Exploring the History of Medicine , Part 30: Florence, Part 10

April 1, 2023


Children's Hospital (Orphanage)


 A short distance north of the Cathedral, you will find an old children's hospital.

It was built in the 15th century with donations from silk merchants.

Originally, its purpose was to provide relief for orphans and abandoned children, hence it was called the "Orphanage."

It is the oldest orphanage in Europe.

In Florence, such charitable works were actively pursued, and there were also facilities for unmarried mothers located beside the Cathedral.

 The orphanage, like the dome of the Cathedral, is one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture in Florence designed by Brunelleschi.

Columns have once again become an important element in architecture after a long time since ancient Greece.

 The front of the first floor features a long corridor with columns and nine large arches.

Beautiful blue ceramic medallions are embedded at the top of each column.

These medallions, designed by Antonio della Robbia, depict infants swaddled in white cloth.

 In medieval times, there was a custom of wrapping newborns with bandages to protect them from harm, known as swaddling.

This practice was advocated by Soranus of Ephesus, renowned as the founder of obstetrics, and recommended by the famous Roman physician Galenus during the Roman era.

This harmful practice continued widely throughout the Middle Ages until the early 19th century.

 The term "swaddling" is still used today, but it refers to clothing for newborns or "swaddling clothes" rather than bandages.


 Furthermore, at the end of the corridor, there is a "revolving door" where mothers could abandon their children without being seen by others, which is still present and evokes a sense of sadness.

 Facing the beautiful courtyard surrounded by the colonnade, there is a colored terracotta

"Annunciation" depicted.

This is also a work by Antonio della Robbia.


 The Annunciation is a famous event mentioned in the Christian New Testament.

The angel Gabriel descended from heaven to appear before the Virgin Mary and informed her that she had conceived a child by the will of God.

The angel instructed her to name the child Jesus.

Although Mary was initially confused, she accepted by saying, “I am the Lord's servant.

Let it be to me according to your words.”

This theme recurs in artistic works within the Christian cultural sphere.


 A detailed explanation of the Annunciation will be provided in the section of the Uffizi Gallery.