Santa Maria Novella church tour is an extraordinary immersion in the splendour of the Florentine Renaissance. The complex, one of the three most important in Florence for spirituality and art together with the Duomo and Santa Croce, allows you to appreciate absolute masterpieces of the history of Italian art, from the Renaissance period in particular. With a 2-hour tour we immerse ourselves in the beauties kept inside the church, such as Masaccio’s Trinity and Giotto‘s painted Cross, we see the beautiful Chiostro verde (Green Cloister), with paintings by artists such as Paolo Uccello, we will then visit the fascinating space of the Cappellone degli Spagnoli, to then enter the space of the Refectory, where we will see here the fantastic preserved paintings by Paolo Uccello with the mysterious and intriguing frescoes of the Genesis Stories, and will conclude with a visit to the majestic large cloister, all frescoed with Stories of San Domenico and other Dominicans, and then with the disorienting space of the dormitory.
The emblematic Leon Battista Alberti’s façade
We begin Santa Maria Novella church tour from the outside, admiring its beautiful façade. One of the most elegant creations of the Florentine Renaissance, the façade of the church is one of the masterpieces of the architect Leon Battista Alberti, a distinguished personality in the history of Italian architecture. The great scholar, in fact, who theorised Brunelleschi’s studies on perspective in a treatise, created a façade that is admired for the high level of harmony achieved.
In addition to the magnificent example of architecture, what we are going to discover on this façade are some symbols receding a superficial glance, such as the emblem of the merchant who commissioned the decoration.
We also see together some elements related to astronomical studies, carried out at the convent of Santa Maria Novella by Egnazio Danti. Although this is a little known name to most, we will see how the role of this character has forever changed the way we conceive the days of the calendar …
From the outside it will then be time to approach the entrance. In doing so we pass a beautiful marble enclosure, all surrounded by very deep arches called avelli. These ancient burials were used over time to bury the bodies of the dead who in life were particularly linked to the Basilica; among these, we also find the ancient tomb of a well-known Renaissance painter. You will be amused by the anecdote that lies behind the tombs and that is still part of a typical Florentine saying today.
Once you cross the threshold you will be amazed by the solemn space elegantly marked by a forest of columns and pointed arches, perhaps the most properly completed example of Gothic architecture in Florence.
Starting in the visit from the bottom we see the altars with the imposing altarpieces painted from the second half of the 16th-century to renew the original pictorial decoration of the church.
Among the various altars we reach the one where, not many years ago, one of the frescoes, an absolute masterpiece of Renaissance painting, was brought to light: the Trinity by Masaccio. Painted by the pioneer painter of the Florentine pictorial perspective, the work is a cornerstone of the entire history of art, a symbol as it is the perspective development of depth.
Continuing towards the main altar, you will admire from near the center of the nave another pivotal work of art history: the painted Cross by Giotto, once always kept at this level of the church but positioned on a structure that once furnished the church; its disappearance is due to a very specific historical event.
Following with the visit of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, one of the most beautiful artistic experiences you will ever have in Florence will be the view of the high walls of the main chapel, all beautifully frescoed by Domenico Ghirlandaio with the Stories of Mary and St. John the Baptist. The registers on which the salient episodes of the two characters are arranged are a fundamental testimony of all Renaissance painting, in which the artist lavished so much effort and technique, to the point that what you will have in front of your eyes can be considered to all intents and purposes. his greatest masterpiece.
The mystery of the Greek patriarch buried here
After admiring the very elegant Ghirlandaio’s figures, we see where the remains of Joseph II, patriarch of Constantinople in the 15th-century, rest. But if the tomb of the religious is one of the many in this church, the strange presence of an Orthodox patriarch in a Catholic building is a rather rare circumstance: we will discover together the reason for this unusual presence.
We enter the first cloister of the complex, immediately connected to the church, called the “Chiostro verde” (Green Cloister) due to the use of green as the prevailing color of the frescoes that decorate this environment. Before going further, you cannot miss a tour of the entire quadrangle to contemplate the vision of the cloister, its vegetation and the unexpected atmosphere of peace in which the centuries-old walls seem to miraculously keep away the daily bustle of the city that flows a few meters from here.
The green cloister leads to one of the most evocative spaces of the whole complex: the “Capellone degli Spagnoli” (the Spanish Chapel). This room, once the Chapter Hall of the Dominican friars, today preserves a cycle of frescoes of rare beauty, created in the second half of the 14th-century to celebrate the role of the Order in the re-evangelisation of faithful threatened by heretical currents, as well as to emphasise the centrality of Dominicans in theological knowledge, as shown by the large fresco with St. Thomas Aquinas inthroned; the figures of three men in a meditative attitude at his feet, together with the Liberal Arts each represented with a truly curious symbol – as well as the spotted dogs that bite the wolves painted on the opposite wall – herald a fascinating depth of meanings that we will discover together.
Our Santa Maria Novella church tour continues with a visit to the Refectory, an ancient meeting and convivial place for the Dominican friars, today a shelter for some of the most mysterious paintings of the Florentine Renaissance: the Genesis Stories frescoed by the painter Paolo Uccello and preserved here today, after their detachment from the green cloister.
The figures represented in an unusual light, with the ‘double’ presence of elements referring to the salvation of man after the Last Judgment, have to do, as you will discover, with an important historical event that took place in Florence in the years in which the artist made these images in the green cloister.
The last stop of our Basilica of Santa Maria Novella complex tour will be the Great Cloister, a huge space, with the tune of sixty metres wide on each side, where the artists of the 16th and 17th century have frescoed the stories of Christ in parallel with scenes from St. Domenic’s life.
An intoxicating kaleidoscope of images and stories is what you will contemplate with a Basilica of Santa Maria Novella guided tour, an unexpected experience of wonderful images and art that are still kept a few metres from where life and chaos continue to flow.