I was so moved by the sight of the Duomo of Santa Maria at the end of the street leading from our piazza, and the fact that Michelangelo’s David resided elsewhere in the same building as our apartment, that I didn’t really take note of the other buildings bordering the Piazza Santissima Annunziata. But friends saw the photos of the piazza that I posted on Facebook and alerted me to the presence of the Museo degli Innocenti immediately opposite our building. So today, Marg and I decided to walk across the square and check it out.
The museum is in a building which was formerly a hospital, more specifically a place that cared for children. It was designed exactly 600 years ago in 1419 by Brunelleschi, the architect responsible for the brilliant dome of the cathedral. There is an iron grate at one end of the building. Poor or unattached mothers who did not want to keep their newborn infants could pass them through the gaps in the grate and leave them to be cared for and raised by the people who worked at the hospital, including members of religious orders, wet nurses and teachers of various trades.
Over many years, thousands of abandoned children were cared for and raised here. Some of the boys became talented painters after being apprenticed to the great masters. As you walk through the museum you get a strong impression that not only were the children treated well here, but also that reforms were introduced relatively frequently which always resulted in improving the lives of the children. Over the centuries these reforms led to the establishment and promotion of human rights for children in Florence and beyond.
In addition to displays outlining the history of the hospital and the daily lives of the children who lived here, visitors can view features of the architecture of the building and a gallery of very fine Renaissance art works, including paintings by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio.