Of all Florence's major churches, the home of the Dominicans is the only one with an original facade that matches its era of greatest importance. The lower Romanesque half was started in the 14th century by architect Fra' Jacopo Talenti, who had just finished building the church itself (started in 1246). Leon Battista Alberti finished the facade, adding a classically inspired Renaissance top that not only went seamlessly with the lower half but also created a Cartesian plane of perfect geometry.
The church's interior underwent a massive restoration in the late 1990s, returning Giotto's restored Crucifix to pride of place, hanging in the nave's center -- and becoming the first church in Florence to charge admission. Against the second pillar on the left of the nave is the pulpit from which Galileo was denounced for his heretical theory that Earth revolved around the sun. Just past the pulpit, on the left wall, is Masaccio's Trinità (ca. 1428), the first painting ever to use perfect linear mathematical perspective. Florentine citizens and artists flooded in to see the fresco when it was unveiled, many remarking in awe that the coffered ceiling seemed to punch a hole back into space, creating a chapel out of a flat wall. The transept is filled with spectacularly frescoed chapels. The sanctuary behind the main altar was frescoed after 1485 by Domenico Ghirlandaio with the help of his assistants and apprentices, probably including a very young Michelangelo. The left wall is covered with a cycle on The Life of the Virgin and the right wall with the Life of St. John the Baptist. The works have a highly polished decorative quality and are less biblical stories than snapshots of the era's fashions and personages, full of portraits of the Tornabuoni family who commissioned them.
Restoration workers in 2005 found a fresco hidden behind one of the lesser-known works here -- by 16th-century Veronese painter Jacopo Ligozzi -- and the mystery of who created it is the talk of local art circles. As of the printing of this edition, it remains unknown.
The Cappella Gondi to the left of the high altar contains the Crucifix carved by Brunelleschi to show his buddy Donatello how it should be done. At the end of the left transept is a different Cappella Strozzi, covered with restored frescoes (1357) by Nardo di Cione, early medieval casts of thousands where the saved mill about Paradise on the left and the damned stew in a Dantean inferno on the right.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010