Florence day 2 (continuation 1)

Ospedale degli Innocenti (continuation) and the Santa Maria degli Angeli or Oratory

A comparison: the facades of the Ospedale and the San Matteo (Accademia)

Brunelleschi’s facade is quite different from San Matteo’s: a spedale at a stone throw’s distance from the Ospedale degli Innocentii.78 The columns that Brunelleschi used are similar to classical columns. The Greeks compared their columns to man. Vitruvius, for instance, has the following to say about the Ionic column:

“[…] they conveyed female slenderness to the column first and foremost by first making its thickness an eighth of its height, to make it appear taller. At its lower end, they placed a base by way of a shoe, the capital was adorned with volutes, that hung down on the right and the left like curled locks in a hairdo.
The front was decorated with egg-and-dart bands and garlands shaped to resemble hair on the forehead and had grooves running down the entire length of the torso, like folds in the long clothes usually worn by women.”According to Vitruvius’ in his description of an Ionic capital.

Vitruvius, ‘Handbook of Architecture’, Athenaeum-Polak &Van Gennep, Amsterdam 1997 page. 113 (Volume IV

A little further along in his text, Vitruvius remarks that the height of the Ionic column eventually became nine times its diameter. The Corinthian column that Brunelleschi generally used, was not considered a woman, but a girl. Obviously, such a pillar had to appear even more slender, which is why the diameter was multiplied by ten to arrive at the correct height.

Walking up the steps, you come level with the Corinthian columns. Your foot is right beside a plinth not much higher than your shoe.79

Loggia van het Ospedale degli Innocenti large size

With this design, Brunelleschi returned to the classical, anthropomorphic ideas about columns. Bear in mind that people spoke of the foot of a pillar and a capitellum [Latin for little head], from which the word capital is derived. This approach to columns represented a break with the architectural tradition of Florence. Octagonal pillars without an entasis were used, among others, in the old Santa Reparata, the Duomo and the Santa Maria Novella. The loggia of the oldest spedale, San Matteo, which dates to around 1390, provides a beautiful example of how novel Brunelleschi’s approach was.

Ospedale San Matteo present-day Accademia large size        Accademia

The columns of the loggia are octagonal and placed on a wall. The leaves of these columns are very rigid and unnatural (columns Ospedale). These stone leaves bear no resemblance to the naturalist Tuscan style: folia d’aqua, they appear to be uniform stampings.80 The arches that these columns support are not hemispherical, but slightly flattened.

And yet, there are also clear similarities between the San Matteo and the Ospedale degli Innocenti. There is, for instance, the odd number of bays – seven compared to nine at the Ospedale – creating symmetry with the emphasis on a central axis. What is more, the floors of the building are clearly separated by a string course and the series of arcades is concluded with a final bay as if it were a bookend.81

The capitals of the Ospedale degli Innocenti’s columns of the Corinthian order are considerably more naturalistic than the ones we just saw at the San Matteo. In addition, these capitals have the classical double row of leaves. The shaft of the column does not seem as rigid as the octagonal columns of the San Matteo. In his round columns, Brunelleschi also used an entasis for his round columns, which lends them a much more natural appearance.

Reconstruction  large size      The Corinthian capital of Brunelleschi        Corinthian capital large size

The arches just barely touch the architrave. This in contrast to what we saw at the San Matteo, were a narrow band, a string course, is not connected to the arches below it. At each bay, a window was built exactly above the centre of the arch, allowing sufficient light to enter the corridor behind it that provides access to the sleeping quarters. Brunelleschi was very meticulous in his placement of windows and always provided regular lighting. The two end bays are wider, as a result of which the distance between the windows in the corner bays and the other windows is also greater. This is partly why Brunelleschi had originally planned pilasters at the end bays. This had the additional advantage that the corner bays would have served as bookends, just like they do in the series of nine identical bays (the number of bays was later to be extended).

