This bulky structure halfway down Via dei Calzaiuoli looks more like a Gothic warehouse than a church—which is exactly what it was, built as a granary and grain market in 1337. After a miraculous image of the Madonna supposedly appeared on a column inside, however, the lower level was turned into a shrine and chapel. The city’s merchant guilds each undertook the task of decorating one of the outside Gothic tabernacles around the lower level with a statue of their guild’s patron saint. Masters such as Ghiberti, Donatello, Verrocchio, and Giambologna all cast or carved masterpieces to set here (those remaining are mostly copies, including Donatello’s “St. George”).
In the dark interior, the elaborate Gothic Tabernacle (1349–59) by Andrea Orcagna protects a luminous 1348 “Madonna and Child” painted by Giotto’s student Bernardo Daddi, to which miracles were ascribed during the Black Death of 1348–50.
Every Monday (9am–5pm) you can access the upper floors, which house many of the original sculptures that once lived in Orsanmichele’s exterior niches. Among the treasures of the so-called Museo di Orsanmichele are a trio of bronzes: Ghiberti’s “St. John the Baptist” (1412–16), the first life-size bronze of the Renaissance; Verrocchio’s “Incredulity of St. Thomas” (1483); and Giambologna’s “St. Luke” (1602). Climb up one floor farther, to the top, for an unforgettable 360[dg] panorama of the city. The Museo is staffed by volunteers, so donate if you are able.