Orsanmichele : Sculptures of Orsanmichele

The exterior of the church is infinitely interesting - decorated with niches containing statues of saints commissioned by the various guilds of Florence (along with other carvings and architectural decorations). Fourteen guilds, including the silk workers, bankers, and the blacksmiths are represented. Although the program began during the late middle ages, the sculptures were not begun in earnest until the early fourteenth century. As a result, the entire range of Renaissance sculpture is represented, from the Early - Ghiberti's St. John the Baptist of 1414 (the first life-sized bronze cast in the Renaissance) - to the Late Renaissance - Giambologna's Saint Luke of 1601. All of the original works have been removed for restoration and replaced by copies. Most are now in the Museo di Orsanmichele on the 1st (2nd U.S.) floor of the church (the entrance is in a separate building - across from the entrance door of the church), which although recently remodeled (late fall of 2007) is rarely opened to the public (only during special exhibitions and events - which have been rare).

There are several works that were originally made for the Orsanmichele that are now in other locations - a bronze of St. Louis of Toulouse by Donatello is now in the Opera of Santa Croce. It originally stood in the Donatello's tabernacle which now holds Verrocchio's Christ and St. Thomas. This is the only work in bronze to be replaced by a bronze - the rest (detailed below) were all originally in marble.

Lamberti's marble St. Luke, which was once in the spot now occupied by Giambologna's St. Luke, is now in the Bargello. Likewise a marble St. John The Evangelist by the school of Orcagna was replaced with a bronze by Anrea Pisano (the guilds showed their importance and wealth by using bronze instead of gold, which was much more expensive) and is now in the Spedale Innocenti. And lastly, the original marble St. Stephen, again by Pisano, was replaced with a bronze version by Ghiberti. Pisano's St. Stephen can be seen at the Opera Duomo.

  • A Florentine Sculptor's Masterpiece
  • Christ and St. Thomas
  • Four Crowned Saints
  • List of Sculptures
  • Madonna of the Rose
  • St. George
  • St. James
  • St. Matthew
  • The Mystery of The Missing St. George

A Florentine Sculptor's Masterpiece

Here is a 15 year old article (not a big deal really when you realize that the subject matter is over 500 years old) about Verrocchio's Christ and St. Thomas. Kimmelman is a good critic and writer and I think he makes important points here - especially calling out Vasari for his belittling of Verrocchio, which does not stand the test of time:

If it were by Michelangelo, there would no doubt be lines stretching all the way from the museum's lobby to the Lehman wing, where "Christ and St. Thomas" is on view. But Verrocchio's reputation was long ago wounded by, who else, a critic: Giorgio Vasari, writing in 1550, almost three-quarters of a century after the unveiling of "Christ and St. Thomas," described Verrocchio's art as "hard and crude, since it was the product of unremitting study rather than of any natural gift or facility." Vasari's opinion has echoed through time so that now Verrocchio may be better known as the teacher of his studio assistant, Leonardo da Vinci, than for his own prodigious achievements.

Christ and St. Thomas

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Christ and St. Thomas (1467-83) by Andrea del Verrocchio - commissioned by the Tribunale di Mercanzia (merchants). This tabernacle is the original made for Donatello's St. Louis of Toulouse now in Santa Croce. It is the only tabernacle designed to hold a single figure that now has two and is a fine example of Verrocchio's skills.


Four Crowned Saints

Quattro Santi Coronati (Four Crowned Saints), 1410 - 1414, by Nanni di Banco - commissioned by the Maestri di Pietra e Legname (Stone Masons and Woodworkers Guild). The tabernacle is also by di Banco.


List of Sculptures

Here is the list of sculptures that have decorated the outside tabernacles of Orsanmichele. Fourteen of the original sculptures are now located in the museum on the "primo piano" - which unfortunately is usually closed even though it was remodeled and restored in 2007. Works not in the museum have their locations noted in parentheses. All tabernacles and predellas, etc. are orgininal and in situ except for Donatello's tabernacle for St. George which is in the Bargello. We will continue to add links here as we add the individual pages for each work.