When Brunelleschi’s involvement in the construction of the Ospedale degli Innocenti ends in 1427, Francesco di Francesco di Pierozzo della Luna (erroneously identified by Vasari as Francesco della Luna) takes charge of the project.82 Francesco had considerable influence in the silk guild and was probably the driving force behind the plans of 1427 to substantially extend the complex. Brunelleschi’s biographer, Manetti, was not at all happy about the way Francesco built the facade. Loosely translated, his criticism was:

“It has a number of serious shortcomings, in contrast with Brunelleschi’s design, that are plain for all to see. One of them is the frieze, which runs across the arches; another is the architrave. As well as the two windows and the narrow pilasters that project above the cornice and at the same time serve as a support for the windows and the upper cornice, which supposedly supports the cantilevering roof. Just like the extension of the building [Teg: south side bay] that appears along the facade in front of the portico and contains a faulty proportion as well as the extension itself. And then there is the matter of the architrave that is bent downward, descending to the basement of the building. In one word, all kinds of deviations.”

Manetti, ‘The life of Brunelleschi by Antonio di Tucci Manetti’, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London 1970, lines: 1074-1089 (first edition published around 1480)

‘The architrave that is turned downward’ (Bent architrave) might be in violation of the Vitruvian canon, but was not unusual in Florence. Both the Baptistry and the San Miniato al Monte feature an architrave that changes direction from a horizontal band to a vertical one. When Filippo Brunelleschi revisits Florence, and sees the result of his design, he admonishes Francesco. The latter defends himself by saying that he had copied the bent architrave from the San Giovanni church, which was a very old building. “To which Filippo said: There is only one flaw in that building [Teg: Baptistry], and you copied it.’83 Also, Francesco had not built the two planned corner bay pilasters.

This resulted in a much-reduced distinction between the two ‘bookends’ of the loggia and the nine bays in between. Manetti wrote about ‘another faulty proportion’ in the facade, but failed to mention exactly which proportion of the facade he was talking about.

The proportions of the facade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti

The facade’s proportions are, among others, based on the distance between the columns as shown in this drawing.84 As Brunelleschi was using the Corinthian order, as he often did, he had to adhere to the classical rules and make the height of the column ten times its diameter. But this is not actually the case. This is because Brunelleschi’s designs were not just based on the classical numerical ratios, but also on the Mediaeval system of geometric proportions.85 In his floorplan, for instance, Brunelleschi used the inner square (so without the logia) of the central courtyard. The diagonal of this inner square was used as a module for the layout of the floorplan. This diagonal (forty-two braccia long; rounded off, that is) was then used to create a second, larger square. This was the square of the inner courtyard including the loggia, of which the diagonal is sixty braccia long (again rounded off). Next, the two concentric squares were centred using a perpendicular line. The length of the facade was determined by the diagonal of the larger square. This was done by folding out the large diagonal (sixty braccia) on both sides of the centre line, the central east-to-west axis.86
The facade (Brunelleschi’s original design) then became 120 braccia wide. Finally, the facade was divided up into bays, to wit: 15 braccia for the two outermost bays and 10 for each of the nine loggia bays. However, the two systems, the mediaeval and the classical one, are incompatible. This means that Brunelleschi had no choice but to compromise. For instance, the wide corner bays are not 15, but 14.33 braccia, which meant that the geometric proportions were no longer correct. The deviation from the classical Corinthian column is almost indiscernible to the naked eye. The ratio is not 1:10, but 1:10.77. A deviation of around eight percent is almost invisible. In short, a compromise that was optically quite acceptable. It was, however, a substantial deviation for an architect who was one of the first to re-introduce the classical rules and very strict about it. Michelozzo and Alberti applied the classical canon much more loosely, in particular where the use of the orders was concerned.

For his tabernacle at the San Miniato al Monte, Michelozzo used no less than four different capitals for the columns.

The Ospedale degli Innocenti and the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata (Piazza dei Servi)

The facade zoom in and an Aerial picture
façade Ospedale degli Innocenti Brunelleschi Florence

photo: Wikipedia

Giuseppe Zocchi ‘View of the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata’ 57.2 x 87.7 cm. oil on canvas c. 1738 large size
Giuseppe Zocchi ‘View of the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata’ 1780

The facade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti is not only explained from the geometric proportions Brunelleschi used for his original design. At least as important was the square in front of it, which was then still known as the Piazza dei Servi.87 When the plot for the Ospedale had been purchased, so much of it was still lying vacant, that the complex could be designed without restrictions. Walking down the Via dei Servi, a street that connects the square of the Duomo to the Piazza dei Servi, you can see the Santissima Annunziata on the other side. Michelozzo was to build an atrium with a loggia for this church in 1444, one year before the first orphans arrived at the Ospedale. The Rotunda of the Santissima Annunziata, a later addition, was placed directly on the axis of the Via dei Servi.

Via dei Servi
Via dei Servi Florence

photos: davidshort and waterboyzoo

The Santissima Annunziata closes off the north side of the square. Brunelleschi placed the loggia of his Ospedale precisely on the axis of the existing church, and in such a way that his facade ran exactly parallel to the Santissima Annunziata. In doing so, Filippo Brunelleschi took the first step toward a regularly shaped square. Click here for a floorplan showing the changes to the square in 1427, 1454 and 1629. Filippo had probably already planned a loggia such as the one of his Ospedale even before the eventual construction of the opposite gallery. The loggia was built in 1516 by Antonio da Sangallo and Baccio D’Agnolo, closing off the west side of the square as well. Lastly, the south side of the square is demarcated by the construction of the Palazzo Griffoni. This completed the square and gave it the appearance of a public room, albeit one without a roof.

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata and the living room without a roof
Piazza dei Servi, Florence, living room without a roof, Florence

photo: paolo allas opaxir

Before we enter the Ospedale, we will take a moment to examine the famous tondi by Antonio di Nino della Robbia: the orphans in swaddling clothes. These tondi are often erroneously attributed to Lucca or Andrea Robbia.88


photo: 4Pas

You will find the ruota on the left-hand side of the loggia. This is a rotating stone on which women could place their unwanted babies. The woman then had to pull a cord connected to a bell, the stone would be turned and the child found a new home.

The ruota before the placement of the gate and a reconstruction
Gioacchino Toma ‘Gioacchino Toma ‘The guardian watching over baby hatch’ 1877


“In the left corner of the colonnade, you can still see the old foundling wheel, la ruota dei gettatelli as the Florentines would call it (‘the wheel of the foundlings’). Between 1419 and 1875, this is where women could leave their unwanted babies. Because the wheel had two floors, the woman could simply place the baby in a compartment of the wheel on the street side, with the other side being closed. The child would then be rotated inside so nurses could gather up the baby. This way, the baby was immediately handed over to the relative safety of the hospital while safeguarding the identity of the parents by keeping them anonymous.
The wheel is now closed, but you can still make out its meaning from the text above it where the wheel was located. The text reads: Pater et mater dereliquerunt nos Dominus autem assumpsit (‘Mother and father have abandoned us, but the Lord has welcomed us’ Psalm xxvi). And: Questa fu per quattro secoli fine al 1875 la ruota degli innocenti segreto rifugio di miserie e di colpe alle quali perpetua soccorre quella carità che non serra porte. ( ‘Spanning four centuries, until 1875, this was the wheel of the innocent, a discrete refuge from misery and setback by offering everlasting, indiscriminate compassion”.

Cited from: Aniek Rooderkerken Italië uitgelicht (Dutch)

Behind the facade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti

What holds true for the facade, does not apply to what is hidden behind it.89 The facade has a strong all’antica feel, which was completely novel at the time. Apparently, the visitor’s first impression was what mattered most to Filippo.  Even though it must be said that the inner courtyards were not built under Brunelleschi’s supervision.

Both the first inner courtyard and the later constructed cortile delle Donne feature characteristics that have little to do with the Renaissance and should really be considered as part of the Gothic era. The vaults in the loggias, for instance, no longer feature hemispherical domes, but groin vaults. The columns in the Cortile delle Donna are anything but all’antica. These columns have round instead of square plinths. In addition, the columns are too narrow, too high, and the capitals also differ considerably from those found on Brunelleschi’s columns.

