TOSCANA - Firenze

FILE : Orsanmichele Church  0

The stained glasses of Orsanmichele church is one of the rare examples of a narrative cycle of windows dedicated to the miracles of the Orsanmichele Madonna. The iconographic choice is strictly correlated to both  the role of the church and the events in the city history.

One of the first documents of the fervent cult of the Florentines towards the Orsanmichele Madonna is a sonnet by Guido Cavalcanti , witness himself of her numerous miracles. A cult refused by the Friars Minor as unrelated to them, the Assertions by Cavalcanti are confirmed in the Cronica by Villani one century later. Villani affirms that the friars, out of envy, didn’t give any value to the miracles. Sacchetti, in his Capitolo dei Bianchi exalts the Orsanmichele Madonna and her miracles with refined illustrations, confirmed by the episodes painted on the windows.

In fact, the windows are an evidence of both  the nature and role of the Orsanmichele Madonna’s thaumaturgic image in the troubled  years of the ‘300.

The Orsanmichele Oratory was raised in  an area where once stood an ancient church founded in 895 by the monks of the St. Silvester Abbey and dedicated to St. Michael Archangel. The name Orsanmichele dates back to 1224 when the church was cited as ‘Sancti Michaelis in Orto’ in a Papal bull.

Very soon the church became the Justice administration headquarters .

Soon after 1240 the city council demolished the church to open up the square where the corn was sold. Besides, a magistracy was created called ‘i sei del grano’ (the six magistrates of the corn) for controls and debates. In 1285, beyond the decree of the Arts Prior, a Loggia was built  ad custodiendum granum et bladum quod reponitur sub logia Communis Orti Sancti Michaelis in orto, finished in 1290. Between 1285 and 1290 on two pillars of the loggia the images of the Virgin and St. Michael were painted, as patrons of the market. The veneration of that Madonna, her miracles and fame had already spread all over: The Orsanmichele Madonna became the patron of the corn supplying in the Florentine Commune, after the flood in 1333 that destroyed houses, mills along the Arno river. In 1336 a new and more proper loggia was raised. The various guilds were allowed to put outside, in the niches of the pillars, a statue of their own patron saint.  In 1347 shortly before the Black Plague affected the town, Bernardo Daddi painted the present image of the Virgin enclosed in a new and sumptuous tabernacle by Orcagna. According to Burnam, the new image was commissioned in those years marked by the failure of the Florentine banks and by serious famines in order to regain and instil new life to the  miraculous image. 

In 1360 the barn was removed an the building was surrounded by  open arches (1367). The artist of the tracery in the arches was Simone di Francesco Talenti with the cooperation of some stone-cutters. The work went on for long: the traceries at the entrances on the western side date back to 1378, possibly carried out by Talenti himself, while the works proceeded until 1387.  

A problem strictly related to the glazing regards the arches project as well. According to M Trachtenberg, Talenti’s plan provided a typology of tracery very close to the one he used for the Florence bell tower: it is a three-lancet window where the side lancets are closed by a balustrade, while the one in the middle is without parapet. The traceried lunettes are glazed, while the lights from the capitals downwards are closed; the ones on the western side by blocks of heavy stone  , those in the other sides by broken bricks with plaster.

The presence of plugging masonry in the traceries and the lager size of the central windows made Burnam think of  a Talenti’s project . The two three-lancet windows sIV and nIV show that Talenti had provided an entrance in the middle, and maybe the samples of the walls will reveal the same project for all the three-lancet windows.