The Legacy of the Arte della Seta

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in January 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.

It’s been just a little over five years since this trip, since I finally made the jump and decided that traveling by myself was no big deal and so I was going to do it. In light of the hardships faced by some due to the current global situation, it feels almost petty to say, “I miss traveling,” and I definitely speak from the privilege of still having my health, of not having lost my job, or of being affected by this, really, in any way other than having to stay home for an extended period of time. Which, being a homebody, has mostly been okay. So allow me to say this speaking from privilege, from knowing that, really, I am doing fine and this is more a whine against the universe than anything else: God, I miss traveling.

I miss waking up and thinking of the limitless possibilities that a new place presents, of walking around and knowing that I’m letting everyone around me know that I’m a tourist because I can’t stop staring at the buildings around me, and not caring at all. I even miss the struggle of communicating with people who don’t speak my language, and of waiting at an airport when my flight has been delayed. The excitement of getting there and the exhaustion of coming back, knowing that I’m bringing more with me than just souvenirs. I miss it all. The fun and the inconvenient, the exciting and the discomforting. And I can’t wait to do it again.

With that out of my system — onward to Florence!


Ospedale degli Innocenti

In 1419, the Arte della Seta (the Florence Silk Guild), one of the wealthiest in the city and thus driven to philanthropy, commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to design the Ospedale degli Innocenti. While Ospedale translates literally as “hospital,” the structure’s purpose was that of an orphanage. The building is now a museum (it opened about six months after my visit) holding works by Luca della Robbia, Sandro Botticelli, and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

This was Brunelleschi’s first architectural commission (he had previously completed sculptural work for the Florence Baptistery doors), and he remained its official architect until 1427. The building, which ended up in the hands of Francesco della Luna, was finally completed in 1445.

These glazed terracotta roundels with reliefs of babies were completed by Andrea della Robbia, whose uncle (Luca) first popularized the use of glazed ceramics in Florentine sculpture. This apparently went against Brunelleschi’s original design, which included the roundels but left them empty.

What you see at the far end here is the admissions window for the Ospedale. The grate covers a space where only a newborn could be deposited, as older children were meant to be cared for by different institutions. They also had a wheeled basin where people could deposit babies, turn the wheel, and thus leave the child safely inside the building without having to identify themselves, keeping the whole exchange a relative secret.

Loggia dei Servi di Maria

Built by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder and Baccio d’Agnolo in 1516-1525, this loggia was designed to co-exist in perfect harmony with Brunelleschi’s building, standing across the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.

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