At the center of the nave, high above the steps that separate the lower from the upper church, is the magnificent crucifix by Giotto, who, probably painted it between 1288 and 1289.
Santa Maria Novella is the first great basilica in Florence, and is the city's principal Dominican church. The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapterhouse contain a store of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance. They were financed through the generosity of the most important Florentine families, who ensured themselves of funerary chapels on consecrated ground. This church was called Novella (New) because it was built on the site of the 9th-century oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne. When the site was assigned to Dominican Order in 1221, they decided to build a new church and an adjoining cloister. The church was designed by two Dominican friars, Fra Sisto Fiorentino and Fra Ristoro da Campi. Building began in the mid-13th century (about 1246), and was finished about 1360 under the supervision of Friar Iacopo Talenti with the completion of the Romanesque-Gothic bell tower and sacristy. At that time, only the lower part of the Tuscan gothic facade was finished. The church was consecrated in 1420. On a commission from Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, a local textile merchant, Leone Battista Alberti designed the upper part of the inlaid black and white marble facade of the church (1456–1470).