The church of Orsanmichele is home to the largest and most ornate tabernacle in the whole of Florence.
The tabernacle is the work of Andrea di Cione di Arcangelo (c. 1308–1368), who is better known as Andrea Orcagna. According to Giorgio Vasari, it was commissioned by the Compagnia di Or San Michele as a shrine for a painting of the Virgin and Child (c. 1346) by Bernardo Daddi, with money raised after the Black Death of 1348.
The tabernacle (c. 1352/5-1359) is made of marble, which is inlaid with coloured glass. Along the front and sides of the base run octagonal reliefs with scenes from the life of the Virgin, interspersed with hexagonal reliefs of the cardinal and theological virtues. The front and sides of the tabernacle are open, but the back is closed by a large relief depicting the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The arches of Orsanmichele were originally open and so this side of the tabernacle would have been visible from Via dei Calzaiuoli, an important street connecting the religious and secular hearts of the city.
The tabernacle, which cost the princely sum of 86,000 florins, is signed and dated: ANDREAS CIONIS PICTOR FLORENTIN (VS) ORATORII ARCHIMAGISTER EXTITIT HVI (VS) MCCCLIX.
The marble railing, the work of Pietro Migliore, was added in 1366 to protect the tabernacle from the crowds of people who flocked to see it. At this time the arches of Orsanmichele had not been filled in and people were free to step inside the building from the surrounding streets.
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