Florence: I think there is already something magical only pronouncing the name… Our thoughts turn to its monuments, its squares, its art, its architecture, its people and its culture. We shall take the freedom of saying that we do not know of any other city in the world – even including cities with the greatest collections in art and in the sciences, as Rome, or London or Paris – that could be considered superior to Florence either for the number of museums or for the quality of exhibits.
It isn’t very difficult to discover the reasons for this pre – eminence. At the end of the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, Florence enjoyed a long period of extraordinary economic prosperity which made it one of the greatest financial powers in the world, and at the same time it was one of the most vital and creative of artistic centers. A favorable environment and an art in itself outstandingly rich resulted in a surprising number of masterpieces. For at least two centuries, from the end of the 13th to the beginning of the 16th century, Florentine art was second to none throughout the world.
Consider further that the Medici family, having become lords of Florence, assumed the role of patrons and collectors of the arts as hereditary to the dignity of their dynasty, almost as if they saw in this their greatest claim to historical glory. Works of art from the rest of Italy and from more distant lands became concentrated in Florence; and the Medici, far from dispersing anything of this patrimony, on the extinction of the family line in 1737, left it to Florence, with the specific stipulation that it should remain there forever.
Besides, the interests of the family had been extremely widespread, and had extended to archaeology, to the minor arts, to science, so that the wide range of subject matter to be found in the Florentine museums, can be traced to them. Finally, it is to be taken into account that Florence, has been a city beloved among scholars and collectors, many of whom bequeathed their collections to it, as, for instance, did Horne, Stibbert, Bardini.
Two great monuments represent and symbolize the splendor and magic of the city, its charm and its architecture, which take us to the striking geometry of the Renaissance: Santa Maria del Fiore and Santa Maria Novella. The first one (also known simply as the Duomo) is the cathedral of Florence known for its distinctive Renaissance dome. Its name (“Saint Mary of the Flower“) refers to the lily, the symbol of Florence. The impressive Gothic cathedral complex includes the Duomo, the famous baptistery and a campanile (bell tower). The cathedral was built on the site of the previous one, Santa Reparata, prompted by the magnificence of the new cathedrals in Pisa and Siena. It was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1294 to be the largest Roman Catholic church in the world (although the design was later reduced in size). After Arnolfo died in 1302, work on the cathedral slowed. In 1331, the Arte della Lana (Guild of Wool Merchants) took over responsibility for the construction of the cathedral and in 1334 they appointed Giotto as overseer for the work. His major accomplishment was the campanile.
It was not until 1355 that work resumed on the cathedral itself under a series of architects, including Francesco Talenti, Alberto Arnoldi, Giovanni d’Ambrogio, Giovanni di Lapo Ghini, Neri di Fioravante and Orcagna. The nave was finished by 1380, and by 1418 only the dome was uncompleted. In 1418 a competition was held to design a new dome for the cathedral. The two competitors were Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, who won the competition with his distinctive octagonal design. Construction on the dome began in 1420 and was completed in 1436; the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV on March 25, 1436.
It was the first ‘octagonal’ dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame (the Pantheon, a circular dome, was built in 118-128 AD without support structures), and was the largest dome built at the time (it is still the largest masonry dome in the world). Brunelleschi’s ability to crown the dome with a lantern was questioned and he had to undergo another competition. The lantern was begun a few months before his death in 1446 and was completed by his friend Michelozzo. The cathedral’s façade was demolished in 1587 and left bare until the 19th century. In 1864 a competition was held to design a new façade, won by Emilio De Fabris. Work was begun in 1876 and completed in 1887. The huge bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903.
The Church of Santa Maria Novella is one of the most important Gothic churches in Tuscany. The exterior is the work of Fra Jacopo Talenti and Leon Battista Alberti. The interior holds extraordinary works of art including Masaccio’s Trinità, Ghirlandaio’s fresco cycle in the Tornabuoni Chapel and Giotto’s Crucifix, among others. The convent was built between 1279 and 1357 by Dominican friars near a 7th century church located in the fields just outside Florence’s medieval walls. The lower part of the Marble façade, which is Romanesque in style, is believed to have been executed by a Dominican architect, Fra Iacopo Talenti da Nipozzano, while the upper part was completed only 100 years later in 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti.
Thus, the façade is not only the oldest of all the churches in Florence but it is also the only church with its original, planned facade still in place today! The church of San Lorenzo never even received its planned marble façade while others were completed centuries later but with new designs. And if you are in Santa Maria Novella, don’t forget to visit the monumental cloisters – decorated with famous paintings of the 14th and 15th Centuries -, its Green Cloister and the magnificent Chapel of the Spaniards. Other wonderful stories of art and amazing views on the geometry of a city.
Read this wonderful article on Florence by the ACS Italy Correspondent, Roberto Alborghetti in the ACS Magazine May/June 2016 Issue http://emagazine.acs-mag.com/acs-magazine-may-june-2016-issue/page/198-199. Renée LaVerné Rose (Publisher & Editor-in-Chief). To view any previous digital magazines or the latest issue and sign-up to get emails on new, special editions and news updates visit http://www.acs-mag.com