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In the year of the "Jubilee of Mercy" on January 20, 2016, a completely renovated Museum of the Misericordia in Florence was opened to the public.

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Even the most distracted tourist could not fail to notice several ambulances parked at the corner of Piazza del Duomo and Via Calzaiuoli. Since 1576, this has been the historical site of the Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia (Venerable Confraternity of Mercy), an ancient institution founded in 1244 by St. Peter Martyr or St. Peter of Verona, which never ceased to work at its mission of charity and solidarity.

Founded to “assist and accompany the ailing or accident victims to hospitals and to remove corpses from the street”, over the centuries its charitable works have been significantly diversified. Its contribution during the most difficult periods in the city’s history has been crucial, such as during the numerous disasters, the epidemics (including the terrible plague of 1348 that literally halved the population), wars, and floods (including the last, one of a long series, in 1966).

The museum, after three years of renovations to the fourteen rooms on the fourth floor, houses over eighty pieces (including paintings, objects, furnishings, and documents) encompassing seven centuries of history, the result of original artistic commissions, bequests and donations from confraternity members.
The art section mainly consists of works with religious subjects, ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. The artists include Benedetto da Majano, Della Robbia, Santi di Tito, Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, Giambologna, Carlo Dolci, Valentin de Boulogne, Pietro Annigoni, and Elisabeth Chaplin, to name only the most representative. Besides the iconographic theme of "Madonna with Child", the works often illustrate the brotherhood’s main activities, as well as those of the two protectors of the Misericordia, St. Sebastian and Tobias. The reason for this choice is that Sebastian, an imperial army officer at the time of Diocletian, a convert to Christianity, was known for rescuing persecuted confraternity brothers, sustaining prisoners and burying martyrs. He was also invoked often as a protector against the plague. However, Tobias, the protagonist of the homonymous book of the Bible, was known for giving a decent burial to Jewish brethren during their Babylonian exile.

The many everyday items of the brotherhood are also of great interest: the traditional garment, originally red and then black, with the "buffa" (the lower part of the hood, with two holes for the eyes, concealed the brother’s identity because good works had to performed anonymously), the means of transport (from the original basket called the "zana" to the bier and wagon-litter, precursors of modern ambulances), the medical instruments, the book with the first chapters, and the shaker used for voting.

More or less everywhere we find the Misericordia emblem: the Florentine lily and above it a cross in the middle of the letters F ("Fraternitas") and M ("Misericordiae").
The museum tour is enhanced by videos that illustrate the Misericordia’s history and the services offered by the Confraternity today. There are also useful panels, with Egnlish texts as well, to provide detailed information about the several sections of the museum.

It is also possible to visit other areas of the complex (the oratory houses works by Ghiberti, Luca della Robbia, Benedetto da Majano), as well the nearby Museo del Bigallo, on the opposite side of Via Calzaiuoli. In the latter – the Misericordia’s former home for about two centuries - you can admire the famous Allegoria della Misericordia (school of Bernardo Daddi, 1342) with the depiction of the most ancient view of Florence.

Starting from March 1, 2018 you can visit this museum together with Museo dell'Opera del Duomo with one ticket for 16 euro (valid for 72 hours). This ticket can be purchased at the ticket office of Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

 

 

 

Published: 26/2/2018

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