Friday, June 24, 2011

Santa Maria Novella, Amazing shop, and Lunch

June 16th

This morning our class went to tour Santa Maria Novella, one of the oldest cathedrals in Florence that happens to be very near to wear we live. Across from the Santa Maria Novella central train station (Original name right?) is this giant of a church. 

The Facade of Santa Maria Novella

Like many of the Florentine cathedrals, the facade of the church is decorated with green and white inlaid marble. This facade has an interesting story. One of the families that were rivals to the Medici, the Strozzi, were exiled from Florence following an unsuccessful play to wrest power from the Medici. All the family members who carried the name Strozzi left the city, but the son-in-law Giovanni Rucellai, came back to the city with his fortune and paid for the church's facade. This we know because the facade is clearly marked with his name and the date. Just in case someone wasn't sure who paid for it. :)

Inside the church is incredible! Unlike yesterday's visit to Santa Croce, a Franciscan church that houses some fabulous frescoes by Giotto (pre-Renaissance frescoes), Santa Maria Novella is full of masterpiece frescoes from the Renaissance. Being able to tour with a specialist in Renaissance art who can point out all the central elements, their significance and their meaning is truly satisfying. Dr. Junkerman is fabulous and her knowledge and love of the subject clearly transmits to all of us.

Not only this, but having the experience of being in the space, completely alters our relation to the paintings in the chapels. If I've seen them before in a book, then I haven't seen them as they were meant to be seen by a worshipper. If I have looked at images in books or online, then I haven't seen the actual color. Impressions. The visceral experience of being present to the works in the dark cavernous church with tombs of important people all around. The feeling that the ghosts of worshippers and artists have left their energy within the space. Awareness of how small we are in comparison to the paintings and arches of the church. A new understanding of the changes in the meaning of the art.

In this place we were privy to some of the first and most significant fresco artists of the Renaissance, who began to experiment with linear perspective and created illusionist paintings that are incredible.
The details of the faux marble borders, the depth created by perspective, the expert drapery and sculptural figures, all work to trick the eye and turn a flat surface into something three dimensional.
I found it interesting that the patrons often had clear agendas. In the most glorious chapel in Santa Maria Novella are two figures from the Medici family at the entrance and exit welcoming you and seeing you out of the Filippino Lippi fresco cycle.

I can't say enough about seeing all of these wonders, as you can surely tell. Unfortunately Santa Maria Novella is one of the churches that doesn’t allow photography.

After leaving the church, our professor invited us to go with her to see a famous shop that sells soaps and other toiletries. The shop is called Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, and is just around the corner from Santa Maria Novella. Along with being an amazing store it is also a museum and one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't the grand, room after room, of a beautiful building with high ceilings, antique cabinets, art and ceramics. It was delightful to see the many, many bottles and confections artfully lining the counters and displayed in enclosed antique wooden cabinets that line the walls. It was a palace. A real life alchemy shop that I hope comes across in these pictures.

After leaving the shop, I lost track of the rest of our group and decided to head to the Mercato Centrale, which is very nearby and buy some lunch. I also went to try to find the bakery where I had bought the cheesy bread for our picnic in the Boboli Gardens. It had all kinds of delicious treats and mostly Italian customers (a good sign!).

I found the bakery first and bought their “specialite” biscoti from the window and in the market I bought two sandwiches (one with Parma Ham and one with Salami) and a mix of olives. I also learned a lesson about minimum ordering. Like France, if you don’t order a minimum amount you get the stink eye. You also get the stink eye if you present a bill that has a tear and creases. If the olives didn’t look so amazing I might have moved on from the man who said, “Sorry Madam! Non! YOU take that to a bank to exchange it!” Dios Mio!

Here it all is. Yum!!!

The Bakery. My biscoti are on the bottom shelf in the window!

The Booth at the Mercato where I bought my sandwiches!

Mmm-mmm good!

I’m out on the terrace of our hostel writing, but it’s time to go and read for class before walking across the city to the campus. It's hot out but also beautiful. If I can I'd like to hit up the Synagogue by campus on my way home.


  1. love the sandwich, I didn't know you like Italian ham like that

  2. Why did Giovanni Rucellai return and pay for the construction of the facade? Was it to remind Florence of the beloved Strozzi family?