Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti

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The Ospedale degli Innocenti ('Hospital of the Innocents', also known in Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 as L' Ospedale degli Innocenti) is a historical building in Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, central Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi
Filippo Brunelleschi
Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the foremost architects and engineers of the Italian Renaissance. He is perhaps most famous for inventing linear perspective and designing the dome of the Florence Cathedral, but his accomplishments also included bronze artwork, architecture , mathematics,...

, who received the commission in 1419, it was originally a children's orphanage. It is regarded as a notable example of early Italian Renaissance architecture. The hospital, which features a nine bay loggia
Loggia is the name given to an architectural feature, originally of Minoan design. They are often a gallery or corridor at ground level, sometimes higher, on the facade of a building and open to the air on one side, where it is supported by columns or pierced openings in the wall...

 facing the Piazza SS. Annunziata, was built and managed by the "Arte della Seta" or Silk Guild of Florence. That guild was one of the wealthiest in the city and, like most guilds, took upon itself philanthropic duties.

The façade is made up of nine semicircular arches springing from columns of the Composite order. The semicircular windows brings the building down, earthbound and is a revival of the classical style, no longer a pointed arch. In the spandrels of the arches there are glazed blue terracotta roundels with reliefs of babies suggesting the function of the building. There is an emphasis on the horizontal because the building is longer than it is tall. Above each semicircular arch is a tabernacle window (a rectangular window with a triangular pediment on the top).

The clean and clear sense of proportion is reflected in the building. The height of the columns is the same width of the intercolumniation and the width of the arcade is equal to the height of the column, making each bay a cube. The simple proportions of the building reflect a new age, of secular education and a sense of great order and clarity. Also half the height of the column is the height of the entablature, which is appropriate for a clear minded society.

Children were sometimes abandoned in a basin which was located at the front portico. However, this basin was removed in 1660 and replaced by a wheel for secret refuge. There was a door with a special rotating horizontal wheel that brought the baby into the building without the parent being seen. This allowed people to leave their babies, anonymously, to be cared for by the orphanage. This system was in operation until the hospital's closure in 1875. Today the building houses a small museum of Renaissance art.

Building History

The Foundling Hospital was constructed in several phases and only the first phase (1419–1427) was under Brunelleschi’s direct supervision. Later phases added the attic story (1439), but omitted the pilasters that Brunelleschi seems to have envisioned, and expanded the building by one bay to the south (1430). The vaulted passageway in the bay to the left of the loggia was also added later. Since the loggia was started before the hospital was begun, the hospital was not formally opened until 1445.


Brunelleschi's design was based on Classical Roman, Italian Romanesque
Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of Medieval Europe characterised by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque architecture, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 10th century. It developed in the 12th century into the Gothic style,...

 and late Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture....

. The loggia was a well known building type, such as the Loggia dei Lanzi
Loggia dei Lanzi
The Loggia dei Lanzi, also called the Loggia della Signoria, is a building on a corner of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy, adjoining the Uffizi Gallery. It consists of wide arches open to the street, three bays wide and one bay deep. The arches rest on clustered pilasters with...

. But the use of round columns with classically correct capitals
Capital (architecture)
In architecture the capital forms the topmost member of a column . It mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it, broadening the area of the column's supporting surface...

, in this case of the Composite Order
Composite order
The composite order is a mixed order, combining the volutes of the Ionic order capital with the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian order. The composite order volutes are larger, however, and the composite order also has echinus molding with egg-and-dart ornamentation between the volutes...

, in conjunction with a dosserets (or impost blocks) was novel. So too, the circular arch
An arch is a structure that spans a space and supports a load. Arches appeared as early as the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamian brick architecture and their systematic use started with the Ancient Romans who were the first to apply the technique to a wide range of structures.-Technical aspects:The...

es and the segmented spherical dome
A dome is a structural element of architecture that resembles the hollow upper half of a sphere. Dome structures made of various materials have a long architectural lineage extending into prehistory....

s behind them. The architectural elements were also all articulated in grey stone and set off against the white of the walls. This motif came to be known as pietra serena (Italian: dark stone). Also novel was the proportional logic. The heights of the columns, for example, was not arbitrary. If a horizontal line is drawn along the tops of the columns, a square is created out of the height of the column and the distance from one column to the next. This desire for regularity and geometric order was to become an important element in Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture is the architecture of the period between the early 15th and early 17th centuries in different regions of Europe, demonstrating a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture. Stylistically, Renaissance...


The Tondi

Above each column is a ceramic tondo
Tondo (art)
A tondo is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, either a painting or a sculpture. The word derives from the Italian rotondo, "round." The term is usually not used in English for small round paintings, but only those over about 60 cm in diameter, thus excluding many round portrait...

. These were originally meant by Brunelleschi to be blank concavities, but ca. 1490, Andrea della Robbia
Andrea della Robbia
Andrea della Robbia was an Italian Renaissance sculptor, especially in ceramics. He was the son of Marco della Robbia. Andrea della Robbia's uncle, Luca della Robbia, popularized the use of glazed terra-cotta for sculpture...

 was commissioned to fill them in. The design features a baby in swaddling clothes on a blue wheel, indicative of the horizontal wheel in the wall where babies could be rotated into the interior. A few of the tondi are still the original ones, but some are nineteenth century copies.

