Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova

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Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova

Folco Portinari, the father of Dante's Beatrice, founded this sprawling complex in 1288. It was originally a hostel for visiting pilgrims and travelers. During the Black Death of 1348 it served as a hospice for those afflicted. At another point it served as an office where money could be exchanged and deposited and letters could be received; Michelangelo did his banking here. It had been lavishly decorated by the top Florentine artists of the day, but most of the works, such as the frescoes by Domenico Veneziano and Piero della Francesca, have disappeared or been moved to the Uffizi for safekeeping. Today it functions as a hospital in the modern sense of the word, but you can visit the single-nave church of Sant'Egidio, in the middle of the complex, where the frescoes would have stood. Imagine, too, Hugo van der Goes's (1435–82) magnificent Portinari Altarpiece, which once crowned the high altar; it's now in the Uffizi. Commissioned by Tommaso Portinari, a descendent of Folco's, it arrived from Bruges in 1483 and created quite a stir. Bernardo Rossellino's immense marble tabernacle (1450), still in the church, is worth a look.

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