Cortile delle Donna
 Cortile delle Donna Osepdale degli Innocenti Brunelleschi Florence

The Ospedale degli Innocenti already shows many hallmarks of Brunelleschi’s style, such as:

  1. A geometric design featuring an all’antica modular system in which the two systems are integrated as well as possible.90
  2. Uniformity of several elements, such as only one kind of capital and only one kind of fronton. A prime example thereof is the facade.91
  3. An even lighting through clever window placement.92
“To preserve the balance of the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, a gallery was built across Brunelleschi’s portico between 1516 and 1525 by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder and Baccio d’Agnolo, which is known as the Loggia of the Servite Order [Loggia dei Servi di Maria]. Instead of the medals with the children, it shows the Servite symbol, an S that is woven around the stem of a lily. The loggia for the Annunziata was constructed in 1601 by Giovanni Battsita Caccini, commissioned by the brothers Alexander and Ribert Pucci as can be read on the cornice.”

Luc Verhuyck ‘Firenze Een Anekdotische reisgids’ Athenaeum-Polak&van Gennep Amsterdam 2006 p. 171


Museum Ospedale degli Innocenti

 Entrance museum the golden door      Youtube LdM NEWS (1.47 minutes)
entrance museum opsdale degli Innocenti golden door

Site Museum, museum’s plan,  timetable entrance address and Museum spaces in Ospedale

“Florence has a new museum this week, as the Ospedale degli Innocenti’s museum is reopening after an eight-year, €13 million expansion and restoration.
When it was created in 1419, Florence’s Ospedale degli Innocenti was Europe’s first orphanage, a place where impoverished parents could leave their children to be raised. The new museum spans four floors of the building, telling the history of the institution and its charges.
One room on the lowest floor houses a bank of 140 drawers, each one containing the objects left with an abandoned child, known as their segni or ‘mark’, such as pins, rags and beads. Multimedia exhibits reconstruct the lives of 70 of the children who lived in the institution through the centuries until it closed in 1875, including moving artefacts such as letters home from WWI.

Bernardino Poccetti

The building that houses the museum is famous as arguably the first building of the Renaissance, its elegant arched portico the first commission of architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who went on to create the dome of Florence’s cathedral. On the left of the portico is the window where abandoned children could be left anonymously and at the tops of the Roman-style columns are blue terracotta medallions of infants in swaddling clothes designed by Andrea della Robbia.
On the third floor is an art gallery, showcasing works commissioned by the institution, including paintings by Botticelli (Madonna and Child with an Angel),  Domenico Ghirlandaio, Bartholomeo di Giovanni, Piero di Cosimo, Neri di Bicci [or Cosimo Roselli?] Luca and Andrea della RobbiaGiovanni del Biondo. The museum is intended to be child-friendly, with labels low down on the walls, a photo opportunity where children can pretend to be swaddled and daily childrens’ activities. At the top of the museum, in an area where the laundry would have been dried is a new rooftop cafe with a great view over the city.”

Source: Loneyplanet 

These items were pinned to the orphaned children in the belief that they would help reunite them with their parents in the future.

Domenico di Michelino ‘Madonna degli Innocenti’ 1440
Domenico di Michelino Madonna degli Innocenti 1440 Ospedale degli Innocenti


Bartolomeo di Giovanni predella and  more pictures of the  predella by Web Gallery of Art
Bartolomeo di Giovanni predella Ospedale degli Innoncenti


“Look closely at this painting (1488) by Bartolomeo di Giovanni; it was commissioned for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence. The six-sided altar at the centre of the composition points to the Sixth Day Sacrifice of the Cross. There is fire burning on the altar, a sign of the Holy Ghost. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s gesture indicates that she is offering the Infant Christ and participating in His sacrifice. Simeon’s gesture is one of acceptance; he is an image of the Eternal Father. Saint Joseph holds the turtle doves in his cloak; Joseph was chosen by God to veil the mystery. Anna, entering the painting at the extreme left, holds the lighted candle of her faith and hope as she witnesses the arrival in the temple of the long-awaited Priest and Victim, the Consolation of Israel.”

