SM Novella and Leone Acciaioli's Chapel

I love food, and am fascinated by the history of eating. A few years ago a girlfriend and I went to Florence to do a tour of Last Suppers just before Easter. The Last Supper was of course a Passover meal, but is depicted in ways that often reveal more about how the painter's contemporaries ate than Jesus did.

This is one we missed, and which I only discovered last month - a last supper in a sacristy of the library of the Pharmacy at Santa Maria Novella in Florence (if that convoluted explanation gives you a headache, I'm sure they'll sell you suitable pills at the pharmacy).

Last Suppers tended to be in refectories - although the monastery proper has one, those rooms are now too large for the remaining monks, and instead for form part of the museum. The monks at S.M. Novella very kindly allowed me to see their current refectory, which is a modern room with an old master last supper; by Plautilla Nelli, one of the few women painters of the period, but alas not a very good one.

The S.M. Novella Pharmacy is one of the oldest still in use, and although there are now branches around the world, the original and its museum are well worth visiting - I always pick up some of their honeys and the odd bottle of pills or potions.

What makes these frescoes depicting the Passion of Christ so interesting is that they were funded by Leone Acciaioli. The Acciaioli were a powerful Florentine banking family before the Medici, and also Lords of Athens for a while - in that position they were considered good rulers and loved by the Athenians. The frescoes are believed to have been executed by Mariotto di Nardo very early in his career, between 1385 and 1405. The Acciaioli are known to have used funds from their Greek lands to fund religious works in Florence - for example Niccolò's Corinth lands paid for the Florentine Certosa, in which he was later buried - and it may well be that the Medieval wealth of Athens funded these frescoes too.

L’Officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria NovellaVia della Scala, 16; tel. +39 055 216276.
Open daily

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