The insignia of the American Academy of Pediatrics
American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics is the major professional association of pediatricians in the United States. The AAP was founded in 1930 by 35 pediatricians to address pediatric healthcare standards. It currently has 60,000 members in primary care and sub-specialist areas...

 is based on one of the tondi.

Piazza Santissima Annunziata

The Foundling Hospital defines the eastern side of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, the other two principle facades of which were built later to imitate the Brunelleschi’s loggia. The piazza was not designed by Brunelleschi, as is sometimes reported in guide books. The west façade, the Loggia dei Servi di Maria, was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder
Antonio da Sangallo the Elder
Antonio da Sangallo the Elder was an Italian Renaissance architect who specialized in the design of fortifications.-Biography:Antonio da Sangallo was born at Florence....

 in the 1520s. It was built for the mendicant order, the Servi di Maria, but is today a hotel. The north side of the piazza is defined by the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata
Basilica della Santissima Annunziata di Firenze
The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Florence, Italy, the mother church of the Servite order. It is located at the northeastern side of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata....

, the Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation. Though the building is much older, the facade was added in 1601 by the architect Giovanni Battista Caccini. The equestrian statue of Ferdinand I of Tuscany was made by the noted sculptor, Giambologna
Giambologna, born as Jean Boulogne, incorrectly known as Giovanni da Bologna and Giovanni Bologna , was a sculptor, known for his marble and bronze statuary in a late Renaissance or Mannerist style.- Biography :...

 (pseudonym for Jean de Boulogne) and placed there in 1608. The fountain was added in 1640.

Vincenzio Borghini as Administrator of the Ospedale degli Innocenti

The Ospedale degli Innocenti was a charity institution that was responsible for the welfare of abandoned children. It represented social and humanistic views of Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 during the early Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

. However, it can also explain how investors used Florence’s charitable institutions as savings banks. A relationship between charity and Italian city-states can be depicted by using the Innocenti as a case study. Furthermore, the hospital still remains as a significant place with a statement of compassion and care besides its unpleasant downfalls.

In 1552, Don Vincenzio Borghini was appointed spedalingo, or superintendent, of the Innocenti. He was employed by Cosimo de' Medici
Cosimo de' Medici
Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici was the first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance; also known as "Cosimo 'the Elder'" and "Cosimo Pater Patriae" .-Biography:Born in Florence, Cosimo inherited both his wealth and his expertise in...

, grand duke of Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

. Borghini’s education as a Benedictine
Benedictine refers to the spirituality and consecrated life in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century for the cenobitic communities he founded in central Italy. The most notable of these is Monte Cassino, the first monastery founded by Benedict...

 monk molded the lives of children in the hospital.

The Innocenti was responsible for the care of abandoned children and provided them with the ability to rejoin society. The first infant abandoned was on February 5, 1445, ten days after opening. Babies were received, wet nurse
Wet nurse
A wet nurse is a woman who is used to breast feed and care for another's child. Wet nurses are used when the mother is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself. Wet-nursed children may be known as "milk-siblings", and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of...

d and weaned. Masters were hired to teach reading and writing to boys. Boys were taught various skills according to their abilities. Girls were considered to be the weaker sex, fragile and most vulnerable. They were sent to mistresses who taught them how to sew, cook and other occupations expected for women. The hospital provided dowries for the girls and they had the option of getting married or become nuns. In the late 1520s, an extension was built to the south along the Via de' Fibbiai. This was intentionally for women who did not marry or become a nun.

Borghini, after five months of becoming superintendent, wanted to get hold of the hospital’s operai to eliminate wet nurses who defrauded the hospital. One of the main issues was that wet nursing increased the number of pregnancy. Some would resort to feeding the infants with cow or goat’s milk. Mothers would sometimes abandon their own children to feed a child from the hospital. Others would even abandon their own children at the Innocenti, get hired as a wet nurse and end up feeding their own child with pay. There was also continuation of salary from the hospital after the death of an infant.

There were three major years of great famine, 1556–57, 67 and 1569-70. This was due to an imbalance between population and agricultural capacity. It was very difficult to reduce cost while balancing high admissions. During the sixteenth century, an increase in population impacted the Innocenti as well as high wheat prices. In 1557, there were also problems with maintaining supplies of grain since flooding occurred in the Innocenti's storehouse.

The hospital suffered from financial debt. The main problem was trying to balance expenses and revenues. Cosimo and Francesco
Francesco is the most common name among males in Italy, and is the given name of:* Francesco Barbaro, , Venetian politician.* Francesco Sforza, , Italian condottiero and Duke of Milan...

 had an unstable organization between private charity and finance and constantly over withdrew money. They had used the Innocenti as their personal charitable institution savings banks. The hospital’s debt increased from three hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand lire
Lire is a French literary magazine covering both French and foreign literature. It was founded in 1975 by Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber and Bernard Pivot.-External links:*...

however, its annual operating expenses were minimal (one hundred thousand lire). Seventy-five percent of the hospital’s debts were amounts owed to investors.

The consequences of the hospital’s debt led to the dismissal of girls and boys. Borghini requested that the children be given to high status people of good reputation. Boys were dismissed at the age of eighteen. Girls were tried to be placed in noble families with increased dowries for those who wanted to marry. Women who did not become nuns nor married were trained for trade and manual labor. However, due to overcrowding, some were turned out from the hospital forcing them to become prostitutes. Additional problems such as domestic violence and abusive relationships also occurred.

External links