Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella Tornabuoni), Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy.


Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.



The Tornabuoni Chapel,
Church of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Photo: 2 April 2013.
Source: Own work.
Author: sailko.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The Tornabuoni Chapel (Italian: Cappella Tornabuoni) is the main Chapel (or Chancel) in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy. It is famous for the extensive and well-preserved fresco Cycle on its walls, one of the most complete in the City, which was created by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop between 1485 and 1490.

The main Chapel of Santa Maria Novella was first frescoed in the Mid-14th-Century by Andrea Orcagna. Remains of these paintings were found during restorations in the 1940s: these included, mostly in the Vault, figures from the Old Testament. Some of these were detached and can be seen today in the Museum of the Church.

By the Late-15th-Century, Orcagna's frescoes were in poor condition. The Sassetti, a rich and powerful Florentine family, who were the bankers of the Medici, had long held the right to decorate the main Altar of the Chapel, while the Walls and the Choir had been assigned to the Ricci family.



Church of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Photo: 12 October 2005.
Source: Own work.
Author: Georges Jansoone.
(Wikimedia Commons)


However, the Ricci family had never recovered from their bankruptcy in 1348, and so they arranged to sell their rights to the Choir to the Sassetti. Francesco Sassetti wanted the new frescoes to portray stories of Saint Francis of Assisi; however, the Dominicans, to whom Santa Maria Novella was entrusted, refused. Sassetti therefore moved the commission to the Church of Santa Trinita, where Ghirlandaio executed one of his masterworks, the Sassetti Chapel. The rights to the Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, that were lost by the Sassetti, were then sold by the Ricci to Giovanni Tornabuoni.

Ghirlandaio, who then had the largest workshop in Florence, did not lose the commission, however, because, on 1 September 1485, Giovanni Tornabuoni commissioned him to paint the main Chapel, this time with the Lives of The Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, Patron of Tornabuoni and of the City of Florence. It is possible that the new scenes followed the same pattern as Orcagna's.

Ghirlandaio worked to the frescoes from 1485 to 1490, with the collaboration of his workshop artists, who included his brothers, Davide and Benedetto, his brother-in-law, Sebastiano Mainardi, and, probably, the young Michelangelo Buonarroti.



The Birth of Christ.
Artist: Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510).
Date: 1476-1477.
Florence, Italy.
Source/Photographer: Web Gallery of Art.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The windows were also executed according to Ghirlandaio's design. The complex was completed by an Altarpiece, portraying the Madonna del Latte in Glory with Angel and Saints, flanked by two Panels with Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Lawrence. On the recto, a Resurrection of Christ was painted. This work is now held divided between the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin and the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

The Cycle portrays, on three walls, the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Saint John the Baptist, the Patron Saint of Florence. The Left and Right Walls each have three rows, each divided into two rectangular scenes framed by fictive architecture, and surmounted by a large Lunette, beneath the Vault. Each Side Wall has a total of seven narrative scenes, which are read beginning from the bottom.

The Chancel Wall has a large Mullioned Window, of Three Lights, with Stained-Glass, provided in 1492 by Alessandro Agolanti, after Ghirlandaio's design. On the lower part of the wall is a Donor Portrait of Giovanni Tornabuoni and his wife, Francesca Pitti, while, on either side of the window, are four smaller scenes portraying Dominican Saints. Above the window, is another large Lunette, containing the Coronation of The Virgin. In the Vault, are depicted The Four Evangelists.



English: The High Altar,
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Italiano: Firenze, Santa Maria Novella, altare.
Photo: 1 April 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Etienne (Li).
(Wikimedia Commons)


The first episode represents the expulsion of Joachim, the father of Mary, from the Temple of Jerusalem. A ceremony is taking place in which several figures are carrying lambs for sacrifice. However, Joachim was banned from attending, due to his alleged sterility.

Ghirlandaio set the scene in a sumptuous Loggia, of Greek Cross Plan, with a sequence of Arches, in the background, and an Octagonal Altar in the middle, where the Sacrificial Fire is lit. The characters are illuminated from above, as if by the natural lighting from the real Chapel Windows.

Two groups of Florentine people, representing the populace, are shown to the sides of the scene. They wear contemporary fashionable clothes (for which the frescoes are a famous source), unlike the main biblical figures, who wear the usual "iconographic costume". On the Left, two figures may be identified as Lorenzo Tornabuoni, son of Ghirlandaio's Patron, and Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici, the former's friend.



English: Interior of the Basilica of
Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Deutsch: Kirche Santa Maria Novella,
Florenz - Innenraum.
Photo: 20 March 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: CF-NDB.
(Wikimedia Commons)


In the Right-Hand group, is a self-portrait of the artist with some of his relatives. The Loggia, in the background, could be a representation of the Ospedale di San Paolo (Saint Paul's Hospital), which was then under construction in the same Square as Santa Maria Novella. The two buildings, on the sides, are examples of typical edifices of 15th-Century Florence, characterised by rustication and an Upper Loggia.

