Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Florence 2012 Journal: Analysis of the fresco cycle in the Capella Maggiore at Santa Maria Novella

Analysis of the fresco cycle in the Capella Maggiore at Santa Maria Novella

The Capella Maggiore of Santa Maria Novella is called the Tornabuoni Chapel. It is renowned for its fresco cycle depicting the life of the Virgin Mary on the left hand side of the wall and the life of St. John the Baptist to the right hand side. The fresco was painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop in the late 15th century.

There are 9 scenes from the life of the Virgin. The scenes read left to right, bottom to top whist the 5th scene is situated in the middle row of the central wall towards the left. The second from last scene is painted in the lunette at the top whilst the last scene is in the lunette of the central wall. The scenes begin at the expulsion of Joachim from the temple. The remaining 8 scenes tell the stories of the following: Mary’s Nativity, Presentation of Mary at the Temple, Marriage of the Virgin, Annunciation, Nativity of Christ, Slaughter of the Innocents, Assumption of the Virgin and lastly, the Coronation of the Virgin.

Facing opposite, the life of St. John the Baptist reads in the same way and similarly has the 5th scene painted in the middle row of the right hand side of the central wall whilst the 8th scene is painted in a lunette. The scenes are: The Apparition of the Angel to Zechariah, Visitation, Birth of St. John, Zechariah Writing His Son’s Name, St. John in the Desert, St. John preaching, Baptism of Jesus Christ and Herod’s banquet.
The central wall is mainly covered by the stained glass windows. However as already discussed, the lunette at the top depicts the coronation of the virgin and the middle row of either side tells a scene from the lives of the two saints. The remaining 4 scenes are St. Dominic Tests Books in the Fire, The Martyrdom of St. Peter, Giovanni Tornabuoni (the son of Domenic) and lastly his wife, Francesca Pitti.[1]

There is an abundance of painted bronze, expensive jewellery and extensive decoration painted throughout the fresco cycle. Much of the bronze decorations and decorations on the pilasters (the ones found in the scene of Mary’s birth) are believed to be copies from pictures in the workshop books from Tornabuoni’s workshop. The copies were carried out by the less experienced in his workshop, in order for them to practice. The art historian Carol Frick also notes that the expensive jewellery painted in the fresco cycle were family air looms of the patrons and served as an example of their wealth[2]. This ties in with the assertions made by Jill Burke, who stated that, the patrons of whom were awarded rights over the chapel where done so if they were to provide ‘honourable decoration for the space’. Although this would refer mainly to the ‘ornament, books and other expenses’[3] it is also clearly a reference to the depictions of valuable ornaments and jewellery in the fresco cycle itself.

Although one would assume that the main purpose of this chapel is wholly religious, Florence was very conscious of the fact that is was ‘renowned for power and wealth, for its victories, for its arts and its buildings’ and ‘enjoyed great prosperity’[4]. Conclusively, this chapel like many others exemplify the power of the city and the patrons of the church and it is feasible to assume that the churches themselves were where the Florentines boasted their wealth the most.

[1] D. O’Leary, Harmony and Ritualistic Allusion in the Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, (University of Michigan, 1983)
[2] G. Brucker, Florence: the Golden Age 1138-1737 (University of California Press, 1998), 55.    
[3] C. Frick the, Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing (John Hopkins University Press, 2005), 271.
[4] J. Burke, Changing Patrons: Social Identity and the Visual Arts in Renaissance Florence, (Pensylvannia State University Press, 2004), 123.

No comments:

Post a Comment