The painting in the Santa Maria Novella 1/11
Andrea da Firenze or Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze and the Spanish Chapel 1/1
To the left of the church is the entrance to the Chiostro Verde, the Green Cloister. At the rear of this cloister is the Spanish Chapel.86 It is actually a chapter house, like the later built Pazzi chapel in the cloister of the Santa Croce, and was built between 1343 and 1350. In the sixteenth century, the chapter house came into the hands of the Spanish colony based in Florence. This explains the name of this room: the Spanish Chapel.
|Chiostro Verde view of the entrance of the Spanish Chapel two sides|
|Chiostro Verde facade Spanish Chapel|
|Entrance and view of the cloister and view from the chapter room mouseover|
One year after the death of his wife, in the infamous year when the plague broke out in Florence, the wealthy merchant Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti gave seven hundred golden florins for construction. Guidalotti’s will states that he had earmarked three hundred and twenty-five golden florins from his estate for the furniture and the painting of the chapter house.87
|Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti receives the blessing of|
Dominican Fra Jacopo Passavanti
Out of gratitude, he and his family were allowed to be buried in the chapel in the room behind the altar. This room was later rebuilt by Eleonora of Toledo, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and provided with new contemporary frescoes from the School of Alessandro Allori. The original frescoes have therefore disappeared.
|Spanish Chapel and the scheme of the fresco cycle|
Left and altar wall
|Right and altar wall|
|Vaults ceiling large size|
The inscription of the original tomb is now located in the floor in front of the altar and reads as follows:
|‘Here lies Mico, the son of the late Lapo Guidalotti, a merchant who made sure that this chapter house as well as the chapel were built and painted. He was buried in the tradition of the [Dominican] Order. In the year of Our Lord 1355, on the 3rd of September. He rests in peace.88|
Not only the inscription on the tomb reminds us of Guidalotti. He can also be seen in the frescoes. On the wall, to the right of the entrance, approximately in the middle, he is depicted kneeling in front of his friend and confessor, the Dominican Fra Jacopo Passavanti. The chapel is dedicated to the Corpus Domini or the Body of Christ and this is the central subject of the fresco cycle. It is well known that Mico Guidalotti regularly contributed to the feasts of Corpus Domini. This became an official feast in Florence in 1346. An altarpiece by Bernardo Daddi from 1344 is dedicated to the Corpus Domini. This altarpiece first stood in another chapel in Santa Maria Novella and was later placed in the Spanish Chapel. Also, this altarpiece contains all kinds of allusions to the Eucharist.
On December 30, 1365, ten years after the death of Mico Guidalotti, Andrea da Firenze, also known as Andrea da Bonaiuto, began work on the painting. This work, too, was painted in what was previously referred to as ‘the new style’. It is not so much a narrative cycle of Giotto or Taddeo Gaddi as seen in the Santa Croce, but much more the expression of an ecclesiastical doctrine. It is about salvation through Christ and how to reach the true path to salvation with the help of the church and, of course, the Dominicans. Remember that in addition to preaching and pastoral care, the Dominicans also had the task of finding heretics. Since 1232 they had been taking on the task of the Inquisition. In other words, they defended the only true faith and had to bring dissenting opinions to court and, of course, condemn them. In Florence it was not they, but the Franciscans, who had the right to condemn apostates, to their great anger. The life of one inquisitor, the Dominican Saint Peter Martyr, can be seen on the wall at the entrance. Moreover, he died in a terrible way, as he was hit deadly by a sword in his skull.
The frescoes by Andrea da Firenze (also called Andrea da Bonaiuto)
All of the walls and the large cross-ribbed vault are painted. The wall around the altar shows The Way to the Golgotha, The Crucifixion and The Descent of Christ into Limbo. The wall opposite shows six stories from the life of Saint Peter Martyr, but they are heavily damaged. On the left the Christian doctrine is shown and on the right the true path, the Via Veritas, which leads to salvation. In the four vaulted fields you can see the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost and finally, directly above the Via Veritas, the Navicella. The use of four stories in the large vaulted fields is unusual.89 In the Baroncelli Chapel only figures are painted as personifications of virtues. Three of these four stories are set in heaven and sky. These scenes have been placed at the top of the chapel. The limbo of hell, which is on earth, is painted at the bottom.
