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The Spanish Chapel, Cappellone degli Spagnoli, fresco (detail) by Andrea di Bonaiuto
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Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze | The Spanish Chapel (or Cappellone degli Spagnoli)


Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze was a member of the Physicians' Guild in Florence (to which painters belonged) in 1346. [1] He lived in the parish of Santa Maria Novella and seems to have been influenced by the work of Nardo di Cione, with whom he may have trained.
Andrea di Bonaiuto is chiefly celebrated for his frescoes in the Spanish Chapel of Sta Maria Novella, Florence (1365-68), which was a Dominican church [2] and the frescoes, illustrating the Triumph of the Faith, in their severity and their meticulous detail, rank among the most impressive records of Dominican art and thought produced in late medieval Italy.
He also undertook fresco decorations for the church’s chapter house and a full-scale cartoon for the stained-glass window decoration of the façade is also attributed to him.

The earliest paintings that can be attributed to him suggest that he must have formed a close association with the workshop of Andrea di Cione. The small portable triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels shows the influence of Maso di Banco and of the painter of the Strozzi Chapel frescoes in the Chiostrino dei Morti, S Maria Novella, Florence.

Andrea di Bonaiuto left Florence in 1355 to work in Pisa, where he stayed for roughly ten years. When he returned to Florence, he received the most important painting commission of the 1360s. From 1365 to 1367 he was engaged in painting frescoes in the Chapter House (later known as the Spanish Chapel) in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The Chapter House is misleadingly known as Spanish Chapel, because of its use in the sixteenth century by the Spanish community in Florence. The frescoes were commissioned by Buonamico Guidalotti.
Probably as a result of this commission, Andrea was simultaneously appointed to a committee planning the design for the dome of the cathedral of Florence. He served on this board for two years, completing his term in 1367. He then spent a brief time in Orvieto before returning to Florence, where he painted a panel of Saint Luke for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in 1374. In 1377, he accepted a commission to paint an altarpiece in Pisa, and then stayed in Pisa long enough to execute a fresco (now damaged) in the Camposanto. He died in 1379, leaving only a paltry estate for his widow and his one child, Bartolomeo.
The choice of Andrea di Bonaiuto as the painter of the Spanish Chapel suggests that he was one of the most important artists of the dayH is appointment to the committee planning the dome of the cathedral indicates that he was highly respected by Florentine civic leaders. There can be no doubt that Andrea was recognized as a major figure in his native city during this period, and his works in Santa Maria Novella are one of the great decorative programs of the late Trecento. But the paucity of signed or dated paintings leaves us with only a meager understanding of the artist’s abilities, interests, and influences.
Although he was acquainted with Giotto's innovations in modelling and spatial depth, Andrea was also strongly influenced by the linear, hieratic art of his Florentine contemporary Andrea Orcagna, and most of his fresco works display the rigid compositions and immobile faces associated with the Byzantine tradition. Andrea is last recorded in 1377 working on frescoes of the Life of St. Ranieri in the Campo Santo at Pisa, and the three upper panels of this mural project are attributed to him.


Because almost none of his other works survive, Andrea’s murals in the chapter house of Santa Maria Novella, commonly referred to as the Spanish Chapel, stand as his greatest paintings. This cycle — probably based on ideas expressed by Fra Jacopo Passavanti of Santa Maria Novella — celebrates the spiritual and intellectual achievements of the founder of the Dominican Order and his disciples.
The central image, on the north wall facing the entrance, depicts scenes from the passion of Christ. The Way to Calvary, Crucifixion, and Harrowing of Hell are placed in a continuous frieze running from one end of the lunette wall to the other. Flanking this space on the west wall is an image of Thomas Aquinas, enthroned, presiding over allegorical representations of the cardinal virtues and the liberal arts. The Via Veritatis decorates the east wall, with Dominic, Thomas, and Peter Martyr converting heretics, providing spiritual guidance to the devout, and leading the faithful into heaven. An architectural portrait of the cathedral of Florence, complete with an envisioned octagonal dome (the actual dome had yet to be constructed), serves as a backdrop to this scene; it may have been a result of Andrea’s membership on the committee planning the dome. Scenes of the Navicella, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost occupy the vaults above, providing theological analogies to the images below.

The Spanish Chapel (or Cappellone degli Spagnoli) | Way of Salvation

The Spanish Chapel, Way of Salvation, 1365-68, fresco, Cappellone degli Spagnoli , fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto
This fresco covers the Southern wall of the Spaniards' Chapel of the Dominican Cloister connected to the beautiful Gothic church. The other walls were also painted by Andrea with frescoes devoted to the glory of the Dominicans.

In the foreground, in front of the side wall of the Cathedral of Florence, we can see the hierarchic order of the medieval society: the Pope, at his left the Emperor and King, a prince, at his right the Dominican general and a bishop. Before them are the friars at the left and laymen at the right; then noblemen and knights, merchant, scholar, finally women and the lower ranks of the society. The basilica in the background is the symbol of the Church. On the right side of the picture St Dominic is preaching, St Thomas Aquino debating the heretics, Martyr St. Peter signalling the dogs (symbolizing the Dominican friars, "Domini canes") to tear the heretics to pieces. Above these scenes there is the happy world of music and dance.

This rather rigid composition depicts a carefully constructed theological program where the ratio of the figures is determined by their theological significance.

Florence Cathedral or Duomo as it appears in a fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto, painted in the 1390s, before the commencement of the dome
Andrea di Bonaiuto, Way of Salvation (detail), 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Andrea di Bonaiuto, Way of Salvation (detail), 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Andrea di Bonaiuto, Way of Salvation (detail), 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Andrea di Bonaiuto, Way of Salvation (detail), 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Christ Bearing the Cross to Calvary, Crucifixion and Descent of Christ to Limbo

Andrea di Bonaiuto, Christ Bearing the Cross to Calvary, Crucifixion and Descent of Christ to Limbo, 1365-68, fresco
Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

This is the wall opposite to the entrance of the chapel. This wall is covered with scenes of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Instead of painting the scenes in many panels, as the Giottesque artists did, Andrea carried out the narration of the Passion in a continuous fashion, with the scenes following as in a film. The Descent is on the lower right side of the wall.

Christ Bearing the Cross to Calvary

Andrea di Bonaiuto, Christ Bearing the Cross to Calvary, 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

This is one of the scenes on the wall opposite to the entrance of the chapel. The Christ Bearing the Cross is on the lower left side of the wall.

Descent of Christ to Limbo

Andrea di Bonaiuto, Descent of Christ to Limbo, 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Triumph of St Thomas and Allegory of the Sciences

Andrea di Bonaiuto, Triumph of St Thomas and Allegory of the Sciences, 1365-68, fresco
Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

At the feet of Saint Thomas are the heretics Sabellius, Averroës, and Arius.  

Allegory of the Sciences (Allegory of the Sacred Sciences)

Andrea di Bonaiuto, Allegory of the Sciences (Allegory of the Sacred Sciences), 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence


Andrea di Bonaiuto, Allegory of the Sciences (Allegory of the Secular Sciences)

Andrea di Bonaiuto, Allegory of the Sciences (Allegory of the Secular Sciences), 1365-68, fresco, Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

For a complete analysis of the artist’s work see JohannesTripps, Tendencies of Gothic in Florence: Andrea Bonaiuto, Florence 1996.
For an in-depth discussion of the artist’s Santa Maria Novella frescos, see: J. Polzer, ‘Andrea di Bonaiuto's Via Veritatis and Dominican thought in late medieval Italy’, in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 2, June 1995, pp. 262-289 |
Andrea di Bonaiuto's Via Veritatis and Dominican Thought in Late Medieval Italy | Extract

Firenze | Florence | Map of the churches, cathedrals, basilicas and monasteries
Churches in Florence | Santa Maria Novella

Anne Steinberg-Viéville, Andrea di Bonaiuto, salle capitulaire de Santa Maria Novella (Florence)

[1] Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze was a member of the Physicians' Guild in Florence (to which painters belonged) in 1346; from 1365 to 1367 he was engaged in painting frescoes in the Chapter House (later known as the Spanish Chapel) in S. Maria Novella, Florence.
In 1377 a final payment for frescoes in the Camposanto, Pisa, was made to 'Andrea da Firenze', who is accepted as being this artist.
[2] 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. In the second half of the 14th century, Andrea di Bonaiuto painted the wonderful frescos for the adjacent Spanish Chapel, in which the picture of the Church of the Triumph of the Faith closely resembled Arnolfo di Cambio's design for the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. The spatial integrity of the building is already implicit in Arnolfo's plan of 1294. but the dome of the fresco model is augmented by Brunelleschi's octagonal drum that carries the dome. Another example of Dominican theology is Bonaiuto's fresco cycle showing Thomas Aquinas dominating the allegorical figures of all the liberal arts and the sciences of the theological cursus.

