(b. ca. 1386, Firenze, d. 1466, Firenze)

Exterior view of the Orsanmichele

begun 1285
Orsanmichele, Florence

Orsanmichele is located on the Via dei Calzaiuoli, close to the cathedral square in Florence. An eight-century nunnery on the site, dedicated to St Michael, had been pulled down in 1240 and replaced by a corn market. After a fire in 1304, a new public building was erected. Originally the ground floor was used as a market, and it was not until 1367 to 1380 that the open arcades were closed by Simone Talenti. From then onwards, the ground floor served as a centre for the craftsmen's guild of Florence. In 1336, the fourteen niches on the exterior had been placed at the disposal of the most important guilds. Given that, by the beginning of the fifteenth century, only one of the niches had been filled with a figural ornament, the city felt it had no option but to impose a ten year deadline by which time the remaining tabernacles had to be filled.

We have these unusual circumstances to thank for the fact that Orsanmichele is both an impressive and a paradigmatic culmination of Italian sculpture of the period between the late Gothic and early Renaissance. Between 1408 and 1429, important masters such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Nanni di Banco and Niccolò di Piero Lamberti created sculptures for this location. These were followed by those of Andrea del Verrocchio in the late fifteenth century and by Giambologna in 1601. We see Donatello's work in the figures of St Mark, St George and St Louis of Toulouse; the latter was originally created for this site, but has since been replaced by Verrocchio's Doubting Thomas.

View images of the exterior sculptural decoration of Orsanmichele.