glorification, of St. Thomas Aquinas, also by Gaddi; and on the ceiling, the Descent of the holy Ghost on the apostles.  This last approaches the style of the old Byzantine mosaics; the Virgin and Apostles are in a large building closed by folding doors, which various persons outside, in an Eastern costume, endeavour to open.  In the frescos beneath, St. Thomas Aquinas sits in state; he is elevated above a screen containing fourteen stalls.  The heretics Arius, Sabellius, and Averrhoes,261 lie at his feet, and he is attended by saints of the Old and New Testament.  The four Cardinal and the three Theological Virtues float above; and below, in the fourteen stalls, are the seven Profane and seven Theological Sciences, in the form of beautiful maidens, with their earthly representatives beneath them.

The subject on the southern wall is significant of the Church Militant, defended by the Dominican Order.  The representatives of the Ecclesiastical and Civil Power, the pope and the emperor, are seated on thrones.  The pope is Benedict XI.; he is accompanied by a cardinal and bishop; the emperor is Albert, and a king near him is supposed to be Philippe le Bel of France.  To the left is the spiritual army of the Church; to the right, the attendants on the emperor.  Among these is a supposed portrait of Cimabue in profile, wearing a hood and short cloak; Petrarch is near him, and Laura, with a burning heart, besides Arnolfo di Cambio, Giotto, and Simone Memmi.262  At the feet of the pope is a flock of sheep, symbolical of the faithful, as the black and white dogs which protect them are of the Dominican order.  Immediately in front, to the right, are more of these dogs, killing wolves, representing the Inquisitors destroying the heretics who had worried the sheep of Christ.  St. Dominick is again seen confessing a knight, beside whom are some dancing girls, and he points the way to paradise to those who have already received absolution at his hands.  St. Peter is in the gateway; behind him is paradise, peopled by the blessed of all ages and both sexes, with the Saviour enthroned, and the virgin Mary.  Behind the pope and emperor, and other august personages, is the cathedral of Florence, with its first cupola.  The lines over the perforated parapets are broken by statues of saints, prophets, or angels, which have all been removed, if they ever really existed.  Above this fresco is St. Peter rescued from the waves, by Taddeo Gaddi, which is the finest of the paintings on the ceiling, and supposed by Cavalcaselle to have been painted by Taddeo's pupil, Antonio Veneziano.

The Chiostro Verde communicates with another and much larger cloister; and between the two is an altar with a painting, by Simone Memmi, of a Madonna and Child, and saints, in the Greek style.  Beside the altar are two saints in fresco, by Bernardo Pocetti; and in a lunette above the gate, a Crucifix between St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Dominick, by Stefano Fiorentino, the pupil of Giotto.

The great Cloister of Sta. Maria Novella is one of the most spacious in Europe.  Until recently a statue of the Beato Giovanni di Salerno stood in the midst, but this has been removed; it is surrounded by frescos representing incidents in the lives of saints of the order, separated by pilasters, on each of which is a portrait of a Dominican friar.  The frescos in the lunettes are the best; and the fourth to the right represents St. Peter Martyr and his followers fighting with heretics in the Piazza della Croce al Trebbio.  The column is crowned with a statue of Peter Martyr, as it once appeared.  The thirteenth lunette, by Cosimo Gamberucci, has an historical interest, because it represents Fra Giovanni di Salerno founding the Church of Sta. Maria Novella, on the site of Sta. Maria delle Vigne, which is ceded to the Tornaquinci family, in presence of the papal legate.  The twentieth lunette, by Santi di Tito, represents angels supplying the table of St. Dominick and his monks.  Near a glass door which opens on the Farmacia, or dispensary of the friars, is a lunette by Giovanni Balducci, containing a fresco representing Sant' Antonino received by the Signory of Florence on the Ringhiera of the Palazzo Vecchio.  It is interesting, both for the costumes of the period and because a picture of the Ringhiera.  A chapel in the cloister, built by Messer Agnolo degl' Acciajoli, in 1303, when Bishop of Florence, was ceded by the friars to the Council of Eight, during the Ciompi Riots.

