identification marks + foundlings’ fate


I went to the Museo degli Innocenti in Florence’s Piazza della Santissima Annunziata to focus in on some details. There are the restored terra cotta putti of swaddled babies by Andrea della Robbia. Upstairs, there is a gallery of historic paintings by masters including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, the della Robbias, and others. Jewelry of the era can be seen in many of the paintings.

Also of interest are the pieces from the hospital’s chapel including tabernacles from the XVIII-XIX centuries with figures adorned with beads, religious charms, and crucifixes. There are shrines with elegant compositions of sacred bones from martyrs, decorated with jewels, flowers, and threads of gold.

Tabernacles from the XVIII-XIX centuries
Sacred bones from a martyr

But my favorite items in the museum are the small, personal, intimate objects archived with information about many children who were brought to the hospital in the 1800s to be cared for as orphans. Here are just some of the objects I was able to photograph:

… one hundred and forty 19th century objects illustrating the parental habit of leaving objects and written messages to identify their children. This was common practice in every age and in all the areas of Italy where babies could be left to welfare institutions. These objects, known as marks, recorded a child’s origin, family circle, social class, and village or city. The Innocenti’s historical Archives contain thousands of messages and small items such as messages, coins, rings, hair clips, holy pictures, small crucifixes, rosary beads, colored glass beads, buttons, small pieces of fabric and anything else that could be recovered before entrusting the child to the Hospital’s care. Sometimes pieces of coral, red ribbons or lucky stones such as cornelian and agate were left, in a more propitiatory or pondered vein. The idea was that these marks would allow parents to identify their children if ever they came back to reclaim them – a hope of future recognition and of a chance to rebuild their identity that accompanied the Hospital’s inmates throughout their lives. (Source: Museo degli Innocenti)

For more information about the museum from this blog, read: identifying objects, innocent foundlings.


Museo degli Innocenti
Piazza SS. Annunziata 13, Florence – ITALY

Open daily, 10am–7pm

Tickets 7 euro / 5 euro reduced

The museum’s Caffè del Verone is open daily, 10am–7pm.

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