"When the Black Death raged in Florence, the surviving grain merchants raised a huge sum and ordered Andrea Orcagna, the author of the famous loggia on Piazza Senoria, a marble tabernacle for the amazing picture of the Virgin Mary by Ugolino di Nerio, which have been placed in a wooden structure on the grain market in loggia on the piazza Orsanmichele. Orcagna created a real miracle, a marble lace, and having seen it, the merchants transferred their trade to another place and turned this market into a temple Orsanmichele. So the most beautiful Florentine street tabernacle turned into a unique church altar. In this book dedicated exclusively to street tabernables I put all sacred images in churches and on their facades outside the text. However, this unique example of popular devotion which turned the market into a church shows the all importance of tabernacles in the spiritual life of Florence.
Since Ancient Rome the tradition of placing sacred images or divine statues in niches along the streets to protect houses or travelers from evil forces has been existing in Italy. You can see the such niche in the remains of Ostia Antica. This custom survived after the adoption of Christianity and flourished in the Late Middle Ages afterwards.
In medieval Florence installation of street tabernacles was associated with the spread of the Madonna cult in the 13th century and preaching of St. Peter of Verona. Under his guidance Florentines placed sacred images of Virgin Mary on the main street corners, houses, shops and public buildings. At first these were small movable pictures, but by the end of the century famous local artists began to create large street tabernacles.
Soon Florence was covered with a net of street sacred images, which not only demonstrated public devotion and protected citizens of the commune but also controlled public behaviors. And this was not only in the spiritual, but also in the literal sense, when the lamps in tabernacles illuminated streets at night and created safe urban environment. During the Black Dearth some tabernacles were provided with a real altar. For reducing the risk of contagion Florentine priests preferred to celebrate mass outdoors rather than inside the churches.
Starting from the 15th century the guilds of artisans, the festive kingships (potenza) and craft confraternities began to install tabernacles in their quarters as symbols of devotion, wealth and power.
Not always they could commission a great artist and often preferred sacred images in terracotta or ceramics, which mass production was established by Della Robbia and other masters. Since the 18th century due to cheap engraving a large number of tabernacles was built by ordinary citizens.
I admire these tabernacles not only as an open-air art museum, but as a manifestation of the still living tradition of the popular devotion of Florentines, who saved their faith in God despite all the temptations of our modern times. Street sacred images deeply touched my soul with their natural and sometimes naive religiosity. This sincere admiration aroused my interest, so I started to shoot and collect information, which resulted in this book.
I warmly acknowledge my husband Andrei Gordienko for emotional and intellectual support."