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  • La Ca' di Dio di Padova nel Quattrocento: Riforma e governo di un ospedale per l'infanzia abbandonata
  • Margaret L. King
Francesco Bianchi . La Ca' di Dio di Padova nel Quattrocento: Riforma e governo di un ospedale per l'infanzia abbandonata. Memorie: Classe di scienze morali, lettere ed arti 109. Venice: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 2005. xi + 266 pp. index. append. tbls. bibl. €25. ISBN: 8888143513.

Francesco Bianchi makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the history of children, abandonment, and charity in this finely-produced volume from the distinguished Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. More than a study of a single Paduan institution, the hospital of the Ca' di Dio (house of God), which he explores exhaustively, it is a component of a quest for the lost children of medieval and early modern Europe being carried on in multiple languages and academic settings.

Anglophone readers are already acquainted with the issue of abandonment, especially from the pathbreaking work of John Boswell (The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance [1988]), and with the foundling hospitals of Renaissance Florence from the work of Richard Trexler (Power and Dependence in Renaissance Florence, 1: The Children of Florence [1993]) and Philip Gavitt (Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence: The Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1410–1536 [1990]). Bianchi further draws on the many monographs and collections of studies published, especially in Italian and French, over the last two decades, making his introductory chapter and accompanying bibliography an indispensable resource.

In chapter 1, Bianchi studies the institution of the orphanage in the context of hospital reform in fifteenth-century Italy. The general-purpose hospitals of the Middle Ages (and their monastic predecessors) cared for foundlings along with the desperately poor, sick, and old. The specialized care of foundlings (brefotrofi) dates only from the fourteenth century in the West, although orphanages are known in Byzantium from the fourth century; the one document witnessing an eighth-century foundation in Milan is probably spurious. Renaissance Italy was the matrix of the orphanage phenomenon, which later replicated itself in other European centers. In fourteenth-century Italy, hospitals centered on foundling care emerge in cities including Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Verona, and Venice. The phenomenon was accompanied by the invention of the ruota girevole — later a symbol of hopelessness and cruelty — the wheel by means of which abandoning mothers might confidentially deposit their infants without making contact with hospital personnel.

In the fifteenth century, as part of a general overhaul of hospital systems, new hospitals (including the famous Innocenti in Florence) were created for, and old ones (including the Ca' di Dio of Padua) rededicated to, the tasks of receiving, baptizing, nourishing, and instructing orphans and releasing them eventually to work or marriage. Over the century, these institutions took in tens of thousands of esposti ("exposed," or abandoned, infants) — a more brutal but more realistic term than trovatelli ("foundlings") — in sets ranging from twenty or so annually at early Quattrocento San Gallo in Florence to about 200 at the Florentine [End Page 847] Innocenti or in Parma and on to 800–1,000 at Bergamo, which collected the unwanted infants of much of Lombardy.

In chapters 2 through 4, Bianchi studies the workings, government, and people of the Ca' di Dio in Padua, a general hospital gradually restructured for the exclusive mission of foundling care during the middle years of the fifteenth century. Among the extensive archival resources utilized, critical are the forty-two volumes of Entrate e uscite ("entrances and exits") for the period 1400–84. From these materials, the author has reconstructed an institution that cared for 1,564 children and utilized the services of 2,279 wetnurses.

A board of socially eminent men governed the Ca' di Dio, consisting preponderantly of professors of law at the university and communal officials. These oversaw a sizable staff that included, at the top, a resident prior, and then a factor (the chief financial officer, who managed the rental properties from which revenues mainly flowed), a baker, cooks, servants, occasional manual workers, visiting notaries, attorneys, chaplains, physicians, and, critically, wetnurses. Of the 2,279...


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