The principal entrance to the Farmacia is in the Via della Scala, where the stone framework of the door is carved in fruit and flowers by a modern artist.  After passing through a corridor and anteroom, we arrive at a small vaulted chapel, with beautiful frescos by Spinello Aretino.  The two frescos on the wall to the right of the window represent the Scourging of the Saviour, who looks reproachfully at his persecutors; and Christ bearing the Cross, in which the women who follow are pushed back by soldiers.  Over these frescos, in a lunette, Christ is represented blindfold on a throne, and mocked by the Jews.  Facing the window is a Pietà; the Virgin kisses the lips of the Saviour; the mourning women are behind her; St. John kisses his hand, and St. Peter is weeping at the feet, whilst gazing at the Saviour's face, and raising the cloth on which he lies; the other spectators look on in wonder and sadness.  Next this fresco is a "Noli me tangere."  The earnest, prayerful gaze of the Magdalene, and the thoughtful expression of the Saviour, are given with much beauty.  Lovely angels tell the women at the tomb that Christ has risen.  Above is the Crucifixion, in which St. Jerome's lion, seated, forms a curious balance to the fainting Virgin:  the soldiers cast lots for the garment.  On the wall to the left is the Last Supper, and Christ washing the feet of his disciples; and above is Christ with the tribute money.

Beyond this chapel are the rooms used for distilling from various flowers and herbs, as well as ante-chambers, where are sold perfumes, &c., manufactured by the friars.  All this part of the former monastery looks on the great cloister.  A large and lofty apartment, built in 1848, and richly gilt and ornamented is reserved for the reception of royal personages.  The pictures, busts, &c., which ornament these rooms, are not of any great value.



Allori, Alessandro 1535 – 1607
Aquinas, St. Thomas 1226 – 1274
Baccio Bandinelli 1493 – 1560
Baccio d' Agnolo 1462 – 1543
Benedict XI., Pope 1303 – 1304
Brunelleschi, Filippo 1379 – 1446
Campanile of Sta. Maria Novella built 1334
Dello Delli 1404 – 1463
Donatello 1386 – 1466
Gaddi, Taddeo 1300 – 1366
Giottino Living in 1395
Jacopo da Casentino Middle of Fourteenth Century.
Memmi, Simone 1215(?) – 1344
Orcagna, Andrea 1308(?) – 1368(?)
Philippe le Bel of France reigned 1285 – 1314
Raffaello da Montelupo 1505 – 1567
Robbia, Luca della 1400 – 1482
San Gallo, Giuliano di 1445 – 1516
Spinello, Aretino d. 1410
Uccello, Paolo 1397 – 1475
Veneziano, Antonio, elected to the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries 1374


253 See chapter on Sta. Croce.
254 Ellen Orton, original owner of the book from which this etext is prepared, noted from her visit in May 1880:  "The Orcagna frescos are difficult to see.  The Chapel is so narrow that one can hardly get far enough off the frescoes to focus them with opera glasses."
255 See vol. i. of this work, "Bigallo and Misericordia."
256 Bull – bolla, stamped or sealed document.
257 See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle:"  Life of Paolo Uccello.
258 See "Mornings in Florence – The Golden Gate," by John Ruskin.
259 Cavalcaselle considers these frescos overpraised, and that they are all by one hand, probably a scholar of the Siennese school who painted the fresco of San Ranieri in the Campo Santo of Pisa, possibly a certain Andrea di Florentia.  See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. i. p. 376; vol. ii. p. 89.
260 See Lord Lindsay's "Christian Art," vol. iii. p. 30.
261 Arius, born in Libya in the fourth century, died 336; Sabellius, born in the Ptolemaid, was condemned by the Alexandrian Council, 261; Averrhoes, born at Cordova, in Spain, in the twelfth century, died in Morocco, 1198.
262 Cavalcaselle throws great doubts on the authenticity of these portraits.  See "Crowe and Cavalcaselle," vol. ii. p. 86.

Chapter XXXIII:  The Via della Scala – Gardens of the Oricellari – Sta. Lucia – Borg' Ogni Santi – Lung' Arno Acciajoli – Bridges


ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING: Embroidering of Pomegranates: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Courtship || Casa Guidi italiano/English || Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Aurora Leigh || Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Florence: || Preface  italiano/English || Poetry  italiano/English || Laurel Garland: Women of the Risorgimento || Death and the Emperor in the Poetry of Dante, Browning, Dickinson and Stevens|| Enrico Nencioni on Elizabeth Barrett Browning italiano ||

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