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Santa Maria Novella Abbey

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Credits Collegamento Immagine Autore: Ed Webster Licenza: CC BY 2.0

Santa Maria Novella is the first of the great Florentine basilicas. The name "Novella" (new), comes from having replaced on the square an oratory of the ninth century, already enlarged in 1094, called Santa Maria delle Vigne. In 1221 this church and the surrounding area were assigned to the Dominican friars, who immediately began the transformation.

The construction of the magnificent headquarters of the powerful Dominican Order, began in 1246 at the hands of two architect monks: frà Sisto Fiorentino and frà Ristoro da Campi.The work was completed in 1360 under the direction of Fra Iacopo Talenti, author of the Cappellone degli Spagnoli (1350-55), the Refectory of the convent (1353) and the large cuspidate bell tower in Romanesque-Gothic style (1330). In 1470 Leon Battista Alberti completed the façade, where the medieval elements were admirably harmonized with the new parts of the Albertian project. The relationships of the parts between them and with the all-tone established by a harmonious proportional system derived from simple relationships (one to one, one to two, one to three, etc.) that are at the base of musical harmony. This system allowed Alberti to define the position and size of each element of the elevation. The one-to-two ratio governs the composition of the entire façade, which is inscribed in a square, while a smaller square (with side equal to half of the larger one) establishes the relationship between the two floors, decomposes the lower part and circumscribes the upper central part. This relationship is maintained for all the elements of the elevation, so that the whole façade is geometrically constructed on the basis of a progressive halving or doubling of the measurements, always maintaining the same proportion.

The facade of the church can be inscribed in a square.

Dividing the square in two according to a horizontal line, the upper part, in relation to the square between the scrolls, is equal to a quarter.

By dividing this surface in two again, we obtain surface sixteenths that accurately inscribe lateral volutes.

The central portal is one and a half times its width (ratio of 2/3);

The height of the central hinged band is equal to the width of the side portals and the avelli, and is seven times the height of the lower order.

The sides of the inlaid squares on the central band are one third of the height of the band itself and twice the diameter of the columns of the lower part.

The Sol Invictus represented on the tympanum is the emblem of the district of Santa Maria Novella, but also a symbol of strength and reason

The diameter of the round of the Sun is exactly half of the diameter of the rosette (including the frame) and is equal to that of the circles in the scrolls.

The lunettes above the doors were painted by Ulysses Ciocchi between 1616 and 1618. The central one represents Saint Thomas Aquinas praying in front of the crucifix (in the background the Rucellai crest and the Corpus Domini procession that began in Santa Maria Novella) . The lateral portraits depict two characters of the Old Testament traditionally linked to the Eucharistic allegory: Aaron with the manna, on the right, and Melchisedech with the loaves, on the left.

The Basilica has a Latin cross plan, divided into three naves with six large spans that shrink towards the altar (11.50 m towards the altar against the 15 towards the facade), giving the sensation of a greater length of the real one. The roofing is entrusted to the ribbed cross vaults with pointed arches, decorated with two-colored green and white marble blocks, supported by polystile pillars, that is to say in mixed sections. The amplitude of the central nave and its height at the limit of the static possibilities for a building of this kind make the side aisles seem airily fused in a single wide classroom. A large partition once separated the presbytery, the area reserved for religious, from the longitudinal naves where the faithful took their places, but was demolished between 1565 and 1571, when Vasari worked on commission of Cosimo I. In the same period the single lancet windows along the nave, in order to leave the space at the bottom for new side altars. The floor once housed numerous tombstones, which were selected in the restoration of 1857-1861 and partly placed between the side pillars. Also in the nineteenth century the central altar was reconstructed, in neo-Gothic style, and the windows and side altars were recomposed, giving the church its current appearance.


Altars of the left aisle.
Numerous and very high profile are the works of art, among which stands out the Trinità di Masaccio, an experimental work on the use of perspective, about which Vasari had to say: "It seems that the wall is pierced". It represents one of the most important masterpieces of Renaissance art, the implementation of new stylistic canvasses in painting, as well as the architectural achievements of Brunelleschi and sculptors of Donatello. The sacred scene is set in a monumental classical architecture, designed with a realistic vanishing point to be viewed from below, while the figure of God supports the Cross of Christ, with a majestic, eloquent and solemn attitude. Even the figures of the clients, the Lenzi spouses, kneeling on the sides of the scene, represent a very important novelty, painted for the first time in a natural dimension, not small contour figures, and with a remarkable realism beyond which also shines their sense of religiosity and devotion. The writing on the sarcophagus is a memento mori. Also in the nave are some tombs, such as the tomb of the Bishop of Fiesole di Tino di Camaino and another of Nino Pisano.

