TOSCANA - Firenze
FILE : S. Maria Novella Church 0

The S. Maria Novella monastery belongs to the wide urban rearrangement that took place in Florence in the XIII century. While several interventions promoted by the town government were radically renovating the centre, the suburban area was being vitalized by the settling of several mendicant friars. First to settle at S. Maria Novella in 1221 were the Dominicans, on the north-west part of the town walls; some years later, in 1226, the Franciscans founded their seat at S. Croce, eastward, opposite to the Domenican monastery that was the other main suburban pole. Beyond the Arno river, the Augustinians settled down at S. Spirito (1250) and the Carmelites at the Carmine (1268). Their convents developed as active urban poles, often in competition with one another: the large squares in front of the churches realized by the Commune authorities, acted as placed for preaching and religious manifestations, while inside the monasteries the hospitals established an efficient town health service.

The Dominicans settled down at S. Maria Novella in 1219, when St. Domenic sent twelve monks from Bologna that obtained that seat by the Canons of the cathedral in 1221. New works in order to enlarge the monastery started in 1222. In 1246 during the renovations at the church, the orientation of the same changed from east/west to north/south.

In 1279, some years before the fifth city walls included it in the town territory, the foundation stone was laid.

In the new church, one of the most coherent examples of the Italian gothic, the constructive elements of the international gothic were interpreted following a space sensitiveness of Romanesque origins, reacting against its vertical tension: the upward run implicit in the pillars-cross vaults system is slowed down by the almost round-arched ogives that the black and white lines of the ribs highlight.

The same constituent balance can be observed in the windows : the grandiose three-lancet window in the choir gives light to the end side of the cross plan but it doesn’t decompose the firm conclusive lay out. While in the naves the modest proportions of the lancets and roundels do not alter the visual consistency of the clear and luminous side walls.

The façade, realized by L.B. Alberti in 1456 on assignment by the merchant Bernardo Rucellai, is an innovative completion and at the same time respectful of the two pre-existing elements: the high and narrow gothic arches on the ground floor and, in the second order, the high opening of the large rose window. As Wittkower pointed out in his renowned work Principi architettonici nell’età dell’Umanesimo , the various architectural elements used by Alberti such as the tympanum, the attic, the volutes, the columns, gain a particular valence as they are part of a proportional system of ratios 1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:4 (unison, octave, fifth, fourth) which are the base of Pythagorean musical harmony. Albert himself, in his text De re aedificatoria (book IX, chapter 5) specifies that the architects in their works point out those harmonic ratios immanent in nature and expressed in the music.


As for the cultural role of S. Maria Novella see  

Plan of the Church of S. Maria Novella

The orientation of the building is shifted if compared to the traditional one, with an eastern apse which C.V.M.A. refers to for its numeration