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1.	La chiesa di Orsanmichele con il tabernacolo dell’Orcagna (ph. Nicola Neri - Courtesy Musei del Bargello)

text Francesca Lombardi
photo cover ph. Nicola Neri - Courtesy Musei del Bargello

January 16, 2024

The church and museum of Orsanmichele

Florence's former granary reopens to the public to admire Renaissance masterpieces by Donatello and Verrocchio

In the beginning there was an oratory dedicated to St Michael, surrounded by a garden, or rather a vegetable garden as it was then called. Hence San Michele in orto, which later became Orsanmichele. After having been a Benedictine monastery for a long time, in the early 1200s it became the town seat of the grain market. In 1284, it gained prestige with the large loggia for the grain exchange signed by Arnolfo di Cambio. A few years later, in 1290, Orsanmichele's double life began: the beautiful Madonna frescoed inside made it a place of prayer as well as trade.

If you want to discover all the other museums to see in Florence, click here! Here, instead, you will find the churches not to be missed!

The structure we can admire today is dated 1337: following a major fire, the original building was completely destroyed. A rethinking of Orsanmichele became necessary, always taking into account the dual function it had acquired in the Middle Ages. The new structure stands out for its beauty and prestige thanks to the 12 niches that house the figures of saints commissioned by the Florentine Arts and signed by the great artists of the early 16th century, such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Donatello, Gianbologna and Baccio da Montelupo. Masterpieces that alone recount an epochal passage from late Gothic to Renaissance sculpture. Inside the church, Orcagna, another important name of the period, created a tabernacle that is unparalleled in majesty and beauty, and protects like a casket the Madonna signed by Bernardo Daddi.

L’esterno del complesso di Orsanmichele (ph. Nicola Neri - Courtesy Musei del Bargello)

Orsanmichele, which took on its definitive structure in the 15th century, also remained a nodal point for the Medici Seigniory. In 1569 Cosimo I transformed the upper floors into an archive. It was on this occasion that Buontalenti designed the external arch with a staircase to reach the archive, which still exists today. Over the centuries Orsanmichele will see Florentine life flow by, from the Signoria to the Grand Duchy, up to the birth of the Italian Republic, passing through the hard years of Fascism and War. It was during these years, due to the bombings, that the statues were moved to a safe place and then returned to their place at the end of the conflict. In the same years, the Salone del Primo Piano became the headquarters of the Società Dantesca Italiana for the public reading of the Florentine masterpiece.

Madonna Gaddi, Orsanmichele

A major restoration in the 1960s gave life to the great modern staircase designed by Archizoom that connects the first and second floors. In the 1980s, due to pollution risks, the large statues were restored, replaced by copies and moved to the First Floor according to Paola Grifoni's project. The Museum opened in 1996. Since 2015, the Orsanmichele Museum has been part of the Bargello Museums. Restoration work on the tabernacle and Donatello's San Marco were preliminary to a larger restoration project in 2020, entrusted to the Map Architetti and Natalini Architetti studios.

Il Museo di Orsanmichele nel nuovo allestimento (ph. Lorenzo Mennonna – Courtesy Musei del Bargello)

New compasses, a more enveloping and softer lighting, the re-fitting of the first floor with the statues placed on platforms with a light background, recreating the effect of a view from below as if they were placed in a niche. After almost three years of work, Orsanmichele - with a millennial history that has seen it as oratory, convent, granary, archive, museum - reopens to the public in January 2024 with extended opening hours.

Il Museo di Orsanmichele, L’altana (ph. Nicola Neri - Courtesy Musei del Bargello)


In this article we talked about Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele

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