Saturday, March 26, 2016

Florence Day 9: Santa Maria Novella

Having learned our lesson the hard way by cramming our itinerary too full on our first day in Florence, we took a break in the midst of the Duomo and San Lorenzo sightseeing to head back to our B&B for a nap. Once we'd rested a bit, we stopped in to Santa Maria Novella, just down the street.

photo: Hayden
The main crucifix at the front of the church, painted by Giotto, dates to 1290:


This basilica was the home of my favorite frescoes and also some fascinating art lessons.
First is Masaccio's Trinità, painted in 1424-25 and said to be one of the very first Renaissance paintings to use perspective in a mathematically calculated way.

What I didn't notice until after we got home and I was looking up information about this painting was the memento mori (reminder of mortality--a common practice in medieval times) underneath. Below the crucifixion scene is a cadaver tomb with the epigram "Io fui già quel che voi siete e quel che io son voi ancor sarete"
I was once what you are, and what I am you will become. 
photo: Wikipedia
This is meant to be a morbid, ominous reminder that the viewer of the painting will one day be as dead as the cadaver portrayed over the tomb. Yet in light of the Easter season and the sermons our pastor has recently been preaching from 1 Corinthians 15 on the resurrection, I read this epigram as wildly, beautifully hopeful. It's not merely an accompaniment to the cadaver tomb, it's also an appropriate caption to the portrayal of Jesus, who says to His followers: I was once what you are (clothed in human flesh)--and what I am now (resurrected in glory to live forever), you will become!

It's so strange to think that there was a time when artists did not understand or use perspective correctly. But one of the other notable paintings in the back of the basilica, Pietro di Miniato's Annunciation, is a striking example. 

Painted in the late 1300s, it feels "off" somehow when you look at it. Steve drew me a little diagram to explain exactly what was wrong with it .

The main chapel next to the central altar, known as Tornabuoni Chapel or Cappella Maggiore, was painted in 1485-1490 by Domenico Ghirlandaio. 

These frescoes are among the best preserved/most complete frescoes in Florence; the wall portraying scenes from the life of John the Baptist was probably my favorite of all the frescoes we saw in Italy.

I was also struck by a couple of scenes in Bonaiuto's Spanish Chapel (1365-67) that were particularly beautiful or interesting. First, Jesus pulling Peter up after his failed attempt to walk on water:

And then The Descent Into Limbo from The Passion and Resurrection of Christ:

Outside you find the cloisters--


many with ancient frescoes or beautifully painted detailing:

The Cloister of the Dead was used for burials especially in the 13th and 14th centuries:

I was particularly struck by this heartbreaking epitaph. Roughly translated, it says, "After giving 16 days of happiness to her parents, she died January 14, 1843. She flew to the heavens."

A Flickr user I discovered has a whole album of wonderful Santa Maria Novella photos worth checking out--I've posted a few here, but she has many more to enjoy.

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I think "Annunciation" was another piece I studied in Art History class. So fun.