cover of book

Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence: The Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1410-1536
by Philip Gavitt
University of Michigan Press, 1991
Cloth: 978-0-472-10183-2
Library of Congress Classification HV1195.F562O874 1990
Dewey Decimal Classification 362.731094551


Alongside the architectural splendor and intellectual brilliance of early Renaissance Florence there existed a second world of poverty, misery, social despair, and child abandonment. The Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents), designed and built between 1419 and 1445 by the renowned architect Filippo Brunelleschi, united these disparate worlds. Christian charity and compassion, as well as the humanist commitment to social perfection, family values, and love for children, were intertwined with a civic pride in which charity curried God's favor and invoked God's blessings on the city's fortunes.

Based on a close and attentive reading of archival material from the hospital and from the Florentine State Archives, Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence both chronicles the concerns and ambivalence of parents who abandoned children and follows the lives of the hospital's inhabitants from childhood to death. The book also demonstrates how hospital officials deliberately duplicated the structure and values of the Florentine family within the hospital walls. Gavitt's research shows that early modern foundling hospitals were not charnel houses where parents knowingly and impersonally abandoned their unwanted children to certain death. Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence provokes reflection on the contrast between our own views on the care of homeless children and those of the Italian Renaissance.

Winner of the Society for Italian Historical Studies 1988 Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript.

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