Museo di Bigallo, Florence

It doesn’t take long in Italy to fall behind on posting!  I’ve seen so many incredible things in the past couple of months and I am just beginning to catch up!

Museo del Bigallo: For years I have walked by this intriguing portico near the Duomo in Florence and thought to myself, “I’ve got to visit that place someday soon.” So, little did I know just how hard it would be to get inside it! More on that at the end of this post.

Do you see that lovely small loggia, on the left side of the picture below and facing the baptistry?  That’s the Bigallo.

 

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It is pretty much overlooked by the superstars of the piazza del Duomo: the Duomo itself with Giotto’s campanile and the dome of the Duomo.  But you can see it here better, with its terra-cotta tile roof.

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Here’s the best possible picture of the structure.  Lovely, isn’t it?

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This building is one of a dozen public loggias in the city, and is linked with two fraternities or companies dealing with local charity.

This elegant loggia, or porch, was where abandoned or lost children were housed until they could be identified or adopted. It was designed by Alberto Arnoldi, a sculptor and architect who was involved in work on the new cathedral and bell tower nearby in the mid 1300s.

In Medieval Florence, the Compagnia della Misericordia, or “Company of Mercy,” was in charge of transporting sick people, the burial of the indigent dead, as well as the care of orphans. The open loggia was used to shelter lost children and unwanted infants who were abandoned to the care of this highly respected brotherhood.

The Compagnia di Santa Maria del Bigallo or simply del Bigallo, was founded in 1244 by Saint Peter of Verona, Saint Peter Martyr, and was formerly housed near the church of Orsanmichele. This association also focused on housing for the indigent, and cared as well for pilgrims and travelers at their Ospedale di Santa Maria alle Fonti, nicknamed del Bigallo, at Fonteviva.

Financial irregularities forced authorities to merge and reorganize the 2 groups in 1425, under Cosimo de’Medici, who was treasurer of the Bigallo. As time passed, the function of the Bigallo began to dominate that of the Misericordia.

However, it was the Compagnia della Misericordia which had commissioned the structure we see, probably from the architect-sculptor Alberto Arnoldi.

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It was built in 1352–58. The second story was rebuilt after a fire in 1442. The two arched bays are richly decorated with bas-reliefs of prophets, angels, the Virtues, and Christ giving the benediction and an Ecce Homo.

In 1697, the arches were walled-up in order to provide more space for the oratory that is attached to the loggia; thankfully, the masonry was removed in 1889, revealing the long-hidden decoration.

Mullioned windows pierce the walls of the floor above, which was originally richly frescoed and has three tabernacles, the work of Filippo di Cristofano, 1412, frame the Madonna and Child, Saint Lucy and Saint Peter Martyr, patron of the brotherhood. The statues were installed here when the two confraternities joined in 1425.

The sculptures above the arch on the loggia’s facade (The Madonna and Child between St. Peter Martyr and St. Lucy) are 14th century works from the Bigallo’s previous headquarters. To the right of this sculpture group, a badly damaged 15th century fresco shows St. Peter Martyr preaching to the crowds and performing the “miracle of the enraged horse.”

The ground floor of the interior now contains a museum in 3 rooms of objects related to the Compagnia del Bigallo. The upper floor had been used as a home for the foundlings.  The works of art in the museum are chiefly connected with the tasks performed by the 2 confraternities and most of them were owned by them at one time. The most representative works in each room are described herein.

 

The most striking work, to me, is the Madonna of the Misericordia (Our Lady of Mercy), School of Bernanrdo Daddi (1342). This is the best-known work in the museum, famous primarily for its celebrated depiction of Florence in the 14th century. The fresco, which originally graced an open loggia on Piazza del Duomo, is dominated by a hieratic figure thought to be an allegorical figure of “Mercy.”  The rich decoration of the orphrey is a manifesto of the works of mercy, both in the tondos and in free-standing words declined in the first person: visit, photo, ciao, redimo, tego, college, condo (I visit, I quench thirst, I feed, I redeem, I cover, I take in, I create), while 2 groups of faithful kneel on either side of the figure who looms over the city of Florence, protecting it.

There is a detail of outstanding documentary interest, as the oldest known view of Florence.  Enclosed in Arnolfo di Cambio’s city walls, amid the tightly packed roofs, belfries and towers, we can pick out the baptistry, the (as yet incomplete) facade of the cathedral, the base of Giotto’s bell tower, the Palazzo dei Priori (now known as Palazzo Vecchio), the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (now called the Bargello) and the Badia Fiorentina.  The long inscription on the left of the fresco is “a summary in the vulgar tongue [i.e. in Italian as opposed to Latin] of the main principles of life and doctrine to be honored.”

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The next picture is the back of a panel painting:

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Below is the front of the same panel:

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Below is the label for the panel painting above:

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