The second scene portrays the Nativity of Mary, set in a luxurious room with inlaid wooden panelling, surmounted by a frieze, in bas-relief, of music-making putti and a Cornice of Winged Cherubs. The room is divided by Piers, decorated in relief. To the Left, near the Door at the top of the Stairs, is shown, symbolically, an early incident of the story, the embrace of Anne and Joachim at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem.

To the Right, Saint Anne reclines in bed, while three young women prepare to bath the new-born Mary. The nurse, who is pouring water into a basin, is the only figure in the room to be moving rapidly. Her flowing robes and swirling scarf make her an iconic motif, to be found in many paintings, both by Ghirlandaio and other painters and sculptors of the period. A preparatory drawing of this woman has been preserved in the Cabinet of Prints and Drawings of the Uffizi.



Italiano: Visitation.
Fresco Cappella Tornabuoni,
Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italia.
English: The Visitation.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Date: 1486-1490.
Source: www.wga.hu
(Wikimedia Commons)


Several well-dressed Florentine ladies have come on a congratulatory visit. The first in the procession of noblewomen, portrayed in profile, is Ludovica, daughter of Giovanni Tornabuoni. The rendering of the magnificent women's clothes is particularly notable. The scene is considered one of the best executed in the Chapel. Unlike the previous scene, nearly all the portraits show a great care; they were probably executed by the Master, himself, while the less-well-executed are probably painted by his assistants.

Above the Cabinets, in the background, is an inscription reading: "NATIVITAS TUA DEI GENITRIX VIRGO GAUDIUM ANNUNTIAVIT UNIVERSO MUNDO" ("Your birth, Oh Virgin Mother, announced joy to the whole universe"), while, in the intarsia decoration, the artist put his signature: "BIGHORDI" (his true surname, Bigordi) and "GRILLANDAI" (the Florentine version of his nickname).

This scene, like the previous one, is realistically illuminated, with the frieze, on the Right, in shadow. While the majority of scenes in the Chapel have a completely symmetrical arrangement in their internal architecture, and even the positioning of the figures, this picture is markedly asymmmetrical, with a Pier dividing it into two areas, based on the golden mean.



Birth of Saint John the Baptist.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in
Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Date: 1486-1489.
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


This asymmmetrical structure links it to the scene of The Visitation, in which a wall is placed to divide the picture space in the same manner. However, the positioning of the figures, with Saint Anne in bed and the group entering from the Left, is mirrored by The Birth of Saint John, although, there, the figures are placed in a much more conventional internal space.

The Presentation in the Temple is a complex composition, with numerous characters placed on different levels. In the centre, the young Mary, holding a book, is ascending the Temple's staircase towards the Priest, but is looking in the viewer's direction. Her awkward posture is perhaps intended to suggest her young shyness, but the figure appears rather awkward.

The rôle and meaning of the other figures, who crowd the classical architectures of the scene, are still partly unclear. The female figures on the Right, portrayed with notable attention to detail, are probably portraits of real contemporary women. Next to them, are Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, distinguishable by Aureolas, who point at their daughter, Mary. Two young women, painted by workshop collaborators, are rushing out from the Temple.



Saint Zechariah writes John's name.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in
Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Date: 1486-1489.
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The two small figures, in the centre foreground, have not been identified. They could be children, but have adult features. It has been suggested that, being observed from below, they acquire a more youthful appearance, so their unusual rendering could be a technical trick by Ghirlandaio. The symbolic rôle of the nude man, sitting on the steps, on the Right, is unknown. Next to him are two old men.

The Marriage of The Virgin is set in beautiful Renaissance architecture, while the composition of the scene is rather traditional. In the centre, is the Temple Priest, with the same features as in the Presentation in the Temple. He is sealing the Marriage between Joseph and Mary.



Herod's Banquet.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in
Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Date: 1486-1489.
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


To the sides, are two Processions, with men on the Left and women on the Right. Some of the former, angry at having not been chosen to marry Mary, are shown while breaking their sticks or raising their fists (a story originating in apocryphal legends of the Life of Mary). Joseph's club, which had been chosen as the most vigorous, is barely visible over his shoulder. Most of the portraits are summary in style, apart from some very carefully executed ones near the Priest.

A preparatory sketch for this scene has been preserved in the Gabinetto dei Disegni e Stampe in the Uffizi, in which the Priest, in the centre, is absent.

