Andrea da Firenze (di Bonaiutio) and the Spanish Chapel I

To the left of the Santa Maria Novella is the entrance to the Chiostro Verde, the Green Cloister. At the rear of this cloister is the Spanish Chapel. It is actually a chapter house, like the later built Pazzi chapel in the cloister of the Santa Croce, and was built between 1343 and 1350.  In the sixteenth century, the chapter house came into the hands of the Spanish colony based in Florence. This explains the name of this room: the Spanish Chapel.

The Chiostro Verde     Other side     View from above      Aerial
Entrance Spanish chapel

Chiostro Verde Santa Croce Florence
photos: Sailko; side: Kotomi_ and entrance: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

One year after the death of his wife, in the infamous year when the plague broke out in Florence, the wealthy merchant Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti gave seven hundred golden florins for construction. Guidalotti’s will states that he had earmarked three hundred and twenty-five golden florins from his estate for the furniture and the painting of the chapter house.

Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti receives the blessing of Fra Jacopo Passavanti
The inscription of the original tomb is now located in the floor in front of the altar and reads as follows:
Here lies Mico, the son of the late Lapo Guidalotti, a merchant who made sure that this chapter house as well as the chapel were built and painted.  He was buried in the tradition of the [Dominican] Order. In the year of Our Lord 1355, on the 3rd of September. He rests in peace. 

Andrea da Firenze Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti

Out of gratitude, he and his family were allowed to be buried in the chapel in the room behind the altar. This room was later rebuilt by Eleonora of Toledo, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and provided with new contemporary frescoes from the School of Alessandro Allori. The original frescoes have therefore disappeared.

Not only the inscription on the tomb reminds us of Guidalotti. He can also be seen in the frescoes. On the wall, to the right of the entrance, approximately in the middle, he is depicted kneeling in front of his friend and confessor, the Dominican Fra Jacopo Passavanti. The chapel is dedicated to the Corpus Domini or the Body of Christ and this is the central subject of the fresco cycle. It is well known that Mico Guidalotti regularly contributed to the feasts of Corpus Domini. This became an official feast in Florence in 1346. An altarpiece by Bernardo Daddi from 1344 is dedicated to the Corpus Domini. This altarpiece first stood in another chapel in Santa Maria Novella and was later placed in the Spanish Chapel. Also, this altarpiece contains all kinds of allusions to the Eucharist.

Fra Angelico ‘Dominicus’     Perugia Altarpiece 1438

On December 30, 1365, ten years after the death of Mico Guidalotti, Andrea da Firenze, also known as Andrea di Bonaiuto, began work on the painting. This work, too, was painted in what was previously referred to as ‘the new style’. It is not so much a narrative cycle of Giotto or Taddeo Gaddi as seen in the Santa Croce, but much more the expression of an ecclesiastical doctrine. It is about salvation through Christ and how to reach the true path to salvation with the help of the church and, of course, the Dominicans. Remember that in addition to preaching and pastoral care, the Dominicans also had the task of finding heretics. Since 1232 they had been taking on the task of the Inquisition. In other words, they defended the only true faith and had to bring dissenting opinions to court and, of course, condemn them. In Florence it was not they, but the Franciscans, who had the right to condemn apostates, to their great anger. The life of one inquisitor, the Dominican Saint Peter Martyr, can be seen on the wall at the entrance. Moreover, he died in a terrible way, as he was hit deadly by a sword in his skull.

The frescoes by Andrea da Firenze (also called Andrea di Bonaiuto)

All of the walls and the large cross-ribbed vault are painted. The wall around the altar shows The Way to the Golgotha, The Crucifixion and The Descent of Christ into Limbo. The wall opposite shows six stories from the life of Saint Peter Martyr, but they are heavily damaged. On the left the Christian doctrine is shown and on the right the true path, the Via Veritas, which leads to salvation. In the four vaulted fields you can see the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost and finally, directly above the Via Veritas, the Navicella. The use of four stories in the large vaulted fields is unusual. In the Baroncelli Chapel only figures are painted as personifications of virtues. Three of these four stories are set in heaven and sky. These scenes have been placed at the top of the chapel. The limbo of hell, which is on earth, is painted at the bottom.

Vaults        Zoom in       Scheme of the fresco cycle

Andrea da Firenze Vaults Spanish Chapel
photo: Diego Delso

Vasari already noticed this. For instance, he praised Simone Martini (Vasari attributed the work in the Spanish Chapel to this artist from Siena) for painting the earth under the sky. This was often incorrectly depicted. According to Vasari, there were even artists from that time who placed the earth above the sky four or five times.

The road to Calvary, The Crucifixion and The Descent of Christ into Limbo

Christ carrying the Cross       Zoom out

Andrea da Firenze Christ carrying the Cross Spanish chapel
photo zoom: Lawrence OP

To the left of the arch the trip to Golgotha is painted. The crucifixion of Christ is not about the sorrow as it was customary in the first half of the Trecento.

Way to the Golgotha, Crucifixion and Descent of Christ into Limbo zoom in

Andrea da Firenze 'Way to the Golgotha, Crucifixion and Descent of Christ limbo' Spanish chapel
photos: Sailko and zoom: Rufus46

The Crucifixion zoom out

No one in the large crowds responds sadly, not even Mary. This crucifixion is all about redemption, the salvation of man, or the realization that Christ has given up his humanity and has become God. Some people show this by raising their arms and others speak of the importance of what is happening before their eyes. On the right, the thief is on the cross. His soul is already carried upwards by an angel. On the left, the other thief is besieged by devils. Notice the difference between the two: only one of them has chosen the right path. The small group around the cross of the repentant thief sees what is happening and talks about it. The group around the cross of the thief who showed no sense of guilt, looks with dismay at what happens to the man writhing in pain on the cross. This clearly marks a new interpretation of the crucifixion. Not grief, but the redemption of man, as long as he chooses the right path, is the content or message.

Andrea da Firenze Crucifixion Spanish chapel

Rescue from limbo

photo: Lawrence OP
Andrea da Firenze 'Rescue from Limbo' Spanish chapel
photo limbo: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

Rescue from Limbo       Limbo

The theme of salvation is also visible in the Descent into Limbo, at the bottom right of the Crucifixion. The remains of the fallen gates of hell can still be seen under the feet of Christ. He rescues the souls of, among others, John the Baptist and Moses from limbo. With this divine violence, the devils are powerless; they are watching from their cave.

Continuation Florence day 5: Andrea da Firenze (di Bonaiutio) and the Spanish Chapel II