Paatz, Walter and Elisabeth. Die Kirchen von Florenz: Ein kunstgeschichtliches Handbuch. Vol I: A-C. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1955. 378-391.
Translated from German by Sonia Brozak
(#) refers to footnotes, most of which are translated at the bottom of the document
Corner of Via dei Calzaiuoli and Piazza si S. Giovanni
P. Landini: Istoria dell’Oratorio di S. Maria del Bigallo e della ven. Compagnia della Misericordia, 1779 (cited as Landini, Bigallo).
Poggi-Ricci-Supino: La Compagnia del Bigallo, Rv. d’A. II, 1903, 189
- Misericordia Vecchia (1).
- Oratorio della Misericordia Vecchia e Capitani del Bigallo (2)
- Oratorio del Bigallo; commonly, Bigallo (3). See note under Building History (around 1425).
Oratorio of the Bigallo (Corner of Via dei Calzaiuoli and Piazza di San Giovanni) (4). The company of the Misericordia, a confraternity, acquired the building in 1321 (5). After they acquired the property through a donation of the adjoining plots in 1351, (6) they began construction of the building in 1352, which contained a loggia, an oratory, meeting hall, living room for the brothers of the confraternity (7). By 1358 the building process was completed (8). The design can be, in all likelihood, attributed to the architect Alberto Arnoldi, who also provided the most important three-dimensional fixtures (9).
In 1425, under the oversight of Cosimo de’Medici, the brotherhood of the Compagnia della Misericordia united with the original long-time resident of the building, the brotherhood of Santa Maria del Bigallo, jointly receiving the residence of the latter through a co-ownership agreement (10). Constructional changes were apparently not undertaken at that time. A fire in 1442 damaged the upper floor of the building (11). In 1452 the sala dell’udienza was expanded through the inclusion of a new room (12). Since the 1700s multiple disfiguring changes to the building were undertaken. In 1698 the arcade of the loggia and the window in the upper floor were walled up (13). After termination of the Bigallo’s management in 1776, the building was given as the site of the administration for the state orphanage and was altered significantly from its original configuration during the restoration (14). Walls were removed from the arcade of the loggia in 1865 and the interior of the oratory was restored then (15). In 1882 the walled-up windows on the upper floors were re-opened (16), and a final restoration took pace in 1904 (17).
Old descriptions/depictions of the Bigallo
• The fresco of Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, The Returned Lost Children, sala de consiglio
• The predella of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, high altar. In the Bigallo itself (see building facilities)
• Codex of Macro di Bartolommeo Rustici, mid 15th-century (Photo under the authority [soprintendenza] 7646)
• Cityscape by Stefano Bonsignori, 1584
o Illustrations by Mori-Boffito, Piante e Vedute di Firenze, 1926
• Drawing by E. Burci (before 1865)
• Exterior view of now walled-up loggia and the same windows
o Illustrations in Rivier d’Arno II, 1904, p. 244
• Elevation engraving from D. Callesi in Rohault de Fleury, Le Toscane au Moyenage, 1876
The building abuts the neighboring houses to the south and west. Its northern façade included three niches, with one on the eastern wall. These and the eastern niche of the northern area were designed as a square loggia, which served as exhibition space for foundlings. The two round-arched openings of the porch were framed through two-story pilaster pairs and a cornice; a corresponding system of two-story pilasters and rounded arches were superimposed on two remaining bays in the north wall (18). Each of the bays was articulated a pointed arch with broad architraves and striated frames; the last bay contained an arched window (19).
Above the ground floor pilasters articulate a mezzanine floor, in which naturalistic and picturesque decorations reside.
Also the above floor is articulated through pilasters: on the north wall appear three boxes, one on the east wall; every one of these boxes contains a round arch combined with a bifurcated window. On the pilasters, the springing level of the windows are connected by a shelf and sit carved with volutes furnished by girders which protrude out and are supported by rafters.