Scource: vultuschristi.org

On the top floor of the museum is a restaurant with a beautiful view of the city.

Top floor restaurant

Finally, we pay a visit to the small Pinacotheca because we will visit the Ospedale only on this architecture day. The Pinacotheca houses a fine altar piece by Ghirlandaio. The subject is ‘the Adoration of the Magi’, but in the background, we can see the event that this spedale was named for, the murder of the innocent children.

Ghirlandaio ‘Adoration of the Magi’  detail Children    In the museum
Ghirlandaio Adoration of the Magi Ospedale degli Innocenti


“The Adoration of the Magi by Domenico Ghirlandaio from 1488, the date is listed at the top right, was commissioned for the main altar of the church at the hospital. Above the crib, angels hold a cartouche that says ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo‘, which is the hymn sung at the birth of Christ. As was common in those times, Ghirlandaio added a self-portrait as the man who looks towards the viewer above the crucifix staff. The man in black to his left is the donor, who at the time was the prior of the Innocenti monastery. The lavishly dressed figures to the right are the wealthy silk traders. The young man to the right of Ghirlandaio is holding a glass of medicine, after all, one of the tasks of the Ospedale was to care for the health of its inhabitants. Behind the Madonna are two boys who are laying the bricks of the Ospedale, which was constructed in the same period as the painting. To the left of the crib, we see a depiction of the murder of the innocent (the Innocenti). Two injured children at the base of the composition symbolize that slaughter and they kneel in front of the Madonna, who will protect them as if they were her own, which immediately makes clear the purpose of the Ospedale. Behind the scene of the infanticide, we see a few Roman monuments at the base of the hill: from left to right, they are the Colosseum, Trajan’s Column, the Torre delle Milizie and the Pyramid of Cestius. For the landscape that makes up the decor of the painting, Ghirlandaio relied on Flemish examples.”

Cited and translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘Firenze Een Anekdotische reisgids’ Athenaeum-Polak&van Gennep Amsterdam 2006 p. 170

The Ospedale has a long history. It underwent a radical renovation between 1964 and 1975, in which it was, in as far as possible, restored to its original condition. Despite all the changes, one thing has remained constant: the building is still being used to benefit children. Today, it houses a day care centre and a paediatric institute.

The Santa Maria degli Angeli, or the Oratory

In 1426, Filippo di Stefano Scolari, better known as Pippo Spano, a Florentine condottiere in the service of King Sigismundi of Hungary, had to execute the will of his younger brother Matteo and his second cousin Andrea di Filippo Scolari. The will stipulated that two monasteries were to be built outside the Florence city walls. Pippo Spano received permission from Pope Martin V to change the will so that only one monastery was to be built. Unfortunately, Filippo di Stefano Scolari died before he could actually execute the will. His heir, Filippo di Rinieri Scolari, drew up a first contract with the wool guild, the Calimala, at the end of August 1431.93 A vacant lot was formerly used as an orto, a garden. The Santa Maria degli Angeli was eventually built on this parcel of land, just outside the monastery at the junction of the Via del Castellaccio and the present-day Via degli Alfani.

 Santa Maria degli Angeli Codice Rustici
Codice Rustici Santa Maria degli Angeli Florence

The contract’s third paragraph stipulates the following two conditions for the construction of the church:

1. A fully partitioned choir for the monks.
2. The partition is to consist of fencing or lattice work.

Later, a controversy arose in literature about what this choir looked like exactly. Saalman provides a number of arguments as to why the altar and the choir must have been situated in the middle of the rotunda. Because, according to this author

1. The monks who commissioned this church built had an interest in a main altar.94
2. The 1431 contract uses the word partition in the plural.

If this were accurate, the surrounding chapels were intended for the visitors. These chapels feature passage ways just like those in the nave of the Santissima Annunziata, enabling visitors to walk through all chapels without having to enter the nave (see floorplan).

