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Santa Maria Novella

1st Qtr 1999


Florence, Italy


This edition's limited edition signed print by Ladd P. Ehlinger is of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. This is actually a Gothic church with a Renaissance facade completed in 1470 -- and a very famous one at that. It became famous because the architect, Leon Battista Alberti, solved the problem of the awkwardness of a facade when expressing the spatial configuration produced by the lower side aisles' roofs juxtaposed to the higher nave roof in the middle. In the usual Gothic style expression, towers on each side of the facade concealed this awkwardness of roof height change. Alberti used the device of the scrolls on either side to provide a visual transition from the low roofs to the high roof, and bounded decorative circles within the scrolls that echoed the rose window, the decorative circle in the pediment and the tops of the arches.

Another interesting aspect of Santa Maria Novella is the use of severely contrasting stone within the same plane of an element. The dark stone is actually a very dark green color and the white is a rather stark white -- which almost renders a black and white effect. This gives an ambiguous definition or rendering of surfaces: in some areas an almost "zebra stripe" effect is created, such as on the pilasters. When this technique is used next to definitive elements such as the squares under the cornices, it defies the shadows that are produced, and tends to give a vibratory appearance or shimmering effect to the surfaces. Other Florentine Renaissance churches made use of

this same device, such as the Duomo, and S. Miniato al Monte, and the Cathedrals at Siena and at Prato as well. Alberti was a great 15th century architect, with more of an intellectual than practical bent. He was an avid writer, and a traveler who visited ancient Roman ruins and studied the theories of classical architecture and mathematical proportions described in those theories. He was also a sculptor. His books on architecture spread Renaissance ideas and concepts throughout Italy and Western Europe with great influence.

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