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

The right wall: the true path to salvation

The fresco on this wall plane deals with the institutions, church and monastic orders, designated by God as preachers of salvation. In addition, man’s choice between good and evil also plays a role. People can accept or reject the message of the clergy.

The true path to salvation        Topsite        Zoom out       Scheme of the fresco cycle

Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvation" Spanish chapel
Web Gallery of Art and Wikipedia

The good is depicted to the right of the Lord, and the evil to the left. The church that is shown by Andrea da Firenze is the Duomo of Florence. The painter, while working on his frescoes from 1366 to 1367, was a member of a committee dedicated to the construction of the Duomo. The pope, emperor, cardinals, king, bishop, knights and other important authorities are set in battle order. They are surrounded by other representatives of the church, religious orders, urban government and the faithful. The dogs, of course, represent the Dominicans. The white and black of the dogs refers to the colors of the habits worn by Dominicans. In addition, the image is also a play on words on ‘domini canes’, or the ‘dogs of God’. The pious sheep are guarded by the dogs. Altogether there is a clear hierarchy within the group in front of the church.

Gil Albornoz   Innocentius VI   Charels IV       Zoom in

Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvation" detail  Spanish chapel
photo zoom: jean louis mazeres

The Pope stands above everyone else and is seated right in the middle of the arch. He is depicted frontally and there is nothing natural about his posture; he rather resembles an emblem. The emperor sitting next to him is positioned slightly lower and not exactly in the middle of the arch. Obviously, the bourgeoisie does not sit on a throne, but stands. The lower people are shown kneeling. The man looking at you at the right is probably the painter himself.

Cardinal Albornoz (top), Michel de Césène (left), William of Ockham (middle) and bishop Simone Saltarelli (right)

In Andrea’s paintings, alongside beggars and cripples, well-known artists, poets, writers, theologians, and philosophers are depicted, such as Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio, Cimabue, Giovanni Boccaccio, Francesco Petrarca, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart, William of Ockham, Cardinal Albornoz and Simone Saltarelli (see Wikipedia).

Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvation" detai : heretic  Spanish chapel
photos: Sailko

Heretic       Aquino’s book

To the far right of the church is a group of pagans and heretics. This is illustrated by the man with oriental clothes tearing a page from the book of Aquino. Peter Martyr and Thomas Aquinas try to convince the unbelievers of the Lord’s message. Thomas is successful: two Jews have been converted; they kneel and fold their hands in prayer before the Holy Scriptures that Thomas keeps open for them. On the left is Dominic; he hunts down the dogs of God to catch wolves that want to attack the sheep.

The right choice

Above the pagans, on the far right, are people who sing, dance and eat fruit. A woman grabs a child firmly by the arm and stops him, clearly against his will, from these earthly pleasures. She chooses the path to the gates of heaven. At the centre of the composition, Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti, who commissioned this fresco cycle, kneels before the Dominican, Fra Jacopo Passavanti, who is taking the confession.

Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvation" detail: right =choice Spanish chapel

Music and Dance

Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvation' detail music dance Spanish chapel
Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvation' detail: looking up to god Spanish chapel
photos: Sailko

Looking up to          God       Lamb of God

This is, as already described, Buonamico di Lapo Guidalotti. The man who blesses him is his friend Fra Jacopo Passavanti. Passavanti’s sign is taken over by Dominic, who points the faithful in the right direction. Just before the gate, where Peter is standing, the souls take the form of children. Angels place garlands of flowers on the heads of the children.

The chosen ones

Andrea da Firenze 'True path to salvatio' detail Spanish chapel

Inside the gate there are no children left. There are figures from the Old Testament including Moses, Noah, David and saints like Laurentius and of course Thomas Aquinas with his writings. Only they had the privilege of seeing God in heaven. All of them look up to the Lord above them. Christ sits on a throne in a Mandorla, surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists and a lamb on the altar. God holds the keys in one hand and a scroll in the other. The keys refer to Peter: the first pope and founder of the church. In this context, the open book refers not so much to the Bible but to the writings of Thomas Aquinas. The seeds of this depiction of Christ lie in the Strozzi altarpiece in the Santa Maria Novella. There, God hands the book to Thomas Aquinas and the keys to Peter.

Orcagna ‘Strozzi altarpiece’ 1354 – 1357 Strozzi chapel      In situ

Orcagna 'Strozzi altarpiece'  detail
Web Gallery of Art

Vaults       Scheme of the fresco cycle

Andrea da Firenze Vaults Spanish chapel

Boat of the apostles       Apostles       Fisherman

Andrea da Firenze Vault:  apostles’ ship Spanish chapel

The boat with which the apostles sailed can be seen in the predella. It is what Andrea da Firenze painted in the vault directly (reconstruction) above the enthroned Christ. The boat and Peter symbolize the destiny of the church, with Peter as the predecessor of those who want salvation. Giotto’s famous mosaic in St. Peter’s also depicts, as in this fresco, a fisherman with a rod (here a copy of Francesco Berratta after Giotto’s Navicella). His catch consisted of souls. Simon de Langres, who was the General Superior of the Dominicans at the time, was not called ‘the fisherman of man’ for nothing.

