Spedale degli Innocenti

The Spedale degli Innocenti façade

Age

1419-1445

Designers

Filippo Brunelleschi, Francesco Della Luna

The Spedale degli Innocenti is located in Piazza Santissima Annunziata and characterizes one of its three sides. It was the first specialized European orphanage and one of the first Renaissance architecture in the world. The initial project is by Filippo Brunnelleschi, started in 1419 at the expense of the “Arte della Seta”. After a long interruption, the works restarted in 1436 under the direction of Francesco Della Luna. In 1439, after having modified the arcade (with a blind span on the right), Della Luna raised the arcade with a windowed floor; in 1445 the Spedale was inaugurated. In 1599 a vault was built on the left (the current Via della Colonna). The Spedale stands on a stairway and is characterized by an arcade defined by nine large arches on columns having corinthian capitals and, on the sides, by two other arches flanked by grooved pilasters. On these and on the arches, rests a light architrave surmounted by a string band, on which are placed tympanum windows. On the upper part of the arcade, in 1487, ten white and blue glazed Terracotta rounds, by Andrea della Robbia, were inserted. They show newborns in swaddling clothes (distinctive sign of the Spedale degli Innocenti), now two originals are housed inside the Museum. Over the rounds there is a marble bust of Cosimo II by F. Gargiolli (XVII century). Many restoration and transformation interventions took place after the earthquake of 1842 where the damaged columns were replaced, at the end of the nineteenth century, in the years between 1966 and 1970 until the last on the 1994. Under the arcade there are frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti (1610); in the lunettes at the ends, marble busts of the grand dukes Francesco I, Ferdinando I and Cosimo I by G.B. Sermei (XVII century), are located. In the left headboard is a grate (it is not the original location but a transfer of the window dated 1660) beyond which was the ‘ruota degli Innocenti’ closed in 1875 and where abandoned babies were placed. Above the left door is a fresco by Giovanni di Francesco del Cervelliera, dating back to 1459; above the right door is another fresco by Gasparo Martellini (1843). Today Spedale degli Innocenti houses two kindergartens, a nursery school, three family houses for the care of childrens and mothers in difficulty, besides UNICEF research offices and a Museum.

The columns, the external arches, the capitals, the buttresses, the string course, the tympanums and the frames of the windows and the corbels under the arcade are in Pietra Serena Sandstone. The entire structure is in white Plaster. Under the arcade there are frescoes and busts in Apuan Marble. The Robbiani rounds are in Glazed Terracotta.The staircase is in Pietraforte Sandstone.

Detail of the arcade
Detail of the Robbiani rounds in glazed Terracotta