The stained glass windows of the Oratory of Orsanmichele in Florence, Italy

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Art and Music Histories


Gary M. Radke


Architecture, European history, Middle Ages

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


The stained glass windows of Orsanmichele have never been the focus of a comprehensive stylistic, archival, and contextual study. Without first understanding the intervention of the glazier in the stained glass process, prior studies have focused on attributing Orsanmichele's stained glass to prominent Florentine painters. Although it has traditionally been asserted that Italian stained glass production is characterized by a unique collaborative relationship between glassmasters and cartoon designers, the nature of this relationship has never been satisfactorily defined. My dissertation provides and employs a method that considers stained glass in the context of the larger visual ensemble of which it is a part, in light of contemporary events, and with respect to glass workshop practice. Through my approach, I propose a novel reconstruction of the peculiarly Italian relationship that existed between cartoon designers and glaziers in late Trecento and early Quattrocento Florence. In the context of this relationship, I identify and delineate the glazing personalities of three glaziers, two of which (Leonardo di Simone and Niccolo di Piero Tedesco) I identify as the glaziers of the Orsanmichele windows. I also re-examinine the participation of Florentine painters in the glazing process, and identify Orsanmichele's cartoon designers as Agnolo Gaddi, Niccolo di Pietro Gerini, Giovanni del Biondo, and Lorenzo Monaco. Orsanmichele's stained glass is considered in the context of the role of the Oratory and the thaumaturgic image of the Madonna of Orsanmichele in the spiritual, political, and economic life of Florence. The abnormalities of Orsanmichele's glazing and tracery construction are examined by means of documentation, visual analysis, and an understanding of the vicissitudes of Florentine events. Moreover, the stained glass windows are shown to have been produced in two glazing campaigns. In this context, I provide explanations for the hitherto enigmatic elements of the stained glass windows' iconography and style. I also advance new evidence for the role and nature of the Madonna of Orsanmichele in the spiritual, political, and economic life of Florence that enhances our understanding of Orsanmichele and its place in Florentine life, as well as the impact of popular culture on the Florentine visual arts.


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