Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence
The Ospedale degli Innocenti ('Hospital of the Innocents', also known in Italian as L' Ospedale degli Innocenti) is a historical building in Florence, central Italy. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, 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 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.
Borghini, after five months of becoming superintendent, wanted to get hold of the hospital’s operai to eliminate wet nurses who defrauded the hospital.<ref name=Gavitt /> 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.<ref name=Gavitt /> 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.<ref name=Gavitt />
The hospital suffered from financial debt. The main problem was trying to balance expenses and revenues. Cosimo and Francesco 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 however, its annual operating expenses were minimal (one hundred thousand lire).<ref name=Gavitt/> Seventy-five percent of the hospital’s debts were amounts owed to investors.<ref name=Gavitt/>
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.
- Florence Art Guide
- Paradoxplace photos of the Ospedale degli Innocenti
- Five centuries of foundling history in Florence: changing patterns of abandonment, care and mortality
- Galleria dello Spedale degli Innocenti Trip Planner
- Museums in Florence - Ospedale deli Innocenti Museum