Carità e potere: representing the Medici grand dukes as ‘fathers of the Innocenti’


  • I would like to thank Angela Ho, Megan Holmes, Timothy McCall, Elizabeth Namack, Heather Nolin, Katherine Poole, Ivano Presciutti, Lucia Sandri, Pat Simons, and the anonymous readers for their comments, suggestions, and assistance. The research for this article was first presented in a session organized by Sarah Blake McHam at the Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, held 3–5 April 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Funding for research in Italy was provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations in this article are my own.


In 1605, Roberto Antinori, prior of the Innocenti foundling hospital in Florence, commissioned marble busts of the first three Medici grand dukes for the hospital loggia. Several years later, he hired Bernardino Poccetti to fresco in the girls' refectory an ‘Istoria degl'Innocenti’, which included an idealized representation of the activities of the hospital under the watchful eyes of Cosimo II. The present study argues that these decorative projects worked together to shape an image of the grand dukes as ‘fathers’ of the foundlings of the Innocenti. In contrast to much of the scholarship on the grand dukes, which has focused on their use of visual imagery to achieve absolutist goals, I show how the image of Medici ‘fatherhood’ forged at the Innocenti, by articulating a construction of ruling authority in which the hospital and its young inmates played a constitutive role, served the interests of the hospital as much as it did those of the grand dukes. The paternal metaphor, which obligated the ‘fathers of the Innocenti’ to provide for their ‘children’, is elaborated most extensively in Poccetti's fresco, which represents Cosimo II as custodian of imperilled souls, supplier of nourishment, provider of education, and guardian of nubile chastity.