Strozzi chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

(1355-1357)
   The wealthy banker Tomasso Strozzi commissioned Andrea Orcagna and his brother Nardo del Cione to provide the decorations for his family chapel at Santa Maria Novella, the principal Dominican church of Florence. As the Strozzi Chapel is dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas, a leading Dominican and Tomasso's namesaint, he figures prominently in the decorations. He is represented twice in the chapel's altarpiece (the Strozzi Altarpiece) painted by Orcagna and once in the large stained glass window above the altar. The altarpiece shows the Christ of the Last Judgment enclosed in a mandorla of seraphim and angels. He presents to the kneeling St. Thomas at his right a book opened in one of the passages from Revelations that speaks of final judgment. He also gives to St. Peter at his left the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Thomas is presented to Christ by the Virgin Mary, who is dressed in a Dominican habit, and Peter by St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence. Also present are St. Michael, who weighs the souls, Catherine of Alexandria, of particular significance to the Dominicans, Lawrence, and Paul. On the predella are St. Thomas in Ecstasy during the Mass, Christ Walking on Water to Save Peter from Drowning, and The Saving of the Soul of Henry II who, according to the Golden Legend, donated a gold chalice to the Cathedral of Bamberg, which gained him entry into heaven. These three scenes then speak of spiritual recognition, salvation through Christ, and reward in the afterlife.
   On the chapel's altar wall, frescoed by Nardo, Christ again appears as judge, below him the Virgin, St. John the Baptist, the apostles, the blessed, and the damned. On the right wall is Hell, a chaotic scene based on Dante's description in the Inferno with the Seven Deadly Sins, each carefully labeled to ensure their proper identification by viewers. On the chapel's left wall is a depiction of Paradise where the blessed line up in orderly fashion at either side of Christ and the Virgin, who welcome them to heaven while two musical angels add a celebratory tone. One question that arises is why the iconic imagery and the emphasis on death and last judgment at a time when Giotto had already introduced a naturalistic method of representation and rejected morbid medieval subjects in favor of humanized renditions of religious episodes. It has been suggested that the regressive attitudes demonstrated by Orcagna and Nardo del Cione in this commission reflect a fearful Florentine society, traumatized by the devastation caused by the Black Death of 1348. Andrea Orcagna and his brother Nardo del Cione to provide the decorations for his family chapel at Santa Maria Novella, the principal Dominican church of Florence. As the Strozzi Chapel is dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas, a leading Dominican and Tomasso's namesaint, he figures prominently in the decorations. He is represented twice in the chapel's altarpiece (the Strozzi Altarpiece) painted by Orcagna and once in the large stained glass window above the altar. The altarpiece shows the Christ of the Last Judgment enclosed in a mandorla of seraphim and angels. He presents to the kneeling St. Thomas at his right a book opened in one of the passages from Revelations that speaks of final judgment. He also gives to St. Peter at his left the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Thomas is presented to Christ by the Virgin Mary, who is dressed in a Dominican habit, and Peter by St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence. Also present are St. Michael, who weighs the souls, Catherine of Alexandria, of particular significance to the Dominicans, Lawrence, and Paul. On the predella are St. Thomas in Ecstasy during the Mass, Christ Walking on Water to Save Peter from Drowning, and The Saving of the Soul of Henry II who, according to the Golden Legend, donated a gold chalice to the Cathedral of Bamberg, which gained him entry into heaven. These three scenes then speak of spiritual recognition, salvation through Christ, and reward in the afterlife.
   On the chapel's altar wall, frescoed by Nardo, Christ again appears as judge, below him the Virgin, St. John the Baptist, the apostles, the blessed, and the damned. On the right wall is Hell, a chaotic scene based on Dante's description in the Inferno with the Seven Deadly Sins, each carefully labeled to ensure their proper identification by viewers. On the chapel's left wall is a depiction of Paradise where the blessed line up in orderly fashion at either side of Christ and the Virgin, who welcome them to heaven while two musical angels add a celebratory tone. One question that arises is why the iconic imagery and the emphasis on death and last judgment at a time when Giotto had already introduced a naturalistic method of representation and rejected morbid medieval subjects in favor of humanized renditions of religious episodes. It has been suggested that the regressive attitudes demonstrated by Orcagna and Nardo del Cione in this commission reflect a fearful Florentine society, traumatized by the devastation caused by the Black Death of 1348.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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