By Alberto Arnoldi (see building history). A highlight of the lavish decorative style, Andrea Orcagna’s famous tabernacle in Orsanmichele would have been well known. Alberto Arnoldi, like Orcagna a sculptor-architect, had incorporated Orcagna’s style during the building’s development. The pillars stand on plinths made of marble slabs, which contain vivid, grooved quatrefoils; in the each of the arcade’s openings stands another square marble slab with a rose window of individual work. The outer pilaster pairs are also adorned with quatrefoils; on the inner pillars and the arches the quatrefoils are somewhat bigger and contain half-length figures (see facilities). In the embrasures of the arcade are rotated, ornamental foliate pillars, which continue in the archivolt as rotated bead molding. The flat pilasters against the arches are ornamented with molding strips; on their starting points appear flat corbels with leaf work (20).
The interior of the logger is simpler. The numerous bases run along the thin shelf, where there are also continuous pilasters. Between these are located wide niches, in which are lintels with decorated, screened pointed arches and quatrefoils. The niches are closed with rounded arches; between these arches and the pointed arched ribbed vaults, there emerge spandrels from each ornamental circle.
The oratory belonged to a rare type of large, arched, gothic churches, among them San Jacopo in Campo Corbolini, San Martino della Scala, and San Carlo Borromeo I. There were two pointed, overlaid, ribbed arches, supported by broad and flat, splayed corner panels that compose pilasters. The rose windows in the north wall were extended in 1865 at the same time that the arcade of the loggia had windows installed inside it.
The entrance hall contains the three-dimensional decorations that were designed by the architect Alberto Arnoldi, who was also a sculptor. These are presented as preserved gems of gothic building decoration, a rarity in Trecento Florence. The execution is often rough, as there were obviously assistants involved in their production. The end products were clearly based on an antiquated taste that derived from gothic prototypes, but were also independent of those traditional forms.
In the quatrefoil of the inner pilaster pairs and the arches of the half-figures; eight prophets appear on the east side, in vortex of the arcade we see the Man of Sorrows; on the north side are eight angels and the Savior. In the gusset of the arcade appear the four Cardinal Virtues, with Justice and Prudence placed on the north side and Wisdom and Temperance on the east side (21).
Assistants produced four pairs of masks with attached leaves that were placed in the niches and the embrasures on the interior of the loggia, close over the cornices.
Upper floors and the north side
Over the loggia stand half life-sized figures produced by a Florentine sculptor in the second half of the 14th century: These stone sculptures represent the Madonna with Child, the Saint Peter Martyr and Saint Lucy; (22). The three baldicchini from 1413 have been attributed to Filippo di Cristofano (23). Between these canopies appear frescoes of worshipping angels, probably produced around 1425 (25). In the middle bay sits a bust of the Madonna with Child by Alberto Arnoldi from 1361. Over the blind arcade on either side of the bays appear frescoes depicting Peter Martyr Presenting Banners to Twelve Followers of the Company of the Misericordia and Miracles by the Preaching of Peter Martyr painted by Ventura di Moro and Russell di Jacopo Franchi in 1445/6; these were very badly destroyed during Gaetano Bianchi’s restoration in 1882 (26). The remaining paint – including the ornaments and the figures in quatrefoils – all came from the restoration of the 19th century.
High altar: A carved tabernacle bears three niches, with the middle ornamentally flanked with two pillars and crowned by a spread architrave and round gables designed and executed by Nofero d’Antonio Noferi (1515) and gilded by Bernardo di Jacopo and Zanobi di Lorenzo (27). Within three marble statues stand Alberto Arnoldi’s Madonna with Child and two candlestick- -holding angels, all produced between 1359 and 1364 (28). The painted predella by Rodolfo del Ghirlandaio from 1515 contains five pictures: the Death of Saint Peter Martyr, the Birth of Christ, the Cloaked Misericordia, the Flight into Egypt, and the Burial of Tobias (Two Men Carrying a Body, with the Bigallo depicted in the background); (29).
In the stained glass in the rose windows of the north wall appears the figure of Caritas, or Charity, from around 1865 (30).
Sala del Consiglio
(entrance at 1 Piazza di San Giovanni)
Wooden door. Inlay (coats of arms of the Brotherhood of the Bigallo and adornments), 1500s (31).
South wall. Removed fresco: the Abbott gives children, which have been passed off, back to their parents; by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini and Ambrogio di Baldese, 1386. Originally on the façade; removed and demaged in 1777 (an inscription appears under the fresco) (32).
