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Museo degli Innocenti

A Revolution in Architecture and Social Reform

Facade of the Spedale degli Innocenti

In the 1419, the hot-tempered genius Filippo Brunelleschi struck the first blow for the restoration of classical architecture in this piazza when he built the Ospedale degli Innocenti and its famous portico—-an architectural landmark, but also a monument to Renaissance Italy’s long, hard struggle towards a social consciousness.

Despite the best intentions of the Church, medieval Florence faced an endemic crisis in dealing with its poor. Think of it as an early version of the Industrial Revolution, with the wool workshops facing booms and busts and employing an underpaid industrial proletariat rife with diseases and struggling to get by. Unwanted babies, often abandoned, were a constant problem, while gangs of unruly street children troubled the public ways. The old system tried to place infants with wet nurses and foster parents, but this brought problems too; it spread diseases, and the families to whom they were given often showed little interest in their welfare.

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Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Images by Sailko, GNU Creative Commons License