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Essential Architecture-  Florence

Ospedale Degli Innocenti


Filippo Brunelleschi


Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy


1424 to 1445


Italian Rennaisance


masonry, stone


children's Hospital
Ospedale degli Innocenti was the first institution of its kind in Europe (1419). It was created to take care of and bring up orphans and abandoned children as well as give them a trade. The Hospital was built during the Repubblica Fiorentina , financed by the Arte della Lana, by Filippo Brunelleschi, who carried out a harmonic and rational example of hospital architecture which also included cloisters, porticos, refectories, dormitories, infirmaries and nurseries. When it was restored after the flood in 1966 an attempt was made to show more of the 15th century structures.
On the left of the portico one can see an inscription above a small closed window, decorated by two puttos. It is there as a reminder of the "wheel", which functioned until 1875, where mothers placed their unwanted babies when they were unable to bring them up. Today the surname "Degli Innocenti", in its various forms, can still be said to have originated from here.

The loggia above the portico (once the children's sitting room) can be reached from the pretty central courtyard below. Today it contains a small museum of works of art gathered together over the centuries thanks to bequests and donations, most of them unfortunately dispersed in the 19th century. It contains detached frescoes and works by Luca della Robbia, Sandro Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo and here one can admire the splendid Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio, the teacher of Michelangelo (1488), where the artist painted - as was his habit - a series of historical portraits among the crowd surrounding the Child: merchants from the Arte della Seta, attendants and benefactors of the hospital.
Once outside the Innocenti, one should take Via dei Fibbiai where one can find the Rotunda of Santa Maria degli Angeli (1433), the unfinished work of Brunelleschi, that was rediscovered and restored during this century. 
The facade of this complex to house orphans uses slender Corinthian columns to support round arches and a simple horizontal entablature. The cornice serves as a base for a row of windows with classically-inspired pediments, one centered above each arch. 

Rational and clear proportions 
The distance between the columns is the same as the distance from the columns to the wall. The distance between the floor of the loggia to just above the impost blocks is also the same. Thus the cube is a major module in this proportional design. Other geometrical relationships governed the location of the cornice, the widths of doors and the heights of windows. 

A column and capital
Although Brunelleschi borrowed from Roman architecture, his columns aren't fluted. The capitals have impost blocks and less projection than Roman Corinthian models. 

Brunelleschi framed the round arches of the bays on each end with fluted pilasters, an idea perhaps borrowed from the Colosseum.