East wall. Frescoes, twelve scenes of the Tobit Legend, from the first quarter of the 1500s (33). Described from left to right, beginning above:
- Tobit and his son with a group of riders in front of the city.
- Banquette of Tobit; his son told him that he has found the body of an Israelite; Tobit leaves the dinner.
- The blind Tobit.
- Tobit sends his son on a trip.
- Marriage of the young Tobit to Sarah.
- Marriage feast.
- The archangel Raffael drives the young Tobit to the spot of the guilt at Gabael.
- Raffael returns to the wedding feast.
- Journey home of the young Tobit.
- The dog welcomes his return.
- Return home.
- Banquet in the house of Tobit.
Over six additional scenes (see lost facilities)
West wall. Fresco, Misericordia, 1352 (?) (34). Large standing figure; on the coat appear medallions with sayings and small scenes dedicated to works of compassion. Beside these figures appear sayings which relate to the works of the Misericordia. At the feet kneel genuflecting figures of all ages and status, along with a depiction of Florence, the earliest known representation of the city (35).
The rooms of the upper floors are modernized and have been established as a museum. Descriptive lists in Rivista D’Arte II, 1904.
Loggia. Grid from the Sienese Francesco Petrucci, 1358; lost (36).
North side. Tabernacle for the Madonna figure over the door, by Bonaiuto di Lando, 1387; painted by Ambrogio di Baldese; lost (37).
East side. Over the arcade of the loggia (?) (38). A fresco, the Abbott gives children, which have been passed off, back to their parents; by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini and Ambrogio di Baldese, 1386; now in the Sala del Consiglio, see above.
From undefined locations. Fresco, History of Saint Peter Martyr by Ventura di Moro and Rossello di Jacopo Franchi, 1445/46; lost (39). Frescoes by Pietro Chellini, 1444; lost (40). Paintings on the roof, by a painter named Bartolommeo, 1361; lost (41).
Oratory. Domed ceiling frescoes (also frescoes on the side walls) by Nardo di Cione, 1363 (42); destroyed or painted over in 1760. Second fresco decoration, 1760, vaults and side wall painted by Stefano Fabbrini; probably obscured in 1865 (43). Glass window by Stefano di Biagio dei Mezzi, 1454; lost (44).
First high altar table (?): Madonna with John the Baptist and Saint Peter Martyr; Christ in pediments, the preaching and the crests of the Brotherhood of the Bigallo, in the predella the Lamentation of Christ and also a scene from the legend of John the Baptist and Peter Martyr; by Mariotto di Nardo, 1415/16; perhaps removed in 1515 by the establishment of the high tabernacles; Main picture now in an American private collection, predella lost (45).
Second, under the predella of the altar tabernacle from 1515, three larger and four smaller pictures:
- Raffael with Tobit
- Genuflecting Madonna and God the Father from worshipping angels, in addition to Adam and Eve (immaculate conception?)
- Writing woman (Sibyl?)
- Mary’s Ascension
By Rodolfo del Ghirlandaio, 1515; lost (47).
Tabernacle. Issued on the feast day of Saint Peter Martyr; in wood, carved by Antonio Carota. On the interior wings appeared John the Baptist and Tobit, on the exterior were the arms of the Misericordia and the Bigallo, painted by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio in 1510; On the interior of the tabernacle appeared a bronze relief of Peter Martyr, the base of which contained a relief depicting his martyrdom. Purchased in 1786; now missing (47).
Table. Saint Peter Martyr presented with the banners of the Capitani della Fede; in the pediment the Madonna between Saints Francis and Domenic; on the backside of the pediment Christ in the grave, underneath an inscription, which refer to the founding of the Company; attributed to Jacopo di Cione, last quarter of the 1400s (48); now in the Museum of the Bigallo (49).
Sala del Consiglio
East Wall. Six frescoes with sevens from the Tobit Legend, first quarter of the 1500s, belonging to it presently (see under facilities); lost (50).
From undefined locations. Fresco or panel painting of the Bigallo’s founding by Agnolo Gaddi, 1380, with images of the founder Giovanni Buccheri; missing or lost (51). On further lost equipment, materials, and facilities, which are no longer in the established locations today, see the documents by Poggi, Rivista D’Arte II, 1904.
(1) As the building was named, before the Company of the Bigallo received joint ownership in 1425.
