For over six centuries the Istituto degli innocenti in Florence has worked uninterruptedly to help children and their families. Founded in 1445, the Ospedale degli Innocenti, Hospital of the Innocents, represented the social and humanistic views of Florence during the early Renaissance. Furthermore, the Institute was the first lay institution in the world to take care of abandoned children and provide them with the ability to rejoin society. Babies were abandoned in the institute where they were raised. Boys were taught to read and write and skills according to their abilities. Girls were sent to mistresses who taught them how to sew, cook and other ‘feminine’ occupations. The hospital even provided dowries for the girls who had the option of getting married or becoming nuns.
The building which housed the Ospedale degli Innocenti was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and is today considered a notable example of early Italian Renaissance architecture. The hospital features a nine bay loggia façade with glazed blue terracotta tondi with babies by Andrea della Robbia in the spandrels of the arches. In the front portico there was a basin were the children were left, however, in the 1660s it was removed and replaced with a special rotating door which allowed people to abandon their babies anonymously. This system was operative until the hospital’s closure in 1875.
Today the building is the seat of the public corporation, Istituto degli innocenti, and on June 23rd the new museum is opening its doors. There will be 1456 sq. m of exhibition space on three floors of the building plus other 1655 sq. m for temporary events and educational activities. The basement floor is devoted to the history of the Institute via an historical itinerary which narrates the evolution of the foundation, even with the help of the biographies of nearly a hundred children who grew here during the six centuries. The cloisters, instead, exhibit the architectural circuit while the gallery above the loggia will host the masterpieces as well as the wet nurses’ prayer book.
Amongst the nearly 80 Renaissance masterpieces on show are works by Luca and Andrea della Robbia, Sandro Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’. For both those near or far there is the campaign “Adopt a Masterpiece” (Adotta un’Opera) which has already help restore the Della Robbia tondi. If you’re planning a visit to Florence this is an uncommon destination but certainly worth a visit and here’s a list of our accommodations in Florence’s city centre to help you decide.