THE MOTHER OF THE INNOCENTS:
A Florentine story of Charity and Mercy
This film brings together a little-known story in Florentine history about the Innocenti Institute which granted access to follow the restoration of one of their most prized artworks by a great master.
In 1419, an architectural genius began building a children’s hospital and orphanage in Florence, Italy that would help define a component of social welfare in the humanist movement. This building has come to represent a social history which begins at the center of the Italian Renaissance and carries on to this day.
Renaissance Florence has a serious problem of child abandonment. Babies are being left in markets, on church steps, drowned in the Arno river or left in the surrounding fields where they could be consumed by wild animals. There is a growing concern for the souls of these unbaptized babies and an organized movement begins around the idea of solving the problem.
Florentines understand that mercy and charity are part of who they are and they see it as a duty to respect and help the needy. By 1436 the Hospital of the Innocents opens its doors and begins the process of taking in abandoned babies and giving shelter to mothers and their infant children: over 500,000 have been assisted since its inception.
To celebrate the opening, a great painting was commissioned by the master Domenico di Michelino who painted the famous Mother of the Innocents. In 2013 the painting was sent off for a two year restoration project and this film follows the complete process of restoring the painting.
From a small studio in the Santa Croce district, two women work step by step to bring the painting back to life to become the centrepiece of a new Museum. Through an educational and entertaining process we learn about photographic techniques, the restoration process, ancient recipes and varnish removal.
The cameras are present as we witness some astounding surprises of what the restorers find in this mysterious work.
The history of the Institute and the importance of this painting in Florentine life is revealed through the work and in the film. At the time, the Innocenti Hospice is one of two major hospitals in Florence and is one of the first dedicated children’s hospitals in the world.
History allows us to understand the intentions of the Institute and we can now appreciate that it is set up, not only to care for the absolute well being of abandoned children, but also to integrate these children into society.
The intent of the humanists is not just to save these children from certain death and eternal damnation, but to raise them; to teach them to read, to write, to become artists and productive members of Florentine society.