London, Henry S. King & Co., 1877; Transcribed and Photographed, Carolyn Carpenter




Chapter XXVII:  Piazza of the SS. Annunziata, and Hospital of the Foundlings – "Innocenti"

The piazza in front of the church of the SS. Annunziata is adorned by two handsome fountains, placed here in 1643.  They are composed of a mixture of bronze and marble, and represent sea-monsters, executed by Pietro Tacca, of Carrara, a pupil of Giovan Bologna, who lived in the early part of the seventeenth century. He also cast the equestrian statue of the Grand-Duke Ferdinand I. in the centre of the piazza, which was modelled by Giovan Bologna in his old age, and was placed here six months after his death.  The bronze was supplied from cannon taken from the Turks at Bona, in Africa, by the knights of St. Stephen, a military order instituted by Cosimo I.  Ferdinand was the second son of Cosimo, and was educated for the church; but on the death of his brother Francis223 he ascended the throne of Tuscany, and as he was less cruel than his father, though not less eager for territorial aggrandisement, he was not quite as much hated by his subjects. 

On either side of the piazza are arcades of very elegant proportions, raised several steps.  That to the right of the church was built by the monks of the adjoining convent of SS. Annunziata about the year 1520, after a design of Antonio Giamberti di San Gallo, a brother of Giuliano di San Gallo.  The houses beneath this arcade are let out to private individuals.  The arcade to the left of the church was built after a design of Filippo Brunelleschi.  It is decorated with medallions of the Della Robbia school, representing swaddled infants, varied in form and expression, and charmingly executed.  Beneath the arcade are busts of the Medicean grand-dukes, and over the doors are lunettes, one of which is modern, the other a fine fresco by Il Graffione, a pupil of Alessio Baldovinetti,224 representing the Eternal surrounded by angels.  The central door leads into the cortile of the Foundling Hospital – Spedale degli Innocenti – round which are again images of swaddled infants, the cock of the Bigallo, and the gate of the Art of Silk.  This institution, one of the earliest of the kind, was founded in 1421, when giovanni de' Medici was gonfalonier, who was stimulated to this good work by an eloquent appeal from Leonardo Aretino.225 The management was confided to the Guild of Silk, and the building was constructed by Franηesco della Luna, after a design of his master Brunelleschi, upon gardens and land belonging to the Albizzi family.

The hospital was opened in 1444, and gradually acquired additional funds by the successive incorporation of smaller analogous institutions previously existing.226  It was liberally endowed by the Medici and succeeding grand-dukes.  During the reign of Pietro Leopoldo, 1765 –1790, the Innocenti underwent some important reforms.  Most of the boys admitted to the charity are brought up as field labourers, but receive aid from the institution until the age of eighteen.  The girls can claim marriage dowries, and are under the guardianship of the institution until the age of thirty-five; but when younger, they are sent out as domestic servants, or are educated for a trade.  Between seven and eight thousand foundlings are annually supported, though few are actually maintained within the building.  The larger number, soon after admission, are dispersed among the peasantry living round Florence, who are paid for their maintenance until they are old enough to return to the institution within the city.

There are several interesting pictures in the Commission-room of the Innocenti, the pious gifts of artists and their patrons.  One of the most important is by Filippo Lippi, 1412-1469, in which a boy-angel brings the Christ-child to the Madonna.  It is almost a replica of one in the room of early Tuscan masters in the Uffizi Gallery; this picture is, however, superior in refinement, grace, and fresh harmonious colour.  Instead of two angels there is but one; the head, throat, and hands of the Virgin are exquisitely modelled, and the figure of the Child is drawn with the utmost care and delicacy.  Another very fine picture in this room is by Piero di Cosimo, 1460-1521, the master of Andrea del Sarto; Elizabeth of Hungary is here represented offering roses to the Christ-child, who is seated on his mother's knee.  Groups of saints are on either side.  The Virgin is sweet and tender in composition, and the drawing good.  A predella, divided into four parts, is by Domenico Ghirlandaio.  The subjects are:  The Marriage of the Virgin, The Presentation in the Temple, The Baptism, and The Entombment; the last is especially fine.  This predella originally belonged to the altar-piece of the Church of the Innocenti.  The other pictures are:  The Martyrdom of St. John, by Ghirlandaio; an Annunciation, by Piero di Cosimo; the same subject by Pietro Cavallini, who, as already mentioned, painted the sacred picture in the SS. Annunziata; and a Madonna gathering children beneath her mantle, by an unknown master, probably painted in allusion to the object of this institution; the children are extremely lovely, playful, and tender.

