The Quest to Save 600,000 Children

Documentary 90′ 2019When art restorers in Florence begin work on a 600-year- old painting they lead the journey to uncover the story of the city’s forgotten children, and the women who saved them.


It’s beautiful, and moving, and an ode to something incredible in Florence’s past.  It’s both delicate and strong in its presentation – bravissimo.

Christine Contrada


We restore things to learn, and what I believe The Innocents of Florence teaches us is that there are no excuses. The Institute’s beginnings make up what we would now call a grassroots social movement.

Shauna McGinn

Magazine Editor

Combining never-before-seen footage gathered over several years by neighbourhood film-maker David Battistella, the audience is offered an unforgettable insight into a Renaissance, Florentine reality few will be familiar with. 


The interweaving of history, art and human ingenuity reflects the Renaissance values that made Florence the wealthiest of cities, and one that undertook to look after its most vulnerable citizens.  The film is also a tribute to the women who worked at the Innocenti and were on the front line of saving the children left in their care. 

Margaret MacKinnon

By delving into the origins of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the filmmaker examines the humanistic instincts behind the establishment of one of the first children’s hospitals in the world, while also exposing one of the darker secrets that contributed to the necessity for such an institution.

Wayne McArdle

We really enjoyed and appreciated the film, which was the centerpiece for our wonderful afternoon.  Thank you so, so much for letting us know about this.  I hope you’ll be able to have the film shown closer to home,

Ed Pentaleri

We loved it. I was so impressed that the primary restorers were women — that it was a story about women on every level, and as such, mysterious and human and of course, nuanced. i am thrilled that we had the opportunity to see it.

Susan T Landry


The film was amazing—beautiful cinematography and a story within a story very thoughtfully put together . Thanks so much for the introduction !!!

Joe Barth

Restoration Expert

We loved being there..  

The movie was stunning! The restoration of the painting very interesting,and the history of all those babies, their lives and the really extraordinary collection of tales of each child.
Prescilla Donham

Trauma Therapist

Art Conservator

Elizabeth is an American restorer who lives and works in Italy and works as a consultant in the United States.

Education: Bachelor of Arts (Medieval and Renaissance Studies) Hamilton / Kirkland Colleges. Specialized course in fine arts from Syracuse University in NY and Florence. Degree in Restoration (MFA) Dominican University at Villa Schifanoia (Florence). Post-specialization at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Pisa, with a research project on calcium oxalate patina on marble monuments, published in the Bulletin of the Mineralogical Studies. Continued studies with advanced courses on the latest methodologies in the field of conservation and minimal intervention on the restoration of ancient and contemporary works of art.


Art Conservator

Nicoletta is a native Florentine art restorer with decades of experience in the restoration and conservation of paintings and painted wooden sculpture. She also has decades of experience teaching restoration methods and related subjects. She continues to be updated on innovative methods of consolidation, cleaning and restoration of contemporary art.

Education: Diploma in Restoration of painted moveable works, ( Florence, ORpificio Pietre Dure 1990).


Innocenti Archives Expert/Historian

Lucia Sandri is an expert in the history of childhood and Institute of the six centuries (or 600 year) old Ospedale degli Innocenti and has created an inventory of Historical Archives. One of of the world’s foremost scholars of the Institute, Sandri (or she) is the historical consultant for the film.

Some of her recent works include, Forms and Adoption Contracts in the Hospital of the Innocenti of Florence between the late Middle Ages and the modern age, Malanges de l’Ecole franacaise de Rome – Italie et Mediterrane modernes et contemporaines, «Mefrim », 124-1 ( 2012); The Innocenti and Orbatello in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries: “Nocentine” and “occult pregnant” between projects and institutional needs in the Orbatello Hospital. Charity and Art in Florence, edited by C. Milloschi and C. De Benedictis, Edizioni Polistampa, Firenze 2015.


Art Historian

Born in the United States (New Jersey, 1946), Verdon is an art historian trained at Yale University (Ph.D. 1975). He has lived in Italy for more than fifty years, becoming an ordained Roman Catholic priest in 1994. Verdon lives in Florence, Italy, where he directs the Diocesan Office of Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage and the Museo dell Opera del Duomo in Florence, as well as being a Canon of the Cathedral. In addition he serves as Academic Director of the Ecumenical Center for Art and Spirituality ˜Mount Tabor™, at Barga (LU).

