I never cross the Ponte Vecchio and see these artificers in their blouses through the windows, without wondering if in any of their boy assistants is the Michelangelo, or Orcagna, or Ghirlandaio, or even Cellini, of the future, since all of those, and countless others of the Renaissance masters, began in precisely this way.
The odd thing is that one is on the Ponte Vecchio, from either end, before one knows it to be a bridge at all. A street of sudden steepness is what it seems to be. Not the least charming thing upon it is the masses of groundsel which have established themselves on the pent roof over the goldsmiths’ shops. Every visitor to Florence must have longed to occupy one of these little bridge houses; but I am not aware that any has done so.
One of the oldest streets in Florence must be the Via Girolami, from the Ponte Vecchio to the Uffizi, under an arch. A turning to the left brings one to the Piazza S. Stefano, where the barn-like church of S. Stefano is entered; and close by is the Torre de’ Girolami, where S. Zenobius lived. S. Stefano, although it is now so easily overlooked, was of importance in its day, and it was here that Niccolo da Uzzano, the leader of the nobles, held a meeting to devise means of checking the growing power of the people early in the fifteenth century and was thwarted by old Giovanni de’ Medici. From that thwarting proceeded the power of the Medici family and the gloriously endowed Florence that we travel to see.
S. Maria Novella
The great churches of Florence—A Dominican cathedral—The “Decameron” begins—Domenico Ghirlandaio—Alessio Baldovinetti—The Louvre—The S. Maria Novella frescoes—Giovanni and Lorenzo Tornabuoni—Ruskin implacable—Cimabue’s Madonna—Filippino Lippi—Orcagna’s “Last Judgment”—The Cloisters of Florence—The Spanish Chapel—S. Dominic triumphant—Giotto at his sweetest—The “Wanderer’s” doom—The Piazza, as an arena.
S. Maria Novella is usually bracketed with S. Croce as the most interesting Florentine church after the Duomo, but S. Lorenzo has of course to be reckoned with very seriously. I think that for interest I should place S. Maria Novella fifth, including also the Baptistery before it, but architecturally second. Its interior is second in beauty only to S. Croce. S. Croce is its immediate religious rival, for it was because the Dominicans had S. Maria Novella, begun in 1278, that several years later the Franciscans determined to have an equally important church and built S. Croce. The S. Maria Novella architects were brothers of the order, but Talenti, whom we saw at work both on Giotto’s tower and on San Michele, built the campanile, and Leon Battista Alberti the marble facade, many years later. The richest patrons of S. Maria Novella—corresponding to the Medici at S. Lorenzo and the Bardi at S. Croce—were the Rucellai, whose palace, designed also by the wonderful versatile Alberti, we have seen.