The Innocents of Florence
The conservation project, executed by Elisabeth Wicks and Nicoletta Fontani, was personally funded by Advancing Women Artists (AWA) founder Jane Fortune, who decided to support this work by Domenico de Michelino (despite being a male artist). The project led the restoration team on a journey to uncover the story of the city’s forgotten children, and the women who saved them.
The film’s premise
It is 1410 and there is a huge social problem in Florence. Babies are abandoned and dying at an alarming rate. To solve the problem Florence’s humanists organise and build a hospice for babies to assist young mothers. To celebrate the completion of the new building in 1446, they commission a painting to act as their ‘poster’, logo and symbol for the new Institute.
Flash forward 600 years to 2013, the very same painting sits in a museum within the original building. Two women, an American and an Italian, are tasked with the restoration of the work due to be displayed after a renovation and reopening of the museum.
The conservation Madonna of the
Innocents was commissioned after Jane Fortune and Elizabeth Wicks became curious about the young Madonna figure depicted in The Innocenti’s work. They were particularly intrigued by her facial expression. It seemed she was hiding a secret. The ‘hunch’ these women had that day in the museum led to what turned out to be the “greatest discovery of my career,” says Wicks, who with fellow conservator Nicoletta Fontani, spent close to 30 months preparing the work for display in the Innocenti, which boasts one of the rarest collections of children’s history in the world.
Battistella and his quest
The film took a full five years to complete and in the 90-minute feature-length documentary film, Battistella explores the themes of art, motherhood, Florentine humanism and how a progressive-thinking Renaissance society created one of the first children’s hospitals in the world.