Altars of the right aisle.
Near the first pillar at the counter-façade is the marble stoup, on a small red cross, a work of French manufacture of 1412. On the altar that corresponds to the first span is the canvas with the Martyrdom of San Lorenzo, a work of Girolamo Macchietti of 1573. On the second is a Nativity by Giovan Battista Naldini, dated 1577, while near is the tomb of Beata Villana (died in 1381), imporatnte work of Renaissance sculpture (1451): the face of the blessed was sculpted by Bernardo Rossellino, the angel on the left by Antonio Rossellino and the one on the right by Desiderio da Settignano. The third altar presents the canvas of the Presentation to the temple, also by Naldini (1577), and nearby is the tomb of the Blessed Giovanni da Salerno, a fifteenth-century work, however the effigy was dispersed during the restoration of the church of 1570, new sculpture was sculpted by Vincenzo Danti following a fifteenth-century style. In the fourth bay, another altarpiece by Naldini, the Deposition, stands on the altar. On the sides are the monument to Ruggero Minerbetti, by Silvio Cosini (around 1528-1530) and to the right by Tommaso Minerbetti, renovated in the second half of the sixteenth century. The fifth altar was used by the companies of the Pilgrim and the Temple and is decorated by the Preaching of St. Vincent Ferrer and the Redeemer of Jacopo Coppi, known as il del Meglio. The sixth and last altar, shortly after a door leading to the Cappella della Pura (now accessible from the enclosure of the avelli, see below), is decorated by the San Raimondo who resurrects a boy, by Jacopo Ligozzi (1620-1623), while close to the corner is the funeral monument of Giovan Battista Ricasoli (died in 1572), in marble, attributed to Romolo del Tadda.

The transept is crossed by a short staircase that leads to the altars and the rear chapels and which replaces the partition of the presbytery from the Vasarian restructuring of 1565-1571. It consists of three square-based spans, a large central chapel, almost as large as the entire central span, and two pairs of half-width popsteriore chapels. There are also two raised chapels at the ends, from which you can also access the sacristy (on the left) and the Cappella Della Pura (on the right). In the keystone of the cruises are symbolic figures in stone, carved and gilded in the fourteenth century.

On the right side there are three wall tombs of considerable interest:
* The tomb of Tedice Aliotti, bishop of Fiesole who died in 1336, attributed to Maso di Banco (above).
* The tomb of Fra 'Aldovrabndo Cavalcanti, bishop of Orvieto who died in Florence in 1279 (left).
* The tomb of Joseph, patriarch of Constantinople who died in Florence during the council in 1440, with a mural painting of an anonymous Florentine author depicting the deceased between two angels (below).
Near the steps to the Rucellai Chapel is the tombstone of Corrado della Penna, Bishop of Fiesole who died in 1312, the work of the circle of Arnolfo di Cambio.

The Major Chapel or Cappella Tornabuoni is located in the center of the church behind the main altar. The central Crucifix is ​​a work by Giambologna. The choir holds a very important cycle of frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio, to whom probably a very young Michelangelo Buonarroti worked, then in his workshop. Episodes from the Life of the Virgin and Saint John are depicted, set in contemporary Florence and with numerous portraits of patrons and Florentine personalities of the time, a typical feature of Ghirlandaio. On the back wall are depicted the scenes of St. Dominic that burns heretical books, The martyrdom of St. Peter, The Annunciation and St. John in the desert. The Evangelists are represented on the segments of the vault.

The Chapel of Filippo Strozzi is on the right of the central chapel and is decorated with a splendid cycle of frescoes by Filippino Lippi, with stories of the lives of St. Philip the Apostle and St. John the Evangelist (completed before 1502). On the right side St. Philip drives the dragon from the temple of Hierapolis and on the lunette The crucifixion of St. Philip; on the left Saint John resurrects Drusiana and on top The martyrdom of Saint John; in the lunettes of the vault Adam, Noah, Abraham and Jacob. Particular importance is given to the central scenes of the frescoes, set in imaginative classical architecture, in which a clash between Christian culture and paganism is fought, a theme then of burning current relevance as it was the period of Savonarola's rule. Behind the altar is the tomb of Filippo Strozzi, sculpted by Benedetto da Maiano (1491-1495).

The Bardi Chapel is the second on the right and was by Alessandro Bardi from the beginning of the fifteenth century. The high relief on the right pillar portrays San Gregorio blessing Riccardo Bardi and is from that period. The frescoes are instead of the three hundred, attributed by some to Spinello Aretino. The Madonna del Rosaio on the altar is by Giorgio Vasari (1568).

The Rucellai Chapel is located in a raised position at the end of the right arm of the transept and dates back to the fourteenth century. There is a maritime statue of Madonna with a child by Nino Pisano, from the mid-fourteenth century. Unfortunately, the frescoes are very damaged and remain only fragments attributed to the Maestro of Santa Cecilia (restored in 1989). The panel on the left wall was painted by Giuliano Bugiardini, while the bronze funeral monument in the center of the floor was built by Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1425. Once upon a time, the Madonna Rucellai was placed here in the Uffizi.