The left wall: The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (west)

Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas          Top

Andrea da Firenze 'Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas'  Spanish chapel
photos: Rufus46 and top: jean louis mazieres
Andrea da Firenze 'Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas  detail:Aquinas Spanish chapel
photo: Sailko

Thomas Aquinas          Averroes

Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for the feast of Corpus Christi. A day like this for the Corpus Domini arose in answer to questions as to whether during the Eucharist the wine and host actually changed into the blood and body of Christ. The answer was yes, according to a decision of the Fourth Council of the Lateran. As militant defenders of ecclesiastical doctrines, the Dominicans proclaimed this new Christian dogma. The Dominicans saw themselves as pugiles fidei, or the defenders and proclaimers of the one true faith.  Thomas, like Christ on the opposite wall, is accompanied by the four evangelists who sit next to him. Furthermore, five prophets and one king have been depicted. Given his position in the fresco, Thomas is clearly the most important theologian. He was a fierce opponent of heretical ideas. Below him are three heretics huddled together on the ground: Arius and Averroes in the middle, and Sabellius. The twelfth-century Arab philosopher, Averroes, had a lot of influence in the thirteenth century. His comments on Aristotle were widely appreciated. It was Thomas Aquinas who had fiercely opposed Averroes’ views. This theme, the beating of heretics, also plays an important role in the frescoes at the entrance. This painting is about the Dominican Peter Martyr and his fight against heresy.

It also celebrates Thomas as a bringer of unity in all knowledge and not only in Christian doctrine. That is why he sits on the throne as a ruler. Thomas is bigger than everyone else. Under him, the throne breaks through the list of names. However, this is the only illusionistic part of this fresco cycle. Thomas is between figures from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Above him are the virtues: charity, faith, hope, prudence, strength and justice. Right at the top is the source of all this: Christ with arms outstretched. Of course, wisdom is his most important virtue.

Andrea da Firenze 'Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas  detail:Aquinas  in situ Spanish chapel

Music      Tubalcain

In the lower part, all seven theological sciences and all seven philosophical disciplines are depicted. These are shown by the seven traditional liberal arts. The seated ladies with attributes represent allegories. In the pediment of the throne are the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven planets. Below the women are historical figures that also symbolize the divine knowledge. Originally these figures were provided with a caption. In the adjoining vault field, the Holy Spirit is painted in a scene of Pentecost. The Spirit brings the gift of tongues which enabled the apostles to speak more languages in order to spread the faith. For the Dominicans, sermons were one of their most important tasks.

Andrea da Firenze 'Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas  detail: Music Tubalcain Spanish chapel
photos: Sailko and lover part: jean louis maziers

The  frescoes by the entrance of the Spanish chapel (south)
Scened from the life of Saint Peter Martyr

Pilgrims Seeking to be Healed at the shrine of Saint Peter Martyr      In situ

Andrea da Firenze 'Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas  detail: Pilgrims Seeking to be Healed at shrine Saint Peter Martyr chapel

The frescoes in the Spanish chapel were intended for the Dominicans themselves, who gathered here for meetings. The studium generale, in collaboration with the painter Andrea da Firenze, must have developed the program of the cycle. Passavanti, who died in 1357, may have contributed ideas for a scheme. However, he is certainly not the Dominican who conceived the entire scheme for this fresco cycle.

Pinturicchio 'Canonization of Catherine of Siena by Pope Pius II'

Pinturicchio ‘Pope Pius II and Catherine of Siena’

Six years after the completion of the frescoes in 1374, Catherine of Siena had to answer for her views in the Spanish Chapel. She was suspected of heresy. Catherine appeared with a counsellor, one who was a connoisseur of ecclesiastical doctrines. Could she have taken a look at the three heretics under Thomas Aquinas on the left wall during the interrogation? Fortunately, she was not convicted. However, she was obliged to subscribe to the correct doctrine. In 1461 Catherine of Siena was canonized by Pope Pius II, as can be seen in a fresco by Pinturicchio in Siena.

Pinturicchio ‘Canonization of Catherine of Siena by Pope Pius II’ 1502-1508

Pinturicchio 'Canonization of Catherine of Siena by Pope Pius II'

In the courtyard, the Chiostro Verde, you can still see frescoes by Paolo Uccello when you walk left out of the Spanish Chapel. Since this painter painted his frescoes after 1425, i.e. in the Renaissance, they will be discussed later (If you want to read and have a look click here).

Continuation Florence day 5: Orcagna, Nardo di Cione and the Strozzi di Mantova Chapel (Santa Maria Novella)