ALBERTI, Leon Battista
(b. 1404, Genova, d. 1472, Roma)


Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Alberti furnished the design for the façade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The white-and-green marble structure is the only Florentine church façade on a grand scale to be built during the Renaissance. In its basic design Alberti followed the Romanesque but classicising façade of San Miniato al Monte, a church overlooking Florence, and divided the structure into an arcaded lower story surmounted by a temple design of pilasters crowned by a pediment. It is here that we see the name of the patron (Giovanni Ruccelai) in huge Roman capitals. Between the two stories he inserted a mezzanine that serves as an attic for one floor and a base for the other. Alberti framed the second-story temple on either side by large volutes, an ingenious solution to a problem that had perplexed designers of basilica façades for a millennium: how to unite a narrow upper story with a wider lower story and at the same time mask the sloping roofs of the side aisles.

When Alberti received this commission, he apparently had to keep two Gothic elements: the side portals of an earlier design and six pointed-arched tomb niches, three to either side of the main door, He absorbed these into his Renaissance design by enclosing the niches within a round-arched blind arcade and by repeating their horizontal green-and-white banding in the pilasters on both levels.

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