The Dominican monks, Sisto and Ristoro, are traditionally credited with the planning and construction of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The plan of the building, a Latin cross with square chapels jutting out from the east side of the transept, was used for Franciscan models. The dynamic concept differs, from the slender cross vaults to acute pointed arches separating the nave, but with a greater spatial unity.
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. However, the Ricci 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 St. 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 September 1, 1485 Giovanni Tornabuoni commissioned him to paint the main chapel, this time with the lives of the Virgin and St. 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 windows were also executed according to Ghirlandaio's design.
The cycle portrays on three walls the Life of the Virgin and the Life of St 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.
Art in Tuscany | Domenico Ghirlandaio | The Tornabuoni Chapel
The Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio: Zachariah in the Temple [detail]: Marsilio Ficino, Cristoforo Landino, Angelo Poliziano and Demetrios Chalkondyles