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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:31

Video transcript

we're in the Piazza just in front of Santa Maria Novella in Florence and we're looking at a facade that was redesigned by Albert day the great Renaissance architect Santa Maria Novella is an important Gothic church here in Florence one of the two men Deacon churches in the city and by that we mean church is founded by the begging orders the orders of monks who begged for a living the Dominicans and the Franciscans and Santa Maria Novella is a Dominican Church now Albert II is coming here in the mid 15th century and his patron is Giovanni rich lie for whom he also designed a palace just a few blocks away and richly inherited the patronage rights to this church but he inherited it from a family that had already begun to design the facade Bertie had some serious problems here because he was a classicist that is he wanted his architecture to conform to what he believed to be the ideals of classical beauty which were based on perfect geometry and rational order and proportion and copying of the rules of architecture handed down from ancient Rome via the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius and the problem was that this was a Gothic church and gothic is anything but orderly so he took this gothic church and on it put a classical facade that also recalls the Romanesque tradition of Italy specifically the baptistry of Florence and also the Church of San Miniato Almonte which is just outside the centre of the city of Florence and we can see that especially in the linear geometric patterns that we see the alternating of the white marble and this green stone so Albert II had an issue not only was he dealing with a gothic Church but there was a pre-existing facade that was only partially complete we're not sure how much of it was there but we think that a number of tombs had already been put in place of which six remain as modern viewers we hardly recognize that those niches are in fact tombs but that's what they are and just above them we see those gothic arches which we also think predate Albert II so what Albert II does with this lower story is that he frames it on each end he gives us a column accompanied by a pier calm has a Corinthian capital and in the center he gives us a doorway modeled on the Pantheon so what had been there before was a small doorway and Alberti gives us a magnificent entryway in fact it's easy to picture what that original doorway would have looked like because to earlier doorways still exist so he defines the edges of the building for us he defines the center with plasters with Corinthian capitals karffard vault over the entrance we see these references to ancient Roman architecture but we also see a reference at the top to an ancient Greek temple front it is clearly a temple front we have a pediment just like we would expect to see on the Parthenon in ancient Greece and we see squared attached columns plasters supporting it and that Greek temple front caused a problem for our Bertie if you look at the four plasters that support the pediment above it those four plasters are not aligned with blasters below them as would be appropriate in a classical building and of course Alberti was all about following the rules of classical architecture so what he does is he wants to distract us and he does that really well he creates this attic zone and he fills it with this decorative pattern of squares with patterns circles within them it creates a zone of isolation between the top and the bottom there is a sense of rigor and geometric order here aside from that one deviation in fact the whole facade fits into a square and that square can be subdivided into additional squares if you look at the bottom zone of the church you see that you have two of those squares and then above that a single centered square so he's got yet another problem to solve which is that he's got this very tall nave inside the church and then the shorter aisles on either side so how to unify those two and he comes up with an ingenious solution and that is to use these s-shaped Scrolls to unify the top and bottom stories now he hadn't invented the idea of the scroll this time he's borrowing it from the lantern of Brunelleschi's dome which is just a couple of blocks away and then he also puts a rosette inside that scroll and so it echoes the round window in the center of the bill they and that roundel is also repeated above in the pediment where we see a child's face in the middle of a sunburst communicating the idea of the resurrection of the afterlife at least we forget who was paying for all of this just below that Sun we see Giovanni Ruchi lies named as patron we also see his family insignia in the windblown sails that decorate the frieze those sails are meant to reference the idea that he hoped that through his faith he might sail to salvation the rich lie were a very wealthy family in Florence but the rutile were not as wealthy and powerful is the medici family we see the medici crest the diamond with three feathers emerging from it right over the central doorway of the church so we can see expression of the root realized loyalty to the Medici here and it's so easy to walk by this church and miss all of this but the 15th century is alive here in Santa Maria Novella in Florence you