ANDREA DA FIRENZE
(active 1343-1377, Firenze)

The Church as the Path to Salvation (east wall)

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

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. In addition to the idea of making the observer aware, via images, of the official church and its institutions as the true path to salvation, the intention was also to emphasize, among the institutions of the Church, the Dominican order and its work.

The sequence of pictorial motifs begins in the lower left quarter of the image with the depiction of Ecclesia in the form of a large church building patterned after the Florence Cathedral. In front of the side wall of the Cathedral, we can see the hierarchic order of the medieval society: the Pope, at his left the Emperor and King, a prince, at his right the Dominican general and a bishop. Before them are the friars at the left and laymen at the right; then noblemen and knights, merchant, scholar, finally women and the lower ranks of the society. The basilica in the background is the symbol of the Church. The prevailing opinion in the literature is that Urban V is to be recognized in the figure of the pope and Charles IV in the figure of the emperor, Gil de Albornoz in the cardinal, Peter I of Cyprus in the king. Lying at the feet of the pope are several sheep, in front of the sheep, and watching over them, are black-and-white spotted dogs, the 'domini canes' symbolizing the Dominican friars. On the right side of the picture St Dominic is preaching, St Thomas Aquino debating the heretics, St Peter Martyr signaling the dogs to tear the heretics to pieces. Above these scenes there is the happy world of music and dance.




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