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This cosy church is located on the site of a former chapel that was part of a Benedictine orchard. The original chapel was called San Michele in Orto, from which the current name, Orsanmichele.
In 1280 the Benedictine convent was replaced by a cereal market, which was destroyed during a fire in 1304. The market was rebuilt many years later and covered with storage rooms. In addition, each of the city's guilds, known as "Arte", was assigned one of the pillars of the building to decorate it with a statue representing their patron.
It was later decided to dedicate the building to religious purposes and, in 1380, the arcades were walled up and the ground floor was transformed into a church. Even so, on the top floor, the granaries were retained as storage areas for times of famine.
The façade of the church today still preserves the sculptures made by the various guilds, though some are merely copies of the originals. It is worth pointing out that most of them were made by artists he likes of Donatello, Ghiberti and Verrocchio. Among them is the St. George by Donatello, considered by many to be the first Renaissance statue.
The exterior also features a number of medallions of glazed terracotta displaying the coats of arms of each of the guilds, made by Luca della Robbia and his assistants. Visitors should also note the skywalk that connects Orsanmichele with the adjacent building. This is the Palazzo dell'Arte della lana, headquarters of the wool workers' guild.
While it is somewhat dark, the interior of the church retains some ancient treasures, such as a splendid marble tabernacle inlaid with coloured glass completed in the year 1359 by Andrea Orcagna. In the centre, behind the offerings and the cherubim is The Madonna and Child, a work by Bernardo Daddi painted in 1347 to replace an ancient fresco that had been destroyed in the fire.
However, you will notice that most of the frescoes are in pretty bad condition. This is because during the Renaissance works made before the period were often treated with disdain. So it wasn't until 1864 that these paintings were restored.
However, a visit to this church is a good opportunity to get away from the busy Via dei Calzaiuoli and enjoy a haven of peace in the midst of the city.
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