Frescoes in Florence

Whenever we’ve taken the train to Florence we’ve gone straight to the Duomo, always walking past the back of the church the station is named for - Santa Maria Novella. But this time we took a different street and went into the church - very glad that we did. Of all the wonderful things there are to see in Florence this has to be among the best. It was also very quiet - without the queues and the crowds of the Duomo.

The church is ancient - the original basilica in Florence, with adjoining cloisters, begun in about 1240 on the site of an even older church. The outside is very beautiful - a white and black marble facade (designed by Alberti) completed in 1470.

The marble obelisk outside is held up by four bronze tortoises.

Inside are a number of beautiful decorated chapels and paintings by some of the best artists in Italy at the time - Brunelleschi, Fillipino Lippi, Ghirlandaio, Giambologna - Giotto and Uccello in the cloisters, but my favourite was the very early chapel painted by Nicolo Tomasi around 1360 showing Paradise, the Last Judgement and Inferno - probably inspired by Dante. There’s a portrait of Dante in the Last Judgement behind the altarpiece - but I couldn’t get a good enough photograph because of the low light levels and flash is sensibly not allowed.

The Paradise wall is very faded, but I’m just awed by the age of it all - how has any of it managed to survive?  What is also poignant is the knowledge that the faith that paid the painters is as faded as the frescoes and the significance of all these figures - even their names - is unknown to almost everyone except art historians.  I'm a humanist, but I still have a sense of loss.

I loved this altarpiece - behind it is the Last Judgement I couldn’t photograph.

Outside we sat on the grass in the sun and ate a sorbet bought from one of the ice cream sellers and watched the students doing the same. You see the other side here too. One of the African traders was selling his wares among the sun-worshippers and an Albanian woman was begging. Italy has a multitude of refugees from north Africa and eastern Europe and absolutely no idea how to deal with them. So they lead a strange illegal existence working unbelievably hard on the wrong side of the law, and living in squalor. What they have left behind must be pretty bad to make it worth their while. A modern Paradiso and Inferno.


  1. What a juxtaposition.
    Beautiful art - the tragedy of refugees.

    Thank you once again for a beautiful post!

  2. What a feast for the eyes - I LOVE those tortoises! !AA305 - OU the Renaissance in Europe - never showed those!)


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