The little church of San Martino del Vescovo (or dei Buonomini) is home to frescoes from the workshop of Ghirlandaio. The fresco cycle follows both the actions of St Martin of Tours and the work of the Buonomini confraternity in the local community.
Founded in the mid-fifteenth-century, the lay confraternity of the Dodici Buonimini, or Twelve Good Men, was an institution devoted exclusively to the provision of public assistance to the poor. Nineteenth century historians argued that among the aims of its founder, the Dominican Prior Antoninus (whose portrait is today found above the front door), was the preservation and protection of some of the great families of Florence who were suffering due to the discriminatory taxes imposed by the Medici regime which was dominant after 1434. A broader interpretation of the role of the Buonomini depicts them as generally taking care of the needs of the ‘ashamed destitute’, or those paupers whose gentility precluded them from begging for alms.
This depiction of St Martin Giving Alms to the Poor, found in the tabernacle on the entrance façade, is by the artist Cosimo Ulivelli.
On occasions when there was a desperate need for funds, the Buonimini would place a lighted candle over the doorway, giving rise to the expression “essere ridotti al lumicino” – to be reduced to a little light.
These are the interior frescoes, created by Domenico Ghirlandaio’s workshop towards the end of the 15th century, depicting Scenes from the life of St Martin, and Works of Mercy. They are all my own photos; I was fortunate enough to visit just after the frescoes had been painstakingly refreshed, and the attendant on duty was most agreeable in allowing me free range with my camera.
Many fascinating objects of beauty or significance, spiritual or corporeal, or both, are to be found within the walls of this little church…