(2) Del Migliore, 1684
(3) Richa VII, 1785, 251. The name Bigallo is alleged to have derived from a hospital of this name by Ruballa (spedale di S. Maria a Fonteviva, named del Bigallo), that the Compagnia Maggiora della Vergine knew and then transferred from their residence; see Richa VII, 1758; research on G. Florenze IV, 1908, 426 and History of Florence II, 1908.
(4) The History of the Compagnia della MIsericordia is often falsely described, where they are confused with the Compagnia del Bigallo, which existed separately until 1425. The Compagnia della Misericordia was first mentioned in documents around 1321 (see the following notes). According to the “Liber Chronicorum” by Saint Anthony (ed. Giunti 1486, Vol III, Part III, Chapter VII, p. 233) this confraternity would have arisen out of the 1292 founding of the Laudese Brotherhood from Orsanmichele; see Passerini, Stab., 1853, 446f., but this is an erroneous assumption, as the company was first mentioned in 1329. Other legendary founding stories are mentioned in the Illustrated Florence, 1847, 49ff. and by Passerini, Stab., 1853, 440 ff..
(5) Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 194 note, after the Spogli Strozzi. Richa VII, 1758, 268 dated the acquisition of the early Baldinuccio Adimari describing the houses from “around 1340.”
(6) Document from 9.16.1351 by Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 225/6; see also Passerini, Notes., 1853, 448.
(7) Document from 1.28.1352 (building beginning) by Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 226; unknown by Passerini, Note., 1853, 449/450.
(8) By this year, the grids of the loggia had already been manufactured; Document by Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 226.
(9) Vasari I, 302 named Nicola Pisano as the architect; he followed Landini, Bigallo, 1779, XIII. In contrast, Passerini (Note (?), 1853, 449-450) referred to chronological contradictions and argued that Andrea Orcagna was the architect. Burckhardt, Cicerone, 1860, 145 ascribed it to followers of Orcagna. Frey, Loggia de’Lanzi, 1885, 105 argued against the possibility that Orcagna would have been an influence to the architect of the Bigallo (Tabernacle in Orsanmichele). Frey also thought older components from the building could have been withdrawn; the structures of both western arcades and pilasters reminded him of the similar building styles seen in Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, and so he came to the conclusion that the rest of the old oratorio could have been constructed by Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect responsible for Santa Croce (Frey a. a. O. 86, 105). In Contrast, Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 193/4 believed that the Brotherhood may well have resided in this location as early as 1321 (see Note 5) and that furthermore the construction planning allowed for no elimination of older parts. However, Poggi supported the first of Frey’s opinions, that Alberto Arnoldi had been the builder. Venturi, Storia IV, 1906, 684 attributed the building to Arnoldi, under the influence of Orcagna; Thieme-Becker I, 1907, 218 concurred that Arnoldi was the architect of the Bigallo’s loggia, as did L. Beccherucci, Arte XXX 1927, 214.
(10) Del Migliore, 1684, 78; Rischia VII, 1758, 267/268 after a writing for the 1700s; Illustrated Florence IV, 1839, 32; Passserini, Stab., 1853, 797; Poggi, Riv. D’A II, 1904, 192, 195. Further research in G. Florenz IV, 1908, 427 wrongly dated to 1452.
(11) Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 197.
(12) Documents by Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 296.
(13) Poggi, Riv. D’A. II, 1904, 201 after a contemporary diary. This condition is described by Landini, Bigallo, 1779, XIV and reproduced in a drawing of E. Burci, illustrated by Poggi a. a. O. 244.
(14) Poggi, Riv. D’A II, 1904, 202.
(15) Passerini, cur. stor. art. 91; Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 202; the works were managed by Mariano Falcini.
(16) Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 202.
(17) Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 202; A. e. st. XXIII, 1904, 155.
(18) As a precursor to these systems see San Giovannino dei Cavalieri.
(19) The windows were expanded in 1865; see Poggi, Riv. d’A II, 1904, 196.
(20) It is uncertain if the figures should stand there.
