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Saturday 22 February 2020
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Visit the museum

THE EXTERIOR AND THE LOGGIA

The elegant loggia, or porch – which was also where abandoned or lost children were displayed so that they could be traced, identified or adopted – was designed by Alberto Arnoldi, a sculptor and architect involved in work on the new cathedral and bell tower in the mid-14th century. The sculptures above the arch on the loggia's façade (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 INTERIOR: THE MUSEUM

The upper floor of the building was used as a home for foundlings. The ground floor now houses a museum in three rooms, one of which hosts an information desk. The works of art on display in the museum are chiefly connected with the tasks performed by the two confraternities (helping children, helping the sick, removing the dead for burial and so forth) and most of them were owned by them at one time or another. The most representative works in each room are described overleaf.

ROOM 1 – ROOM OF THE ALTAR

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Madonna and Child with two Candle-Bearing Angels, Alberto Arnoldi (1360)
Against the back wall stands the former oratory's high altar. Its three remarkable sculptures are framed by a gilded and carved 16th century tabernacle bearing the combined coats-of-arms of the Compagnia del Bigallo and the Confraternita della Misericordia. The scenes in the predella (by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, 1515) include the Death of St. Peter Martyr (the saint wrote the word "credo" ["I believe"] in his own blood before dying at the hand of a heretic) and Tobias and Tobiolus Burying a Corpse Outside the Bigallo (in the background you can make out the Misercordia "brothers", recognisable by their typical black tunics, their faces hidden by their traditional hoods).

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Tobias is a frequent subject in many of the works in this museum. The Bible tells us that he stood out from the crowd during the Babylonian captivity for the spirit of self-denial with which he buried his companions, which accounts for his co-patronage of the Misericordia. The story of his son Tobiolus was also very popular in 14th and 15th century Florence, when many merchants travelled extensively on business. The intercession of the Archangel Raphael, who shielded Tobiolus in the course of his adventurous voyage, was often invoked by Florentine merchants of the time to protect their sons.

 

 ROOM 2

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Portable Triptych, Bernardo Daddi (1333)
This charming small "travelling" altar with closing doors is in the late-Gothic style of Giotto. In the central panel we see the Madonna and Child enthroned with the two patrons, St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas of Bari and the twelve apostles. The scene depicting the return of the young Adeodato to his parents suggests that the altar may have been owned by the Compagnia del Bigallo inasmuch as its harks back to that particular confraternity's chief activity.

The Madonna of Humility, Domenico di Michelino (c. 1480)
The Virgin Mary, seated on a cushion on the ground, is framed by a rich drape held open by two angels. The artist, a pupil of Fra Angelico, is known chiefly for his painting of Dante and the Divine Comedy now in Florence cathedral.

Of particular interest in the same room are a Christ Carrying the Cross attributed to Sodoma and a Madonna and Child by the Master of San Miniato (c. 1480).

 

ROOM 3

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The Captains of the Misericordia Entrust Orphans to Their Adoptive Mothers, Niccolò Gerini and Ambrogio di Baldese, (1386)
These fragmentary frescoes, formerly on the façade of the building, show the captains of the company taking care of orphans, placing them in the care of women paid to look after them. The scene offers fascinating insight into a slice of Florentine life in the second half of the 14th century. The 18th century watercolour next to it gives us an idea of what the cycle must have looked like when it was complete.  
 

 

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The Madonna of the Misercordia (Our Lady of Mercy), school of Bernardo 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 Duomo, is dominated by a hieratic figure thought to be an allegorical representation 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: visito, poto, cibo, redimo, tego, colligo, condo (I visit, I quench thirst, I feed, I redeem, I cover, I take in, I create), while two groups of faithful kneel either side of the majestic figure looming protectively over the city of Florence. This detail, of outstanding documentary interest, is 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) façade of the cathedral, the base of Giotto's bell tower, the Palazzo dei Priori (now Palazzo Vecchio), the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (now known as the Bargello) and the Badia Fiorentina. The long inscription on the left of the fresco is "a summary in the vulgar tongue [i.e. Italian, as opposed to Latin] of the main principles of life and doctrine to be honoured" (M. M. Simari).

  

 

 

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St.Peter Martyr Gives the First Captains of the Bigallo Their Standards, school of Orcagna, (c. 1360)

This double-sided panel is an iconographical and textual document of the greatest interest. One side shows St. Peter Martyr founding the Compagnia Maggiore di Santa Maria in 1244 and delivering the standards to its twelve captains, while the other side contains a written description of the event.

 

 

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città di firenze
Comune di Firenze
Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria
50122 FIRENZE
P.IVA 01307110484
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Amministrazione Trasparente: I dati personali pubblicati sono riutilizzabili solo alle condizioni previste dalla direttiva comunitaria 2003/98/CE e dal d.lgs. 36/2006