Andrea di Bonaiuto, salle capitulaire de Santa Maria Novella (Florence)


Anne Steinberg-Viéville, Andrea di Bonaiuto, salle capitulaire de Santa Maria Novella (Florence)


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Santa Maria Novella


The Dominican priory of S. Maria Novella in Florence is not only a religious institution but also an impressive museum of late medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. Behind Leone Battista Alberti's grand quattrocento facade it contains Brunelleschi's wooden crucifix, Masaccio's Holy Trinity mural, Ghirlandaio's vast mural cycle of the Lives of the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist covering the choir, Filippino Lippi's Scenes from the Lives of Saints Philip and John the Evangelist, and Giorgio Vasari's altars lining the aisle walls. Some masterpieces originally there have long since left the church, including Duccio's Rucellai Madonna, which is now in the Uffizi Gallery. However, the art of the period following the Black Death of 1348 is still well represented, by the murals of Nardo di Cione and the young Giovanni del Biondo in the Strozzi Chapel,(2) which also shelters Orcagna's altar of 1357, and by Andrea di Bonaiuto's mural decoration in the chapter house.

In 1219 twelve Dominican friars led by Fra Giovanni da Salerno came from Bologna and two years later obtained as their Florentine dwelling the church of Santa Maria delle Vigne, outside the city walls.
The much larger church we see today was begun in 1279 to a design by two Dominican converses, Fra Sisto and Fra Ristoro, and was almost concluded with its adjacent convent by the middle of the 14th century.
Its internal structure resembles that of Cistercian gothic churches, the nave being separated from the aisles by wide bays and covered with gothic vaulting. Among the first works of art to reach the church was Duccio’s Maestà (1285), known as the ‘Rucellai Madonna’, which is now in the Uffizi; the Crucifix documented inside the church in 1312 was painted by the young Giotto.
The major 14th-century decorative schemes that have come down to us date from the years after the Plague of 1348. In the left transept, between 1350 and 1357, Nardo di Cione frescoed the walls of the Strozzi Chapel with the Last Judgement, Hell, and Paradise; the stained glass is also by Nardo. On the altar the panel, signed and dated 1357, with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter and a book to St Thomas Aquinas, with the Madonna, St John the Baptist and other Saints, and its predella, are the work of Nardo’s brother, Andrea di Cione, known as Orcagna (signed and dated 1357). Between 1367 and 1369 Andrea di Bonaiuto frescoed the convent’s chapter room, known as the ‘Spanish Chapel’: on the altar wall are the scenes of the Passion, Crucifixion and Descent of Christ into Limbo; on the entrance wall are Scenes from the life and miracles of St Peter Martyr; the right-hand wall has an Allegory of the Church Militant and Triumphant, and the left-hand wall the Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas. The segments of the vault have the Resurrection, Ascension, Barque of St Peter and Pentecost.

The renaissance style was introduced into Santa Maria Novella with Masaccio’s celebrated fresco of the Trinity with the Madonna, St John the Evangelist and two patrons (1427).
This is the most celebrated work of Masaccio beside the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel. Opinions are very widely guessed upon and vary as to exactly when this fresco was painted between 1425 and 1428 and 1427. It was rediscovered in its entirety in 1861, after being hidden in the sixteenth century by a Vasari altarpiece and a stone altar. The Trinity is noteworthy for its inspiration taken from ancient Roman triumphal arches and the strict adherence to the recent perspective discoveries, with a vanishing point at the viewer's eye level, so that, as Vasari describes it"a barrel vault drawn in perspective, and divided into squares with rosettes which diminish and are foreshortened so well that there seems to be a hole in the wall." The fresco had a transforming effect on generations of Florentine painters and visiting artists. The sole figure without a fully-realized three-dimensional occupation of space is the majestic God supporting the Cross, considered an ummeasurable being. The most likely interpretation of the Trinity is that the painting links the traditional medieval connection of the chapel with Golgotha the "place of the skull" where Christ died, with the patrons' or Adam's tomb in the lower part and the Crucifixion in the upper part. But it can also assume the significance of the journey the human spirit must undertake to reach salvation, rising from the earthly life and corruptible body through prayer (the two petitioners and patrons) and the intercession of the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist to the Trinity. A close-up view of the skeleton in the sarcophagus also revealed the ancient warning, in clear letters: I WAS WHAT YOU ARE AND WHAT I AM YOU SHALL BE.

Filippo Brunelleschi’s wooden Crucifix in the Gondi Chapel was intended, according to Vasari, as a response to the vigorous naturalism of Donatello’s version in Santa Croce. In 1439 Santa Maria Novella was the scene of the Council of Florence, convoked to bring about the reunion of the Greek and Latin Churches. Pope Eugenius IV stayed for many months, and it was a brilliant moment in the convent’s history. Subsequently Paolo Uccello painted Scenes from the life of Noah in the Green Cloister, and Leon Battista Alberti completed the church’s façade in 1470. Towards the end of the 15th century two important fresco cycles were painted for the church by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi.
In 1485 Giovanni Tornabuoni commissioned from Ghirlandaio frescoes and stained glass for the chapel of the high altar, with Scenes from the life of the Virgin and Scenes from the life of the Baptist, filled with figures from the upper-class Florentine society of the time.
Quite different was the chapel of Filippo Strozzi, decorated with frescoes and stained glass by Filippino Lippi and finished in 1502. The side walls illustrate scenes from the Life of St Philip and the Life of St John the Evangelist, while on the end wall the chiaroscuro painting provides a monumental setting for the tomb of Filippo Strozzi by Benedeto da Maiano (1495). In 1565 Santa Maria Novella was subjected to a programme of restoration ordered by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and directed by Giorgio Vasari.
Part of this scheme was the Gaddi Chapel, rebuilt by Giovanni Antonio Dosio in 1577. It was frescoed by Alessandro Allori with scenes from the Life of St Jerome and Virtues, and has an altarpiece by Agnolo Bronzino of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus.
Among the most important pictorial witnesses between the late 16th and early 17th century is the fresco cycle in the Great Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, with scenes from the Lives of Christ and the Dominican Saints. The artists included Santi di Tito, Alessandro Allori, Cigoli, and others. From the south side of the Cloister one gained access to the old pharmacy and perfumery, which is today reached from Via della Scala.

The Cloisters

The first cloister on the right of the doorway is the so-called Chiostro verde (Green cloister) with strong yet harmonious proportions. It takes its name from the frescoes originally painted in "green clay" by many artists of early 15th century including Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), one of the greatest Florentine Renaissance masters, who painted here some of his best works like the Flood and the Sacrifice of Noah.
The cloister gives access to the Refectory (and from here to the Large Cloister decorated at the end of the 16th century) and to the Cappellone degli Spagnoli. In the 16th century this was the chapter house and was given this name because of meetings held in this location by the Spanish followers of Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I. This large section of the building still preserves the complex frescoes by Andrea di Bonaiuto (mid-14th century), which exalt the work of the Dominicans, to whom the church belonged. The fresco representing the Church militant features the cathedral in the background or rather the original project of Arnolfo for the Cathedral of Florence.
The Chiostro verde also gives access to the Chiostrino dei morti and the Strozzi Chapel, decorated with 14th century frescoes.

Art in Tuscany | Masaccio | Trinity, Santa Maria Novella, Firenze
Art in Tuscany | Domenico Ghirlandaio | The Tornabuoni Chapel


Masaccio, Masaccio, Trinity, 1425-28, fresco, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Giovanna Tornabuoni
Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Visitation, fresco in the Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Firenze

Florence, San Miniato al Monte
Florence, Duomo

Florence, Piazza della Repubblica


Florence, Orsan Michele
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