Frescoes in the Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence (1366-67)
by ANDREA DA FIRENZE

The Cappellone degli Spagnoli (Spanish Chapel), located in what is called the Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister) on the west side of the nave of Santa Maria Novella, was erected around 1350 as the chapter house of the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria Novella. The chapter house became the "Spanish Chapel" only after 1566, when the Dominicans allowed the Spanish community in Florence to use it for worship.

The patron of the chapel was Mico (Buonamico) Guadalotti. The decoration of the space, which is rectangular in plan and spanned by a large quadripartite vault, was undertaken only in January 1366, after more than ten years had passed since the death of the patron. The executor of the patron's will concluded a contract with the painter Andrea Bonaiuto (Andrea da Firenze) according to which Andrea was to decorate the chapter house within the next two years.

A complex program of imagery in the form of large allegories and narrative paintings unfolds in Andrea's frescoes, which extend over all four walls and the vaulting of the space. The program is in part based on the writings of Fra Jacopo Passavanti, a well-known preacher and one of the executors of the patron's will.

The end wall (the north wall) of the chancel chapel is devoted entirely to three scenes from the Passion of Christ: the Bearing of the Cross at bottom left, the Crucifixion in the middle, and the Descent into Hell at bottom right. The subject of the east wall, which unfolds in several registers and stages has been given many different names. Since the 16th century it has usually been known as "Ecclesia militans" and "Ecclesia triumphans." More recently it has been described as the "Via veritatis," the Church as the Path to Salvation.

While the main thematic emphasis on the east wall is on the pastoral and missionary work of the Dominicans, the fresco on the west wall - which is generally known as the Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas, even if this is not an accurate description - has as its fundamental theme the scientific and academic contributions of the order, exemplified in the person of Aquinas. On the entrance wall (south wall) seven scenes from the life of St Peter Martyr, another saint of the Dominican order, are located. The thematic accent of the scenes has primarily placed on the saint's posthumous miracles.

On the vault, the thematic continuation of the Passion scenes is found in the Resurrection, the Miracle of Pentecost, and the Ascension of Christ, to which is added, as the fourth vault image, a free copy of the famous mosaic by Giotto known as the Navicella, from the Old St. Peter's.

The prevailing view of the scholars today is that the frescoes' interest lies primarily in the content of the images and the pictorial program, with artistic achievement being a secondary concern.



Preview Picture Data Info
Bearing of the Cross, Crucifixion, Descent into Hell (north wall)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Crucifixion (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Crucifixion (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Crucifixion (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Bearing of the Cross
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Bearing of the Cross (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Descent into Hell
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Descent into Hell (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (east wall)
1366-67
Fresco, width of wall 9,6 m
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (east wall)
1366-67
Fresco, width of wall 9,6 m
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (east wall)
1366-67
Fresco, width of wall 9,6 m
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (east wall)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Church as the Path to Salvation (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (west wall)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Scenes from the Life of St Peter Martyr (south wall, detail)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Vault frescoes
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Resurrection (north vault cell)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Salvation of Peter (Navicella) (east vault cell)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Miracle of Pentecost (west vault cell)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Ascension of Christ (south vault cell)
1366-67
Fresco
Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence



Paintings by ANDREA DA FIRENZE
Frescoes in the Spanish Chapel, Florence (1366-67)
Various paintings



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