Vasari already noticed this. For instance, he praised Simone Martini (Vasari attributed the work in the Spanish Chapel to this artist from Siena) for painting the earth under the sky. This was often incorrectly depicted. According to Vasari, there were even artists from that time who placed the earth above the sky four or five times.90
The road to Calvary, The Crucifixion and The Descent of Christ into Limbo
To the left of the arch the trip to Golgotha is painted. The crucifixion of Christ is not about the sorrow as it was customary in the first half of the Trecento.91
|The road to the Calvary large size|
|Way to Calavary, Crucifixion, Descent of Christ to Limbo|
Crucifixion large size
No one in the large crowds responds sadly, not even Mary. This crucifixion is all about redemption, the salvation of man, or the realization that Christ has given up his humanity and has become God. Some people show this by raising their arms and others speak of the importance of what is happening before their eyes. On the right, the thief is on the cross. His soul is already carried upwards by an angel. On the left, the other thief is besieged by devils. Notice the difference between the two: only one of them has chosen the right path. The small group around the cross of the repentant thief sees what is happening and talks about it. The group around the cross of the thief who showed no sense of guilt, looks with dismay at what happens to the man writhing in pain on the cross. This clearly marks a new interpretation of the crucifixion. Not grief, but the redemption of man, as long as he chooses the right path, is the content or message.92
|Crucifixion and Resurrection|
The theme of salvation is also visible in the Descent into Limbo, at the bottom right of the Crucifixion. The remains of the fallen gates of hell can still be seen under the feet of Christ. He rescues the souls of, among others, John the Baptist and Moses from limbo. With this divine violence, the devils are powerless; they are watching from their cave.
|Christ saves souls in the limbo of hell and Christ on his way to Calvary|
The right wall: the true path to salvation
The fresco on this wall plane deals with the institutions, church and monastic orders, designated by God as preachers of salvation. In addition, man’s choice between good and evil also plays a role. People can accept or reject the message of the clergy.
|The Path to Salvation large size Topside|
The good is depicted to the right of the Lord, and the evil to the left. The church that is shown by Andrea da Firenze is the Duomo of Florence. The painter, while working on his frescoes from 1366 to 1367, was a member of a committee dedicated to the construction of the Duomo. The pope, emperor, cardinals, king, bishop, knights and other important authorities are set in battle order. They are surrounded by other representatives of the church, religious orders, urban government and the faithful. The dogs, of course, represent the Dominicans. The white and black of the dogs refers to the colors of the habits worn by Dominicans. In addition, the image is also a play on words on ‘domini canes’, or the ‘dogs of God’. The pious sheep are guarded by the dogs. Altogether there is a clear hierarchy within the group in front of the church.
|Gil Albornoz Charles IV|
photo: Richard Mortel
The Pope stands above everyone else and is seated right in the middle of the arch. He is depicted frontally and there is nothing natural about his posture; he rather resembles an emblem. The emperor sitting next to him is positioned slightly lower and not exactly in the middle of the arch. Obviously, the bourgeoisie does not sit on a throne, but stands. The lower people are shown kneeling. The man looking at you at the right is probably the painter himself.
To the far right of the church is a group of pagans and heretics. This is illustrated by the man with oriental clothes tearing a page from the book of Aquino. Peter Martyr and Thomas Aquinas try to convince the unbelievers of the Lord’s message. Thomas is successful: two Jews have been converted; they kneel and fold their hands in prayer before the Holy Scriptures that Thomas keeps open for them. On the left is Dominic; he hunts down the dogs of God to catch wolves that want to attack the sheep.
Above the pagans, on the far right, are people who sing, dance and eat fruit. A woman grabs a child firmly by the arm and stops him, clearly against his will, from these earthly pleasures. She chooses the path to the gates of heaven. At the centre of the composition, Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti, who commissioned this fresco cycle, kneels before the Dominican, Fra Jacopo Passavanti, who is taking the confession.
This is, as already described, Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti. The man who blesses him is his friend Fra Jacopo Passavanti. Passavanti’s sign is taken over by Dominic, who points the faithful in the right direction. Just before the gate, where Peter is standing, the souls take the form of children. Angels place garlands of flowers on the heads of the children.