Near the entrance to the Church, within the cloister, is the most exquisite relief in Robbia work, representing the Annunciation.  The angel, with look inspired, bends reverentially before the meek and lovely Virgin; a vase of lilies is between them, and a garland of cherubs' heads, beautiful and varied in their infantile expression, surrounds the group.227

The only picture of merit within the church is the altar-piece – The Adoration of the Magi, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, executed in 1498, his greatest work on panel.  The Virgin, a calm, dignified figure, holds the child tenderly on her knee; Joseph stands near, with the usual accompaniments of the ox and the ass; the principal king, a noble old man, kneels reverently and kisses the Child's foot; the second king, a beautiful youth, with long fair hair, holds a jewelled glass cup in his hand; his cloak falls from his shoulders in majestic folds; behind him are three fine portrait-like heads.  On the opposite side are groups of persons, evidently portraits, who represent the followers of the Magi, and in the far distance is seen the annunciation to the Shepherds, who are feeding their flocks on a hill.  The Murder of the Innocents is represented to the left, where a winding road leads up to a convent and a church.  The shed over the Holy Family is supported by pilasters with rich arabesques, and beyond is a river and mountainous landscape, a town and church with a spire.  Two shepherds look over a wall.  The group of the Murder of the Innocents has evidently formed a study for Raffaelle  in his composition of the same subject, especially that of a mother escaping with a child in her arms, whilst an older one is running towards the river.  One mother is seated on the ground, whilst a third attempts to fly from a soldier, who holds her back by her hair, and raises his arm to strike.  Two of the Innocents, clothed in white, typical of their having entered into glory, and with bleeding wounds, kneel before the Saviour, and are presented to him by St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist; these children, who form the most beautiful part of the picture, are, however, attributed to Fra Filippo Lippi.  In the midst of the group to the right of the Virgin, and the fourth figure from the side of the picture, is Ghirlandaio's own portrait.  The colour is full and simple; the details are carefully finished, and there is great power and precision in the drawing, but, above all, a wonderful grace and truth of expression.



Aretino, Leonardo b. 1369 - d. 1444
Bologna, Giovan b. 1525 – d. 1608
Brunelleschi, Filippo b. 1377 – d. 1444
Cavallini, Pietro b. 1279 – d. 1364(?)
Cosimo, Piero di b. 1460 – d. 1521
Fountains in the Piazza di SS. Annunziata 1643
Ghirlandaio, Domenico b. 1449 – d. 1493
Ghirlandaio, Domenico, his altar-piece in the Innocenti 1488
Innocenti Hospital founded 1421
Innocenti Hospital opened 1444
Lippi, Fra Filippo b. 1412 – d. 1469
Robbia, Luca della b. 1400 – d. 1481


223 Francis I. and his wife Bianca Capello died within a few hours of one another at Poggio a Cajano, in 1587.
224 See Vasari, "vite dei Pittori," vol. iv. P. 106.
225 The monument of Leonardo Aretino is in Sta. Croce.
226 An institution in the Via della Scala was converted into the convent of San Martino, but remained long in possession of a fine piece of Robbia ware, representing swaddled infants, which is now in the Bargello.
227 See illustration at the beginning of this chapter.

Chapter XXVIII:  Convent of Sta. Maria degli Angeli – Il Castellaccio – Cinque Lampade – Via Ricasoli – Via della Sapienza – Church of San Marco – Via Cavour – Marucelliana Library – Palazzo Riccardi – Palazzo Martelli – Palazzo Ginori


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