To the left of the main chapel is the Gondi Chapel, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo (1503), where the Crucifix by Filippo Brunelleschi, the only known wooden sculpture of the great Florentine architect, is preserved. According to a story reported by Vasari, Brunelleschi would have carved it in response to the Crucifix by Donatello preserved in Santa Croce and defined by him as primitive. The vaults contain vaults of frescos among the oldest of the church, of the fourteenth century attributed to Greek-Byzantine craftsmen. The window is recent and dates back to the last century.

At the bottom of the left arm of the transept, symmetrically raised to the Rucellai Chapel, is the Strozzi Chapel of Mantua, to distinguish it from that of Filippo Strozzi. Also this is covered with valuable frescoes, which date back to 1350-57, among the best works by Nardo di Cione (brother of Andrea Orcagna), and represent the kingdoms of the heavens structured according to the Divine Comedy by Dante: on the back wall the Judgment Universal, where there is also a portrait of Dante, on the right the Inferno and on the left the Paradiso. On the high altar The Redentone with Madonna and Saints of Orcagna. The two brothers also prepared the cardboard for the window of the chapel.

The Sacristy opens in the left aisle and was initially built around 1380 as the Chapel of the Annunciation. It preserves a Crucifix with Madonna and San Giovanni Evangelista, a large youth work by Giotto (before 1312). here is also a marble and glazed earthenware source by Giovanni della Robbia (1498). The cabinets with doors were designed by Bernardo Buontalenti in 1593, while the paintings on the walls are works of Giorgio Vasari and other Mannerist painters. The large gothic window was built in 1386 on a design by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini.

The avelli and the cemetery.
The avellas are arcosolium niches used as burial arches, both in the lower part of the façade, and later in the enclosure of the small cemetery on the right, along the street that takes its name, via degli Avelli. The avellis were real burial sites in which the bodies were walled in a fetal position, so that, not being buried, from the cracks and cracks of the graves were sometimes released intense and repellent smells, for which the Via degli Avelli was sadly known: there is the Tuscan saying that says "stink like an avellar". The road was originally very narrow and only with the rehabilitation works in 1867 took the route today, paved and then pedestrianized in the 90s of the twentieth century.

The small cemetery, with cypress trees that were planted only in the nineteenth century, opens to the left of the basilica, in a land used as a burial place until the end of the nineteenth century (with free entry). In the inner enclosure we find the motif of the avelli with carved coats of arms, although here the slabs used are in pietraforte and in less good conditions than in the outside arches.

At the Cappella Della Pura it is now possible to access this small enclosure, and is used only as a place for worship when the basilica is open for sightseeing. The chapel dates back to 1474, when it was reconstructed by Ricasoli to create an image considered miraculous, the Madonna with child and Santa Caterina, a fourteenth-century work once frescoed in the vault of the Della Luna. Since then it is located in the chapel within an elegant marble temple. Today's appearance of the chapel today is neoclassical, after the nineteenth-century restructuring by Gaetano Baccani, who kept partly the original columns of the Renaissance period, adding symmetrically altars and some stucco pilasters, which created two tribunes at the two ends.

On the altar the wooden crucifix is ​​the same venerated by Blessed Villana, and is made up of the cedar cross of Lebanon, with quadrilobi painted with scenes from the Life of Christ: this oldest part was restored in 1980 and turned out to be a precious artifact English from the 13th century. The carved wooden Christ, on the other hand, is later and according to some sources it was the work of a Florentine influenced by the Rhenish art around 1320-1340.


Galileo Galilei.
In December 1614, from the pulpit of the church (commissioned by the Rucellai family in 1443, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built by Cavalcanti), the first attack against the discoveries of Galileo Galilei was fired. The Dominican Tommaso Caccini denounced the heretical character of the Copernican system, also involving Galileo who was a supporter of it. Some disciples of the Pisan scientist reacted to this and Caccini referred to the Inquisitor of Florence to stop "certain petulant talents". In the letters to Benedetto Castelli of 1613 and to Cristina di Lorena of 1615, Galileo claimed the autonomy of science from faith. On 24 February 1616 the Church of Rome condemned the heliocentric thesis and on 5 March decreed the suspension of the work of Copernicus until it was corrected. With the admonition to Galileo to abandon the Copernican hypothesis, by Bellarmino, what was called the first trial of Galileo was completed.


Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Credits Collegamento Immagine Autore: Carlo Raso Licenza: P. Dominio

Pianta della Basilica di SMN
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Credits Di CF-NDB - Fotografia autoprodotta (Descrizione originale: “selbst fotografiert”),
Pubblico dominio, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17284578

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Credits Collegamento Immagine Autore: Justin Ennis Licenza: CC BY 2.0

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Credits Di I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5,

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Credits Di Sailko - Opera propria, CC BY 2.5,


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