In the fresco "The Adoration of the Magi", the scene resembles the version in the Sassetti Chapel (also produced by Ghirlandaio), for example in the ruins and the hills, which the Magis' procession is crossing. It is the most damaged section of the Cycle, having lost much of the intonaco in the central area.



Apparition of The Angel to Saint Zechariah.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


Mary and the Child Jesus are in the centre, framed by an Arch, with the inscription: CAES[AR] AUGUSTO XXXVIII AP. The Magi are finely executed; the younger one on the Left, in particular, who is already taking off his Crown as a sign of deference.

The Peacock, on the Arch, is a symbol of the Resurrection. The men, on the Right, whose clothes suggest that they could be foreign ambassadors, are most likely portraits of Ghirlandaio's contemporaries. In the procession, on the Right-Hand hill, a giraffe, rendered with noteworthy realism, can be seen (a giraffe had been presented to Lorenzo de' Medici and brought to Florence in 1486).

This scene was the one that Vasari, in his biography of Ghirlandaio, considered the best in the Cycle, due to its dramatic and frantic composition. It is probable that Ghirlandaio was inspired by scenes of ancient Roman bas-reliefs, like that depicted on the Arch in the background.



The Massacre of The Innocents.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


In the foreground, are two mothers fighting to save their babies. The Left one is escaping a horseman, who is attacking her child with a dagger. The other, on the Right, is grasping at the hair of a soldier, who holds her child. Notable are the vivid colours and the moving rendering of the clothes.

The Left Wall Cycle culminates in the large Lunette, with the scene of the Death and Assumption of The Virgin. The painting quality of this picture looks inferior to the rest, showing that Ghirlandaio left most of its execution to his workshop.

The Body of the aged Virgin is lying on a lawn, surrounded by The Twelve Apostles, who kiss her feet in a sign of deference, cry and Pray. Angels are holding torches, while one of the Apostles holds a palm, a symbol of Resurrection.



The Marriage of Mary.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes in Florence, Italy.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


In the upper part of the painting, the Virgin is shown again, young and attractive, within a mandorla, supported by Angels. God is welcoming her. In the background, are hills with Castles, fortified towns and (on the Right) a villa, which is the Villa Medici in Fiesole.

The story of Mary ends, in the Central Wall's Lunette, with the Coronation of The Virgin.

The Cycle joins that of John the Baptist, in the scene of the Visitation.

Like the others in the Lower Wall, this scene is one of the best in the Cycle. The Biblical episode, of the apparition of the Angel to Zechariah, is portrayed within magnificent Renaissance Church architecture. Zechariah is portrayed on the Altar, in the centre, with the Angel Gabriel suddenly appearing, on his Left, to announce to him that he will have a son.



The Presentation of Mary
at the Temple.
Cappella Tornabuoni frescoes,
Florence, Italy.
Source: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The inscription on the Arch, at the Left, celebrates the completion of the Cycle (in 1490), and has a quote by Agnolo Poliziano. The Classical-Style Altar resembles that painted by Leonardo da Vinci in his Annunciation.

All the elements in this picture were explicitly required in Tornabuoni's Contract with Ghirlandaio: The landscape; the City; the animals; the perspective; the portraits; and the Classical elements.

This scene is linked with that on the opposite wall, the Birth of The Virgin, with which it shares an element of composition having the bed placed symmetrically. This room is less luxurious than the other, but still probably portrays that of a rich Florentine merchant of the time.



The Birth of Mary.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Date: 1486-1490.
Current location: Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence, Italy.
Source/Photographer: Book.
References: Web Gallery of Art.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The light falls heavily on the figures in the foreground, while the others are partially in shade. Elizabeth is depicted on the bed in a calm and majestic posture, with a book in her Left Hand. As in the other scene, there are two nurses painted with brilliant colours to attract the watcher's attention. Three women, also in the foreground, are visiting Elizabeth. The first, luxuriously dressed, could be a relative of the Tornabuoni. Of the two other figures, the older is most likely Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Giovanni's sister, who had recently died. The maid entering from the Right, with a basket of fruit on her head, resembles both one of the nymphs of Botticelli's Primavera and the Salome painted by Filippino Lippi in the Prato Cathedral. In a preparatory drawing, now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, the maid is, in fact, Salome, carrying the Baptist's head.

Notable is the attention to domestic detail, which shows again the influence on Ghirlandaio of the Netherland-ish School, which was being felt in Tuscany during this period: The two bottles of wine and water, held by the maid, the bed-frame with a vase and the two Pomegranates over the bed.

This scene depicts the moment in which Zechariah, now mute, writes his new son's name on a sheet of paper. It is set under a large Portico, which opens on a magnificent landscape created according to aerial perspective.



Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple.
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
Date: 1485-1490.
Current location: Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence, Italy.
References: Web Gallery of Art.
Source/Photographer: Book.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The main scene is in the middle, with Zechariah sitting and looking at his son, who is held in Elizabeth's arm. The figures on the Left are symmetrically balanced by a group of two women on the Right: This composition allowed the child to appear exactly in the middle of the scene, aligned with the central Pilaster of the Portico. Behind Zechariah, are two old men, while a younger figure, in contemporary clothes, is portrayed from the back.

The Gabinetto delle Stampe e dei Disegni, of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, houses a preparatory sketch for the women on the Left.

In this scene, John the Baptist is portrayed in the centre, on a rock, while instructing a crowd who form a circle around him. He wears the camel skins, mentioned in the Gospels, and is pointing at The Cross. A listening Jesus can be seen on the path, in the Upper Left corner.



Saint Luke.
The Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella Tornabuoni),
Church of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Source: Book.
Author: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
(Wikimedia Commons)


As often with Ghirlandaio, there is a group of women on the Left. Of particular interest, are the women sitting in the centre, and the child at John's feet.

The execution of the other figures is rather hasty, and is most likely by the artist's workshop, as are many other details in the scenes of the Upper Chapel Walls.

The scene of the Baptism follows a traditional scheme: For example, the naked man resembles that of Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel, while the Christ is similar to the panel, by Verrocchio, and Leonardo, at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.



Saint Matthew.
The Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella Tornabuoni),
Church of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Source: Book.
Author: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
(Wikimedia Commons)


Notable is the figure of the kneeling man, on the Right, who is removing his shoes, while looking with curiosity at the scene, while traditional portrayal is again seen with God giving His Blessing between the Angels, in the Upper Area, which is in a quasi-Late-Gothic Style.

The graceful landscape, in the background, is divided by a spur, which creates a frame around Christ's figure. The two pairs of figures at the sides, again hastily painted, were executed by Ghirlandaio's workshop following his design.

The scene of Herod's banquet concludes the story of Saint John the Baptist. It is set within a majestic, Classical-Style Hall, with a painted Arch. The Barrel Vault resembles that of the Basilica of Maxentius, in Rome. Two tables, along the sides, underline the perspective-based composition: The women sit at the Left one, while the men are seated at the Right. Behind the women, is a group of musicians.



Saint Mark.
The Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella Tornabuoni),
Church of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Source: Book.
Author: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
(Wikimedia Commons)


At the table, in the centre, is Herod, with an open window behind him. In the foreground, Salome is portrayed performing her dance. Other men (including a dwarf) are looking on the Left, where a servant is handing over John's head to Herod. A man, nearby, is making a gesture of disgust at the sight. The scene is inspired by the work of Filippo Lippi, in Prato Cathedral, but is of lesser dramatic quality; the artwork was most likely provided by Ghirlandaio's workshop almost entirely.

On the Middle Wall are portrayed the following scenes:

Coronation of The Virgin and Saints (Lunette);

Saint Dominic tests Books in the Fire (#1 in violet - see figure);

Killing of Saint Peter, Martyr (#2 in violet - see figure);

The Annunciation (#5 in green - see figure);

Saint John in the Desert (#5 in red - see figure). This painting depicts John wandering in the Desert during his youth.

The Patrons in Prayer (#3 and #4 in violet). These are the portraits of the two Patrons, Giovanni Tornabuoni and his wife, Francesca Pitti.



Saint John the Evangelist.
The Tornabuoni Chapel (Cappella Tornabuoni),
Church of Santa Maria Novella,
Florence, Italy.
Source: Book.
Author: Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494).
(Wikimedia Commons)


In the Groin-Vault, are four Evangelist Portraits; They write or show their work (apart from Saint Mark, who is sharpening his pen with a knife), flanked by their Symbols:

In reference to the figures, they are:

Saint John the Evangelist (1 yellow);
Saint Matthew (2 yellow);
Saint Luke (3 yellow);
Saint Mark (4 yellow).

As in the Sassetti Chapel, and despite being distant from the viewer, the paintings are very well executed, being largely by Ghirlandaio, himself. This can be seen, for example, in the realistic rendering of Luke's ox.

The magnificent Wooden Choir was carved by Baccio d'Agnolo during the same period as the execution of the frescoes (1485-1490). Two of the scenes, Saint John in the Desert and Saint Lawrence, are attributed to Filippino Lippi, who, at the time, was working at the Filippo Strozzi Chapel in the same Church. The Choir was restored, by Vasari, in 1566.

The Altar is a Neo-Gothic creation from the 19th-Century. The Crucifix is by Giambologna, while the Right Paschal Candle is attributed to Piero di Giovanni Tedesco (Late-14th-Century); the similar Left one, is a modern reproduction.



Available (in U.K.) from

Available (in U.S.A.) from


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...