The Innocenti Museum, reopened in 2016 after a complete face lift, is located in Santissima Annunziata Square in Florence. It’s dedicated to the institution of the Innocenti, or ‘innocents’, a hospital-orphanage where orphans and indigent children were taken in and raised.

The rather beautiful building of the Ospedale degli Innocenti was designed by Brunelleschi, and today it offers a glimpse into the history of the institution, which has been an important part of Florence‘s life for six centuries.

It’s a moving experience to learn about the daily life of the children raised here, and visitors can see some of their personal objects too. The museum also hosts a small collection of sacred art, including a tender Madonna by Botticelli and a majestic “Adoration of the Magi” by Ghirlandaio.

Tickets cost 9 euros, ( + 3 euros with audio guide available in different languages).

innocenti museum florence
Ospedale degli Innocenti, Piazza SS. Annunziata Florence
Photo by WarburgOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Visit the Innocenti Museum, Florence

The Innocenti Museum is structured over 3 floors, starting from the basement, where you discover all about  the origins and history of the hospital following the ‘History Tour’. You’ll learn that the Silk Guild financed this institution founded on the principles of hospitality and care for children. You’ll learn about how the institution changed throughout the centuries, how during the Counter-Reformation, religion became predominant, and how the anonymous abandonment of children at the institution was abolished in the 19th century.

Its story began in the mid 1400’s, when the rich merchants of the Silk Guild decided to donate their money to finance the care of abandoned children. For four centuries this building, a fine example of Renaissance architecture, served as a symbol of assistance and child welfare.

innocenti museum florence

On the “Architecture Tour” you’ll visit two beautiful courtyards, the men’s and women’s courtyards, that have some beautiful architectural decorations. On the first floor there are great works of art from the 14th to 17th century that belong to the institution and whose value is obvious even to the casual observer.

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Stories of the Innocenti children

A vast number of children grew up inside these walls. From 1445, when the very first baby was abandoned outside the hospital, called Agata Smeralda, to the last child called Ultimo Lasciati (the name literally means Last Left) in 1875.

A section, probably the most significant and moving of this unusual museum, is dedicated to all those orphans that found a ray of hope here. Today visitors can read on a very modern screen the dramatic stories of these children, stories of poor parents, indigent families, exploitation and unscrupulous wet nurses, who were paid to give milk to these children, and sometimes were fostering the little ones in their homes.

You can still see some of the tokens left by the parents (a medal, half a coin, a scrap of paper, a brooch) in the hope of one day being reconciled with their children. The rule was that if the parents went back to the Innocenti with these objects to prove their identities, they could be reunited with their children, even after many years.

innocenti museum florence
Tokens left by the parents

Works of art – Art collection featuring Della Robbia and Botticelli

On the fist floor, following the sign to “Art Tour”, you access a long corridor where the art collection is kept. Starting with a beautiful wooden crucifix, and some Madonnas that are full of pathos, the lovely Sandro Botticelli’s “Madonna with the Child and an Angel” is full of grace and delicacy.

Two of the original Della Robbia babies are kept here (originally destined for the facade), with the unmistakable blue and white of the glazed terracotta.

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innocenti museum florence
The Art Collection

The “Madonna degli Innocenti” by Jacopino del  Conte (1598) in Mannerist style, shows little kids  protected by a loving Mary. This is one of the recurrent themes, the Innocenti protected by a benevolent Mary, that symbolises the institution of the Innocenti.  In the “Madonna in trono venerata dalle Innocentine” you see girls of various age adoring the Madonna, decorated with paper flowers that they used to produce here.

In the last room the gigantic Domenico Ghirlandaio‘s “Adoration of the Magi” is a great example of the Renaissance master’s work, a complex scene where the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ is remembered on the right high up – Flemish influences in the background landscape – and Ghirlandaio’s self portrait, look towards the viewer.

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The beautiful facade of the Innocenti

Take some time to look at the facade. The elegant arches are a creation of Filippo Brunelleschi, the same architect that later built the famous Florence Cathedral‘s Dome. This building is one of the world’s very first examples of Renaissance architecture.

In 1421 the first stone was put down, under the supervision of Brunelleschi, and the works were carried out until 1445 with different architects, who partially modified his initial design.

In the linear and essential architecture,  in Early Renaissance style, the decorations really stand out. The glazed terracottas in blue and white by Andrea Della Robbia were added later, in 1487. The swaddled babies have since then become a symbol of the Innocenti, the unfortunate innocents who were given shelter and a humble start in life.

Inside the museum, you can even take a photo inside a ‘swaddle’… And become an Innocent yourself!

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innocenti museum florence
The swaddled baby, symbol of the Ospedale degli Innocenti

Photo by I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link