St. Stephen, Andrea Pisano 1340 (Opera Duomo)

John the Evangelist, Orcagna (circle of) 1370 (Spedale Innocenti)

Madonna of the Rose or Madonna and Child, Lamberti 1399

St. Luke, Lamberti 1406 (Bargello)

St. Philip, Nanni di Banco 1412

St. Mark, Donatello 1413

Four Crowned Saints, Nanni di Banco 1414

St. Peter, Brunelleschi 1415

John the Baptist, Ghiberti 1416

St. George, Donatello 1418

St. James, Lamberti 1420

St. Eligius, Nanni di Banco 1421

St. Matthew, Ghiberti 1422

St. Louis of Tolouse, Donatello 1423 (Opera Santa Croce)

St. Stephen, Ghiberti 1428

Doubting St. Thomas or Christ and St. Thomas, Verrocchio 1486

John the Evangelist, Baccio da Montelupo 1515

St. Luke, Giambologna 1602

Madonna of the Rose

Madonna of the Rose (Madonna and Child), 1399, Pietro di Giovanni Tedesco - commissioned by Medici e Speziali (doctors and apothecaries). This is the oldest sculpture remaining at church. There were two earlier works, but both were subsequently replaced by their guilds. At one point this statue was moved inside, and only placed outside again in 1925.


This is the only tabernacle that projects from the building, in ornate Gothic style. The tabernacle is by Jacopo di Piero Guidi.


St. George

St. George by Donatello is a classic example of the early renaissance - the return of the human figure, "rendered as a self-activating, functional organism... shown with a confidence in its own worth(1)". St. George is shown as the clear eyed vanquisher of the dragon, calmly and confidently assuming his pose. Their are several marble copies of this sculpture - including the current one in the niche, as well as a bronze. The original now appears to be in the Orsanmichele museum - but at one point (when it was first removed from the church in 1892) was placed in the Bargello, as was the predella (the predella at Orsanmichele is a copy - the only copy of all the tabernacles and predellas as far as I have learned).


This sculpture was commissioned by the Armorer's and Sword Makers Guild and completed c. 1417-18. It is on the north side of the church on Via Orsamichele. Though the tabernacle was also done by Donatello it lacks any renaissance style and is much more in line with some of the other gothic tabernacles of the church. The statue probably once also had a sword or spear in George's right hand, as well as a helmet. When these were lost is not well documented.

1Encyclopedia Brittanica

St. James

St. James, Lamberti 1420


St. Matthew


The Mystery of The Missing St. George

It is great to report that the Orsanmichele Museum is indeed reopened, and better yet, admission is free! I got a chance to stop by this morning and there was another welcome surprise - the piano secondo is also open. You can access the top floor from the contemporary stair case that is built between the primo piano (the museum room with all the sculptures - or in English, the second floor) and the piano secondo (or third floor).

The top floor is mostly empty, but there are some spectacular views in all directions, as well as what really can only be described as the near ruins of the smaller sculptures that originally adorned the openings/windows of the church. The architecture is fantastic, with meter wide or more wooden beams spanning the width of the building and original stone work.

The scale of Orsanmichele is simply amazing - to walk up to the primo piano is four flights of huge stairs. I think floor to ceiling must be over 40 feet.

One thing that hasn't changed unfortunately is that no photos are allowed - which just seems sort of silly in this day and age.

The only missing sculpture in the museum is the one of St. George. I inquired about it with both guards but neither had a real answer. At least there is some clarity to the situation - the original marble is the one in the Bargello, and a marble copy is in the niche on the outside of the church. But at the moment, the bronze copy, which was in the niche until at least a year or two ago is nowhere to be seen. I have a feeling it must be in for restoration, probably at the Opificio Delle Pietre Dure. I am going to try to contact the museum administration for and answer to this mystery, and for permission to photograph the statues in the museum for this website.

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