Santa Maria Novella is, for many coming to Florence, the very first artwork they will meet. Even if it is not as famous as her “big sister”, Santa Maria del Fiore, the church and its cloister are definitely worth a visit.
Santa Maria Novella, one of the monastic churches of Florence
While Santa Maria del Fiore is not related to a monastic order, Santa Maria Novella is a Dominican church, being the Dominican one of the three main medieval Mendicant Orders, along with the Santa Croce church (Holy CRoss, Franciscan) and Santo Spirito (Holy Spirit, Augustinian).
A little church in the Florence outskirts…
In 1219 twelve Dominican monks come to Florence from Bologna and in 1221 they grant the right to use a small church outside the Florence wall: Santa Maria tra le Vigne (St. Mary of the vineyard).
Think big (with the help of the Pope)
In 1242 the now established and flourishing Dominican Florence community starts planning the extension of the small church.
Pope Innocent IV allow the Dominicans to grant indulgences in favour of whom have contributed with donations to the works.
The works start around 1246; the consecration is just in 1420 (Santa Maria del Fiore will be consecrated by Pope Martin V, who was actually living in Florence, not in Rome).
Between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance
Santa Maria Novella is a Romanesque-Gothic church to which it happened to be… in the cradle of Renaissance.
The Rucellai family, funding the work of the architect Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472), gave Santa Maria del Fiore that Renaissance boost: the beautiful façade.
Troubled times and further changes
The church will face the “rethinking” of the catholic ecclesiastical architecture along the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563).
Between 1565 and 1571 the ubiquitous Giorgio vasari will reshape the choir and the side altars, giving the church more severity.
More works date to 1858 – 1860.
Santa Maria Novella Today
The Santa Maria Novella church and convent complex is now a museum: its artworks are the keepsake of how much importance Santa Maria Novella had in the history of Florence; we’ll discover that artworks in another post… 😉
Meanwhile, take a look at the Santa Maria Novella Official Site.