The Church of Orsanmichele is one of my go to places in Florence…it’s great for when I’m struggling with the heat, or sheltering from the rain. But it’s also home to some of the greatest sculptures found in Florence, but that means taking a step outside to appreciate the beautiful sculpted tabernacles which adorn the outside of the building.
The Church is free to enter so make sure you take time to admire the intricately decorated Tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna (c. 1359) and the Madonna by Bernardo Daddi (c. 1346). Originally a grain store, the space was converted into a Church between 1380 and 1404, due to several “miracles” happening to devotees to an image of the Virgin Mary. In the 14th century, the guilds commissioned statues of their patron Saints to decorate the facade of the church. The sculptures we see outside are now copies, but if you happen to visit on a Monday, the museum on the first floor houses the originals.
The statues themselves were inserted between 1399 up to around 1430, with the three wealthiest guilds casting their statues in bronze (which would have cost around tens times more than using stone!).
Starting with the earliest;
- Madonna of the Rose (1408) by Pietro di Giovanni Tedesco, commissioned by Medici e Speziali (doctors and apothecaries).
- Four Crowned Martyrs (1408) by Nanni di Banco, commissioned by Maestri di Pietro e Legname (wood and stone workers).
- Saint Mark (1411) by Donatello, commissioned by Arte dei Linaiuoli e Rigattieri (linen-weavers and peddlers).
- Saint Philip (1412-14) by Nanni di Banco, commissioned by Arte dei Calzaiuoli (shoemakers).
- Christ and Saint Thomas (1467 – 83) by Andrea del Verrocchio, commissioned by Tribunale di Mercanzia (the trade merchants). This statue replaced a previous one of Saint Louis of Toulouse (1413) by Donatello.
- Saint Eligius (1411-15) by Nanni di Banco, commissioned by Arte dei Maniscalchi (farriers).
- Saint James (1415?) by Niccolò di Piero Lamberti, commissioned by Arte dei Pellicciai (furriers). The artist and year are uncertain (excuse the bad photo!).
- Saint Peter (1415) by Filippo Brunelleschi, commissioned by Arte dei Beccai (butchers).
- Saint John the Baptist (1414-16) by Lorenzo Ghiberti, commissioned by Arte di Calimala (guild of the cloth finishers and merchants in foreign cloth).
- Saint George (1416) by Donatello, commissioned by Arte dei Corazzai (armourers).
- Saint Matthew (1419-20) by Lorenzo Ghiberti, commissioned by Arte del Cambio (bankers).
- Saint Stephen (1428) by Lorenzo Ghiberti, commissioned by Arte della Lana (wool manufacturers).
- Saint John the Evangelist (1513 – 1515) by Baccio da Montelupo, commissioned by Arte della Seta (silk merchants).
- Saint Luke (1601) by Giambologna, commissioned by Giudici e Notai (magistrates and notaries).
And as I mentioned previously, try and visit on a Monday so you get the chance to go round the museum on the first floor. It’s such a great opportunity to see the statues up close and personal, and really get an idea of the lengths the artists went to understand how the Saints would be seen from ground level. The proportions of facial features and body parts really shows how talented these early artists were. Look for Madonna of the Rose and the proportions of her legs, and the facial features of Donatello’s saint Marks – at this level as he seems pretty strange looking!
If your visiting in the summer months why not visit nearby Serre Torrigiani in Piazzetta, which is just across the road. A little urban garden which is a great place to grab a drink, or a snack (I see they are doing pizza thus year too!) and cool off in the shade.