(21) The three dimensional decoration were attributed first by Frey, Loggia de’Lanzi, 1885, 105 to Alberto Aroldi; Poggi, Riv. d’A II, 1904, 193, presumed – with justification – that assistants also participated. See also M. Raymond, Gaz. B. A. II, 1893, 322 and Le sculpture florentine, 1897, I, 170f; Venturi, Storia IV, 1906, 684; Thieme-Becker I, 1907, 218.
(22) The three statues originate from the old oratory of the Brotherhood of the Bigallo (see Bigallo II) and were transferred there in 1425. They were painted by Ambrogio di Baldese in 1392, see Poggi, Riv. d’A II, 1904, 230/231 (Documents) and 192/193 – the attribution to Nicola Pisano stems from Vasari I, 302 and Landini, Bigallo, 1779, XIII: Milanesi-Vasari I, 302 corrected mistakes about the statues by producing documentation that mentioned them as the works of Filippo di Cristofano (1413); see also Swarzenski, Kunstgeschichte Anz. III, 1906, 15 and Vitzthum-Volbach, Die Malerei und Plastic des mittelalters in Italien, 1924, 165. Reymond, La sculpture florentine I, 1897, 171 who connected these sculptures stylistically with the works of Nino Pisano. Venturi, Storia IV, 1906, 522: School of Nicola Pisano.
(23) Documents by Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 2904, 230/231.
(24) Probably for the occasion of the installation of the figures painted in 1424 (see note 22) which were restored.
(25) Documents by Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 288; see also Supino ibid., p 231. Del Migliore 1684, 81: Andrea Pisano; Landini, Bigallo, 1779 XIV; La sculpture florentine I, 1897, 151, 170f.; Venturi,Storia IV, 1906, 684; Valentiner, Art in America XVI, 1928, 269.
(26) Documents by Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 241/242: commissioned in 1445; estimated 1446 through Ghiberti and Buonaiuti di Giovanni. Del Migliore 1684, 81; Richa VII, 1758, 252, 285 (ostensibly by Taddeo Gaddi); falsely identified with work from Pietro Chellini (see lost facilities) by Rumorh, Ital. Forsch. II, 1827, 169 ff., Crowe-Cavalcaselle 11, 1864, 519 and A. e st. XXIII, 1905, 166 in opposition to Passerini, Cur. star. art. 97 and Del Pretorio di Firenze, 1865, 9. Venturi, Storia VII 1, 1911, 22; Thieme-Becker XII, 1916, 315. For more on the restoration, see Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 203.
(27) Documents by Poggi, Riv. d’A II, 1904, 228 - Vasari I, 485, falsely ascribed them to Antonio Carota; see also Del Migliore 1684, 81, Richa ViI, 1758, 283, Landini, Bigallo, 1779, XVI; corrected by Milanesi-Vasari I, 485.
(28) Documents by Passerini, Stab., 1853, 453/454 and Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 226-228; the work was commissioned in 1349 and final payment delivered in 1364. Vasari I, 485 attributed it to Andrea Pisano; as did Del Migliore, 1684, 81, Richa VII, 1758, 282 and Landini, Bigallo, 1779, XVI; see also Supino, Riv. d’A II, 1904, 212/213; Venturi, Storia IV, 1906, 683f., 686; Thieme-Becker I, 1907, 218; Vitzthum-Volbach, Die Malerei und Plastic des Mittelalters in Italian, 1924, 171; Valentiner, Art in Am. XVI, 1928, 269.
(29) Documents by Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 230. Vasari VII, 358 attributed it to Rodolfo del Ghirlandaio; as did Del Migliore, 1684, 81 and Richa VII, 1758, 283; Landini, Bigallo, 1779, XVII: by a son of Ghirlandaio. Thieme-Becker XIII, 1920, 562 (as Ridolfo); as well as Venturi, Storia IX, 1, 1925, 512; Berenson, Ital. pictures, 1932, 227: Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (?)
(30) Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 186.
(31) Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 204; Wackernagel, Der Lebensraum des Künstlers in der Florentinischen Renaissance, 1938, 169.
(32) Documents by Passerini, Stab., 1853, 456/457 and Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 229; on the early installation of the frescoes, see Facilities, exterior and note 38. A watercolor copy of the fresco was made around the time of the destruction of the painting that took place in 1777, see Poggi, Riv. d’A. II, 1904, 209, Note 4- Del Migliore, 1684, 80; Richa VII, 1758, 293.