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.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 48 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: Easter Oratorio, BWV 249


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

1311*800
True Color
236 Kb



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

1100*1336
True Color
227 Kb



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

903*729
True Color
159 Kb



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

919*759
True Color
161 Kb



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

944*650
True Color
156 Kb



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

942*1200
True Color
230 Kb



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

973*702
True Color
152 Kb



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

596*862
True Color
130 Kb



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

1000*1378
True Color
196 Kb



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

901*1100
True Color
241 Kb



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

949*900
True Color
216 Kb



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

1400*831
True Color
268 Kb



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

1000*1237
True Color
212 Kb



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

827*1053
True Color
222 Kb



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

991*1200
True Color
244 Kb



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

1000*1207
True Color
198 Kb



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

1262*800
True Color
220 Kb



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

931*1200
True Color
244 Kb



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

1000*1237
True Color
205 Kb



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

1306*800
True Color
219 Kb



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

1300*761
True Color
202 Kb



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

944*644
True Color
153 Kb



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

1000*1279
True Color
212 Kb



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

846*570
True Color
121 Kb



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

1200*855
True Color
235 Kb



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

1100*1139
True Color
230 Kb



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

1146*880
True Color
169 Kb



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

802*736
True Color
139 Kb



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

900*633
True Color
166 Kb



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

1260*772
True Color
210 Kb



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

929*1200
True Color
234 Kb



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

828*1000
True Color
221 Kb



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

1318*660
True Color
242 Kb



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

981*1038
True Color
244 Kb



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

952*817
True Color
212 Kb



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

991*585
True Color
163 Kb




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