Orsanmichele
Church and Museum
 
Map
Museum's plan
Timetable
Entrance
Address
 

(Guild of Merchants)
Christ and Doubting Thomas
by Verrocchio 1465 - 1466
 
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14

THE TABERNACLES AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF ORSANMICHELE

1) Saint Peter by Donatello
2) Saint Philip by Nanni di Banco
3) Four Crowned Saints group by Nanni di Banco
4) Saint George by Donatello (original in Bargello Museum)
5) Saint Matthew by Ghiberti
6) Saint Stephan by Ghiberti
7) Saint Eligius by Nanni di Banco
8) Saint Mark by Donatello
9) Saint Jacob by Nicolò di Piero Lamberti (?) *
10) Madonna della Rosa by Govanni di Piero Tedesco (?) *
11) John the Evangelist by Baccio da Montelupo
12) Saint Luke by Gianbologna
13) Christ and Doubting Thomas by Verrocchio
14) Saint John the Baptist by Ghiberti
* Attribution not sure
 

 

The origins of the building go back to Longobard times, to the 8th century, when on this site an oratory of San Michele in Orto was erected. It is first documented in 895, and was demolished in 1239. In its place Arnolfo di Cambia built, around 1290, a loggia for the sale of grain. From a place of commerce it soon became a place of devotion, and miracles were attributed to an image of the Virgin painted on a pillar.
In 1304 a fire severely damaged the loggia. In 1337 the Silk Guild commissioned a new loggia, finished in 1349, from the architects Neri di Fioravante, Benci di Cione and Francesco Talenti.
Meanwhile the image of the Virgin had faded and was replaced by Bernardo Daddi’s Madonna and Child (1346), known as the Madonna delle Grazie, still in situs, before which public and private oaths were sworn.
Devotion towards the image increased, especially after some miraculous cures during the terrible plague of 1348. Probably conceived as an ex-voto, the monumental marble altar with Virtues and scenes from the life of the Virgin in relief, was commissioned a year after the plague from Andrea di Cione, known as Orcagna, but not finished until 1359: a frame worthy of the Madonna delle Grazie. By now the loggia could no longer be regarded as a suitable place for a market, which was moved elsewhere at least by 1357.
In 1380 the building, which had always fulfilled both a civic and a religious function, had two upper storeys added onto it so that it could be used as a granary. Chutes for the wheat are still to be seen inside the piers.
The loggia was closed in, to a design by Simone di Francesco Talenti involving elegant mullioned windows in the late gothic style, and stained glass by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini showing Scenes and miracles of the Virgin (1395-1405).
Orsanmichele was completed in 1404. The tabernacles around the outside were assigned to the ‘Arti Maggiori’ or principal guilds (the Cloth-Merchants or Calimala, the Judges and Notaries, the Bankers, the Woolworkers, the Furriers, the Physicians and Apothecaries, the Silkworkers), to the ‘Mediane’ or medium guilds (the Butchers, the Cobblers, the Stonemasons and Woodworkers, the Blacksmiths, the Linenworkers and Ragmen), and to the guild of the Armourers and Swordmakers. The most important tabernacle, in the centre of the façade facing Via de’ Calzaioli, was assigned first to the Parte Guelfa and then to the Tribunal of the Mercatanzia.
All these institutions commissioned sculptures of their patron saints for their tabernacles, from the foremost Florentine artists of the 15th (Nanni di Banco, Ghiberti, Donatello) and 16th century (Giambologna).
The patron saints of the individual guilds, massed together on the four sides of the building, thus became the patron saints of the church of Orsanmichele itself.

The statues are currently being restored one by one and moved to the upper floor of the former granary, now the Museum of Orsanmichele (reached by the bridge from the adjacent Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana), their places in the niches being filled by copies. However, Donatello’s St. George (1417) from the Armourers’ and Swordmakers’ tabernacle was moved to the Bargello in 1892 and replaced by a bronze copy Today replaced again with a copy in marble, while his St. Louis of Toulouse (1433) is now in the Museum of Santa Croce. When its tabernacle passed to the Tribunal of the Mercantanzia, the St. Louis was replaced by Verrocchio’s masterpiece, the group of the Incredulity of St. Thomas (1467-83). Those guilds which did not have the priveledge of an external tabernacle had to make do with one inside the building, with their patron saint depicted in fresco or on panel.

The interior of Orsanmichele preserves its late gothic appearance almost intact: its square layout and the positioning of the piers recall the arrangement of the original open loggia. This explains the unusual position of the Madonna delle Grazie altar, not in the centre but to the right. To the left of the nave is the votive altar of St. Anne, built by order of the Signoria in 1379, with a marble group of St. Anne, the Virgin and Child by Francesco da Sangallo (c. 1526).

The museum has yet to be completed. The statues that are still located on the outside of the building are still waiting to be restored and replaced with copies, like the others already displayed inside the museum.



 

(Guild of Stone and Wood Masters)
Four Crowned Saints group
by Nanni di Banco
1414 - 1417

 
(Guild of Stone and Wood Masters)
Four Crowned Saints group - Detail
According to the Golden Legend, the names of the members of the first group were not known at the time of their death but were learned through the Lord’s revelation after many years had passed. They were called the Four Crowned Martyrs because their names were unknown (crown referring to the crown of martyrdom).
 
(Guild of Stone and Wood Masters)
Four Crowned Saints group - Detail
 
The museum's arrangement
 
(Guild of Silk Weavers)
John the Evangelist by Baccio da Montelupo - 1515
(Guild of Merchants)
Saint John the Baptist by Ghiberti - 1416
 
The museum's arrangement
(Guild of Magistrates and Notaries)
Saint Luke by Giambologna - 1601
 
(Guild of the Money Changers and Lenders)
Saint Matthew by Lorenzo Ghiberti - 1423
(Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries)
Madonna della Rosa by Govanni di Piero Tedesco (?) - 1399
 
The museum's arrangement
(Guild of Merchants)
Christ and Doubting Thomas by Verrocchio
1465 - 1466
 
(Guild of Shoemakers)
Saint Philip by Nanni di Banco
1410 - 1412
(Guild of Linen Drapers and Peddlers)
Saint Mark by Donatello
1411 - 1413
 
(Guild of Blacksmiths)
Saint Eligius by Nanni di Banco - 1420
The museum's arrangement
 
(Guild of Wool Merchants)
Saint Stephan by Ghiberti
1427 - 1428
(Guild of Butchers)
Saint Peter by Donatello - 1413
 
Church and Museum of Orsanmichele
Orsanmichele - Detail
 
Tracery on the west side
Florentine Gothic
The Gothic Church of Orsanmichele
Ceiling
 
The Gothic Church of Orsanmichele
Interior
Tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna - c. 1359
Madonna by Bernardo Daddi - c. 1346
 
Tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna - c. 1359
Madonna by Bernardo Daddi - c. 1346
St. Anne Altar
Statue by Francesco da Sangallo - c. 1526
 
Luca della Robbia
Crest on the facade made for the Guild of Stone and Wood Masters
Tracery on the west side
Drawing
 
info@hiddenitaly.com
Hidden Italy * Bettina Röhrig * Logebachstr. 5 * D-53639 Königswinter * Germany