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Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

The façade of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella


XIII-XV centuries


Fra' Sisto da Firenze, fra' Ristoro da Campi, Fra' Jacopo Passavanti, Fra' Jacopo Talenti, Leon Battista Alberti

The Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is located in the homonymous square. The basilica is an important dominican religious and cultural center. In 1242 the dominican community began the work of a new and larger building, above the small church of Santa Maria delle Vigne. The project, according to controversial sources, is attributed to two dominican monks, fra ‘Sisto da Firenze and fra Ristoro da Campi, but Fra’ Jacopo Passavanti also seems to have taken part in the building, while the bell tower and a good part of the convent is due to the intervention by Fra ‘Jacopo Talenti. The works ended in the middle of the XIV century, while the consecration took place in 1420. The typically Renaissance façade mainly in white Apuan Marble and Serpentinite, was smaller than the current one. It was started already at the end of the XIII century, and, during the XIV century, the tombs, the gothic side doors, the ornamentation with panels and blind arches up to the first cornice and the rose window, were placed. Leon Battista Alberti (under the patronage of Giovanni Rucellai) completed the façade at the end of the 15th century. Alberti covered the remaining parts, harmonizing it with the already existing parts, through the use of marble inlays. The position of the inlays are never random, but placed in a sequence suggesting a movement; this is because Alberti takes up the Aristotelian concept that nature is movement and art has to follow nature representing it. The lower part was left unmodified; the portal, inspired to the Pantheon and framed by pillar-columns, which are also found on the sides, was added. The façade of this basilica is the only one in Firenze entirely completed, except for the right “sail” which was covered only in 1920, in the second half of the XV century.  The lunettes above the doors were painted by Ulisse Ciocchi between 1616 and 1618. On the façade there are also some scientific instruments added in 1572-1574: on the left, an equinoctial armilla in bronze and, on the right, an astronomical quadrant in marble with gnomon, by Fra Ignazio Danti from Perugia.

In the façade the coating of the tombs is in white Marble of the Montagnola Senese; the jambs of the side doors are in Gabbro; the claddings are in white Apuan Marble; the decorations are in Serpentinite and Red Marly Limestone; the pillar columns at the sides of the central door and at the lateral sides are in Serpentinite; in the upper part there is a coating in Alberese Limestone; the base of the façade is in Pietraforte Sandstone. The bell tower, the side parts and the back are in Pietraforte Sandstone. The lunettes above the doors are in fresco.

The central door of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
The upper part of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella façade
The lateral coating of the tombs in white Marble
The jambs of the side door in Gabbro