The "Ospedale degli Innocenti" is more than an architectural milestone. It has provided care of infants and children continuously for more than 5 centuries. Beginning with its sponsorship and through its services as well as its architecture, the "Innocenti" represents the evolving humanistic views of Florence of the early Renaissance.
The Gallery is arranged in one of the most famous and important architectural complexes of the early Florentine 15th century, that was commissioned and financed by the WooI Guild and built by Filippo Brunelleschi.
The refectory, cloisters, dormitories, infirmary, nurses, rooms and porticoes were purposely balanced by Brunelleschi to create a harmonious and rational hospital architecture. Later, they were enlarged and decorated with frescoes, thus documenting the on-going activities of the institution and the favours of the reigning dynasty of the Medici.
The Gallery has been arranged in the loggia above the cloister and in the former dayroom of the children above the main portico. It consists of fine works that represent only a small section of the rich collections put together Down the centuries by the Hospital through gifts, bequests, loans or works commissioned by the institution itself. Although the most important works of the collection (Della Robbia, Beato Angelico, Vasari, Giambologna), were dispersed in the l9th century, the collection still preserves outstanding panel paintings, detached frescoes, furniture pieces, decorations and a series of precious illuminated manuscripts dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, which are considered some of the finest preserved in Florence. The best paintings include The Adoration of the Magi by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) made for the Hospital church. Among splendid and rich colours, the painting portrays some historical personalities (merchants of the Guild of Silk and their servants) connected with the life of the Hospital, worshipping the Child.
In addition to some fine "gold ground" paintings, the Gallery also exhibits a Madonna with Child attributed to the young Botticelli (1445- 1510), still under the influence of his master Filippo Lippi; one of the most attractive glazed terracottas by Luca della Robbia; an altar piece by Piero di Cosimo (1461/62-1521) also made for the Hospital's church and a typical Madonna degli Innocenti of the school of Granacci (1469-1963), where the Madonna is seen protecting the children in front of the Hospital's portico
THE BAMBINI OF ANDREA DELLA ROBBIA
When people looked at the building during its early years, they saw 10 blank roundels, concave circular frames set within thespandrels,thespaces created between the arches. Then in 1487, 4 decades after Brunelleschi’s death, the 10 "bambini" by della Robbia were mounted in the roundels. In 1845, 2 additional pairs of "bambini," reproductions of some of the originals, were installed at either end.
Exactly when della Robbia created the "bambini" is obscure, but probably in 1463 - 1466, several years before their installation. Each of the originals is singular. Seven are fully swaddled from thorax to toe, and 2 are depicted with the swaddling clothes still tied but sagging below the waist or knees.One "bambino," the seventh from the left on the facade, shows the swaddling clothes untied and falling away from the infant. It is the only one with unbound feet. What della Robbia had in mind with this one variation is hard to say. Perhaps the loosened swaddling clothes represent liberation from the constraining stigma of the foundling origins of the "bambino."