Inside the gate there are no children left. There are figures from the Old Testament including Moses, Noah, David and saints like Laurentius and of course Thomas Aquinas with his writings. Only they had the privilege of seeing God in heaven.93 All of them look up to the Lord above them. Christ sits on a throne in a Mandorla, surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists and a lamb on the altar. God holds the keys in one hand and a scroll in the other. The keys refer to Peter: the first pope and founder of the church. In this context, the open book refers not so much to the Bible but to the writings of Thomas Aquinas.94 The seeds of this depiction of Christ lie in the Strozzi altarpiece in the Santa Maria Novella. There, God hands the book to Thomas Aquinas and the keys to Peter
|Thomas Aquinas receives a scripture from the Lord|
Strozzi altarpiece detail
The boat with which the apostles sailed can be seen in the predella. It is what Andrea da Firenze painted in the vault directly above the enthroned Christ. The boat and Peter symbolize the destiny of the church, with Peter as the predecessor of those who want salvation. Giotto’s famous mosaic in St. Peter’s also depicts, as in this fresco, a fisherman with a rod (here a copy of Francesco Berratta after Giotto’s Navicella). His catch consisted of souls. Simon de Langres, who was the General Superior of the Dominicans at the time, was not called ‘the fisherman of man’ for nothing.95
|Vaults ceiling large size|
|Andrea da Firenze, Andrea da Bonaiuto Spanish Chapel detail The apostles’ ship|
Rib vault detail and whole
Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for the feast of Corpus Christi. A day like this for the Corpus Domini arose in answer to questions as to whether during the Eucharist the wine and host actually changed into the blood and body of Christ. The answer was yes, according to a decision of the Fourth Council of the Lateran. As militant defenders of ecclesiastical doctrines, the Dominicans proclaimed this new Christian dogma. The Dominicans saw themselves as pugiles fidei, or the defenders and proclaimers of the one true faith. Thomas, like Christ on the opposite wall, is accompanied by the four evangelists who sit next to him. Furthermore, five prophets and one king have been depicted. Given his position in the fresco, Thomas is clearly the most important theologian. He was a fierce opponent of heretical ideas. Below him are three heretics huddled together on the ground: Arius and Averroes in the middle, and Sabellius. The twelfth-century Arab philosopher, Averroes, had a lot of influence in the thirteenth century. His comments on Aristotle were widely appreciated. It was Thomas Aquinas who had fiercely opposed Averroes’ views. This theme, the beating of heretics, also plays an important role in the frescoes at the entrance. This painting is about the Dominican Peter Martyr and his fight against heresy.
|Thomas Aquinas and the divine revelation of knowledge|
It also celebrates Thomas as a bringer of unity in all knowledge and not only in Christian doctrine. That is why he sits on the throne as a ruler. Thomas is bigger than everyone else. Under him, the throne breaks through the list of names. However, this is the only illusionistic part of this fresco cycle. Thomas is between figures from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Above him are the virtues: charity, faith, hope, prudence, strength and justice. Right at the top is the source of all this: Christ with arms outstretched. Of course, wisdom is his most important virtue.
|Thomas Aquinas three heretics from left to right Arius, Averroes and Sabellius.|
In the lower part, all seven theological sciences and all seven philosophical disciplines are depicted. These are shown by the seven traditional liberal arts. The seated ladies with attributes represent allegories. In the pediment of the throne are the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven planets. Below the women are historical figures that also symbolize the divine knowledge. Originally these figures were provided with a caption. In the adjoining vault field, the Holy Spirit is painted in a scene of Pentecost. The Spirit brings the gift of tongues which enabled the apostles to speak more languages in order to spread the faith. For the Dominicans, sermons were one of their most important tasks.
|Seven theological sciences and the seven philosophical disciplines|
De fresco’s in de Spaanse kapel waren bestemd voor de Dominicanen zelf, die hier bijeen kwamen en vergaderden. Het studium generale moet in samenwerking met de schilder, Andrea da Firenze, het programma van de cyclus hebben uitgewerkt. Passavanti die in 1357 stierf, heeft misschien nog ideeën voor een schema aangedragen. Toch is hij zeker niet de Dominicaan die het volledige schema van deze frescocyclus bedacht heeft.96
Six years after the completion of the frescoes in 1374, Catherine of Siena had to answer for her views in the Spanish Chapel. She was suspected of heresy. Catherine appeared with a counsellor, one who was a connoisseur of ecclesiastical doctrines. Could she have taken a look at the three heretics under Thomas Aquinas on the left wall during the interrogation? Fortunately, she was not convicted. However, she was obliged to subscribe to the correct doctrine. In 1461 Catherine of Siena was canonized by Pope Pius II, as can be seen in a fresco by Pinturicchio in Siena.
|Pinturicchio ”The Canonization of Catherine of Siena by Pope Pius II’ 1502-1508 Piccolomini library Duomo Siena large size|
In the courtyard, the Chiostro Verde, you can still see frescoes by Paolo Uccello when you walk left out of the Spanish Chapel. Since this painter painted his frescoes after 1425, i.e. in the Renaissance, they will be discussed later. (If you want to read and have a look click here)
|Spanish Chapel inside of the facade Santa Maria Novella|
photo (mouseover): TomStardust