Three years after the first, a second contract is concluded in 1434.95 It’s an agreement between the Arte di Calimala and the brothers of the Santa Maria degli Angeli. This agreement, drawn up in Latin, states that the following must be realised at all cost:

1. The coats of arms of the Scolari family; but also of the brothers.
2. A partitioned choir.
3. A lattice work around the choir.
4. A proper altar.
5. A mass must be celebrated each year on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (After all, the Oratory is dedicated to Mary).

The plan was to build a proper square in front of the Oratory. An open loggia was planned around the Santa Maria degli Angeli. The plan was cancelled, however, due to a dispute over the plot surrounding the Oratory that was to be built. The Servites of the Santissima Annunziata claimed half of the plot. At trial, their demand was sustained by the court. Antonio Manetti is the only source attributing the design to Brunelleschi. According to Manetti, by 1434 construction of the Oratory had reached “the pilasters without capitals.’96

The present-day Santa Maria degli Angeli was extensively renovated under Mussolini. It is not clear what Brunelleschi’s design looked like exactly. A large number of reconstructions have been made based on drawings, primarily the floorplan by Giuliano da Sangallo. The most well-known reconstructions are those by Sanpaolesi and Battisti.

reconstructie Santa Maria degli Angeli Brunelleschi Florence

And yet, all these reconstructions are highly hypothetical in nature. Giuliano da Sangallo’s 15th century drawing has been crucial to all later reconstructions (Codex Barberini Lat. 4424,f,.15v).97 Research has shown, however, that Sangallo’s sketchbook, ‘the libro piccolo’, which included this drawing, had been enlarged. Bass later discovered that there was an underdrawing that Hülsen, who had examined the sketchbook in his research, had overlooked. This underdrawing shows that Sangallo had drawn a second door. This means that there were two doors: one on the west side and the other on the east side. From this information, Saalman deducted that the ‘rectangular appendix’ is not necessarily a choir, as was always assumed. Manetti mentions that the location of the choir was uncertain. Saalman argues that the choir room was located in the centre Manetti.98

Brunelleschi and his style in the Oratory

1.The niches in the pilasters flanking the chapels on the inside were now complemented by niches on the outside (see the floorplan and click here for an illustration from the Codex Barberini).99 They resemble the narrow niches in the choir of the Old Sacristy. Novel was that they could now be found on the outside as well. This type of niche was presumably the predecessor of the niches that Bramante used in his Tempieto in Rome, but are also found in the columns of St Peter’s.
2.Also notable are the archivolts that he utilizes in the Oratory’s drum. These arches with round windows inside, which are strongly reminiscent of the Santa Maria dei Fiori, support the drum’s cornice above. Why did Brunelleschi place archivolts here? After all, the traditional solution would be to use pilasters here, extended from the columns below like he did on the outside of the Baptistry. Brunelleschi, however, decided to use arches.
3.The explanation for why arches were used in the drum touches on the essence of Brunelleschi’s architecture. Filippo always tried to keep the number of construction elements to a minimum. You would, as it were, use a box of building blocks with a very limited number of shapes to build something beautiful.100

Brunelleschi’s design strongly influenced Baldassare Longhena. This architect built the Santa Maria della Salute at a prominent location in Venice, the Canal Grande. The floorplan of this Venetian Baroque church clearly demonstrates that Longhena was inspired by the Santa Maria degli Angeli.

The Oratory after 1500

The Oratory’s history after 1500 is well documented. In 1560, Duke Cosimo abandoned the idea to house the Accademica in the Oratory. In 1867, the sculptor Enrico Pazzi, who also carved Dante’s statue in the Piazza Santa Croce, converted the elements that were still standing into a studio. Many architects and art historians took a strong interest in the Oratory, and they prevented it from falling into further disrepair as best they could. Serious research was carried out into the Oratory, which brought to light a crypt under the western entrance chapel. But then WW I intervened. In 1919, nurses were housed in the building. It wasn’t until 1934, under fascism, that an extensive restoration was undertaken in which the Oratory was completed. After its restoration, the building was used as an office for the pension fund. In 1980, the university of Florence acquired the building.  The pension fund’s filing cabinets were removed.

Present-day Oratory university interior and exterior
Present-day Oratory university interior and exterior Brunelleschi Florence

Day 2-continuation-2