Orsanmichele is both a church and a museum. The building began as an open loggia that held a grain market with the grain stored upstairs as well as offices; later the walls of the loggia were filled in but on some of the pilasters you can still see the chutes where the grain would come down to the market.
The church was created after an image to the Virgin Mary was attributed to miracles during the 1348 plague. After the plague, Orcagna made a very elaborate Gothic altar to surround Daddi’s altar painting of Mary. The altar and the painting can still be seen in the church.
However, Orsanmichele also has a civic side as it was the religious center for the guilds of the city. Each of the larger guilds commissioned a grand statue to be placed in the 14 niches on the outside of the church. Today, the statues in the outside niches are copies so the originals can be spared from the deteriorating elements of weather and vandalism. But you can still see the originals in the second floor museum.
For an informative video about Orsanmichele, visit the Khan Academy website.
Note: The museum at Orsanmichele is only open on MONDAY from 10-5. It is staffed by volunteers and is free to enter. Enter through the church and head up the spiral staircase in the back left corner of the building. If you are in Florence on a Monday, this is well worth your time as you can see some original statues from Donatello, Ghiberti, Verrochio, Nanni di Banco, and others.
In the museum you can see almost all the original statues; the exception being Donatello’s St. George which is located in the Bargello. The statues are set up in the original positions of the niches. The commissioning of these statues allowed some very important Renaissance artists to work together – at one time the deadline was approaching and the artists were told to get their statues done or the guild would lose their niche to another, potentially lesser, guild. The bronze statues represent greater wealth of the guild since bronze was so much more expensive to work with than marble.
Here is a list of the statues and the guilds who commissioned them.
1) Saint Peter by Donatello (Guild of the Butchers)
2) Saint Philip by Nanni di Banco (Guild of Shoemakers)
3) Four Crowned Saints group by Nanni di Banco (Guild of Stone and Wood Masters)
4) Saint George by Donatello (Guild of the Armourers and Swordmakers) – In the Bargello
5) Saint Matthew by Ghiberti (Guild of the Money Changers and Lenders)
6) Saint Stephan by Ghiberti (Guild of wool merchants)
7) Saint Eligius by Nanni di Banco (Guild of Blacksmiths)
8) Saint Mark by Donatello (Guild of Linen Drapers and Peddlers)
9) Saint James by Nicolò di Piero Lamberti (Guild of the Furriers)
10) Madonna della Rosa by Govanni di Piero Tedesco (?) (Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries)
11) John the Evangelist by Baccio da Montelupo (Guild of silk weavers)
12) Saint Luke by Gianbologna (Guild of Magistrates and Notaries)
13) Christ and Doubting Thomas by Verrocchio (Merchants Court)
14) Saint John the Baptist by Ghiberti (Guild of Wholesale Cloth Importers)
Once you have admired the statues on the second floor, take the stairs up to the third floor (the former grain storehouse) for a magnificent view of the Cathedral. This floor has some minor displays, but the view is worth the steps.
Church of Orsanmichele:
Open weekdays: 10 am - 5 pm
Holidays: 10 am - 5 pm
Open only on Monday
10 am - 5 pm
After leaving Orsanmichele, be sure to walk around the building to see the niches where copies of all those statues stand – it gives you an idea of how the originals looks in the same spots. After you are finished looking about, take some time to wander to the nearby Piazza della Repubblica, easy to spot with its carousel.
This lovely little building was first built in 750 as an oratory of Saint Michael and was surrounded by the vegetable garden of a former Benedictine monastery. Later, in 1336, a new structure was built on the same site as a market and grain store, but given the piety of the Florentine population, the ground floor, by 1380, had been turned into a church.
The exterior of the building is adorned with statues of the patron saints of various guilds. These were added during the second half of the fifteenth century and include, for example, the magnificant "Christ and Saint Thomas" (1467-83) by Andrea del Vorrocchio, commissioned by the Tribunale di Mercanzia. Other works, or rather the original works by Verrocchio, Ghiberti, Donatello and Luca della Robia are located in the Museo di Orsanmichele (upper two floors of the building, but at the time of this review closed due to renovations). The interior could be taken as slightly gloomy, but I think it is brightened by the presence of the high altar and tabernacle decorated by Orcagna and doted with a "Madonna and Child" by Bernardo Daddi (1347).
The church is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 - 17:00 and closed Mondays. There is no entrance fee and well worth a pop in.
The church was originally built in 1337 by Francesco Talenti, Neri di Fiorante and Benci di Lione as a grain market. Between 1380 and 1404 it was converted into a church used as the chapel of Florence's powerful craft and trade guilds.
Fue construida en 1337 por Francesco Talenti, Neri di Fiorante y Benci di Lione originalmente como mercado de grano. Entre 1380 y 1404 fue convertida en iglesia y usada como capilla por los mas poderosos gremios de artesanos y comerciantes de Florencia.
The name derives from the ancient oratory of S. Michele in Orto. This was replaced in 1290 by A. di Cambio to host the grain logia-market. In 1380, the building became a church and the outside arcades were closed off. Tabernacles were then made to host many bronze statues of the patron saints of various guilds. Check out each of the statues. I liked the St. Peter by Donatello, St. John the Baptist by Ghiberti and St. Thomas with Christ by Verrocchio.
The church of Orsanmichele, built in 1290 by Arnolfo di Cambio, was once a loggia used as comunal granary which later became an oratory. In between 1337 and 1404, the oratory was transformed into the church. The base, in a shape of large cube, is closed by a delicate late Gothic marble decoration, while the upper part is more unuform with walls in pietra forte, same as Palazzo Vecchio. A series of tabernacles and statues runs along the walls of the church.
Florentine Gothic church built in 1337. It was originally an open loggia housing a grain market. The loggia was enclosed in 1380 and converted to a church. The arches of the old loggia are still visible. The 2 upper floors were also added and served as the city's emergency grain stores. The outside niches of the church are adorned with statues commissioned by the various guilds of their patron saints. The church houses works and masterpieces by artist such as Donatello, Verrocchio, Ghiberti and Luca della Robbia.
I studied the statues of Chiesa di Orsanmichele during my years in University, but nothing prepared me for the real thing.
Orsanmichele is very significant to the history of Florence (rebirth from the plague) and to art itself. The sculptures pre-date the Renaissance (all built in the 1400s) but already they show styles typical of Renaissance art. Each sculpture was completed by various guilds in the city depicting their patron saint, each with their own significance.
Amoung the artists who did the statues are Donatello (the green oxidized statue on the right in the picture), and Ghiberti (the same person who did the bronze doors on the baptistry).
The ironic thing is that because Orsanmichele is on the path between Piazza della Repubblica and the Duomo, everyone ignored Orsanmichele. I was the only lone person walking around the building (it's not very big) taking pictures and examining the pieces.
At the time we went, the interior of Orsanmichele was closed for repairs, but the exterior was open for everyone to see.
This building was meant to be a grain market, but never served its original purpose.
You can find 14 niches with the statues of saints around it.