The author of books and articles on sacred art in Italian and English, he has been a Consultant to the Vatican Commission for Church Cultural Heritage and a Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti), and currently teaches in the Florence Program of Stanford University. He writes regularly for the cultural page of the Osservatore Romano and between 2010-2015 has curated art exhibitions in Turin, Florence, Seoul, Washington, D.C., and New York.



The Quest to save 600,000 Children

This film brings together a little-known story in Florentine history about the Innocenti Institute, which granted access to follow the restoration of one of their most prized artworks by a great master.

In 1419, an architectural genius began building a children’s hospital and orphanage in Florence, Italy, that would help define a component of social welfare in the Florentine humanist movement.   This building has come to represent a social history which begins at the center of the Italian Renaissance and carries on to this day.

To celebrate the opening, a great painting was commissioned by the master Domenico di Michelino, who painted this famous Mother of the Innocents. In 2013, the painting was sent off for a two year conservation project and this film follows the complete process of restoring the artwork.

From a small studio in the Santa Croce district, two women work step-by-step bringing the painting back to life, to become the centrepiece of a new Museum. Through an educational and entertaining process we learn about photographic techniques, the restoration process, ancient recipes, and varnish removal.

The history of the Institute and the importance of this painting in Florentine life is revealed through the work and in the film.

The cameras are present as we witness astounding surprises of what the conservators discover hidden in this mysterious work.


The son of simple peasants from the Fermo countryside, Paolo Vergari began to express an interest in music from his first year of middle school, where he played a small accordion received as a gift from his uncle. At age 11, his mother enrolled him in the music school of Porto Sant’Elpidio, directed by Maestro Carlo Marcucci, trumpeter, composer and music teacher.

The school consisted of a large garage, which Marcucci used, as well as giving lessons to dozens of boys in the village, as a tool deposit and as a rehearsal room. The experience in this school will prove to be fundamental for Paolo, since it allows him to immediately develop a spontaneous approach to music, thanks to which he is able to learn very early to play in groups, practicing with various instruments (flute, trombone, organ , accordion and piano), to improvise and become familiar with different musical styles.

At 14 he began to study intensely piano and in 1980 he entered the Conservatory “L. D ’Annunzio” in Pescara, where he studied piano and composition. In 1985 he graduated, with honors, in piano, under the guidance of Maestro Giovanna De Fanti, then perfecting himself with M. Della Chiesa D’Isasca, E. Hubert, A. Ciccolini, T. Nikolajewa, A. Hintchev.

He has given concerts in the most important theaters and international festivals, including the La Fenice theater in Venice, the Nervi hall in Città del Vaticano, the Regio theater in Parma, the Royal Palace in Caserta, the Regio theater in Turin, the Olympic theater in Vicenza, Sala Scarlatti Naples, Teatro Verdi of Salerno, Auditorium of the United Nations in New York, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the Dante Alighieri cultural center in Moscow, at the Klementinum and in the Martinu hall in Prague, IRCAM Paris, Sala A. Williams in Buenos Aires, Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, Montpellier-Radio France Festival, Stresa Music Weeks, Pontine Festival.


This film fulfills all of my greatest curiosities about Florence. As my journey through Florence’s rich history continues, I am eager to present my next film. This is my fourth film and the second long format documentary since arriving in Florence in 2011.

As I set out to make this film, I had no pre-conceived notion of how long the film would be. It became clear as I was following the work of the talented and dedicated restorers, Elizabeth Wicks and Nicoletta Fontani, that the painting was speaking to all of us. It somehow went beyond art conservation and into social history.

For me what emerged was that the painting tells the underlying history of the Institute. It dawned on me that the Florentine founders of the Ospedale degli Innocenti (or Hospital of the Innocents), through this commissioned work, conveyed the message of the Institute’s mission.

What I learned, and I hope you learn watching this film, is that the painting tells a much wider story, which extends far beyond the Innocenti, and really helps us remember all that is good and noble about humanity.

While the Institute has an imperfect history, I admire the human desire to get things right and what the Renaissance Florentine humanist movement aimed to do within the Institute. They wanted to protect the weakest in their society, but more importantly they wanted to include them.

Saving dying babies and making them citizens and productive members of Florentine society was a priority for humanists. This spirit of charity and mercy is infectious and has informed our society to this day.

Fundamentally, we understand that this particular style of Florentine charity has affected how other societies have used this model, laid out in the 1400’s, as the foundational principle to their own social systems.

It’s curious that a painting restoration has taught me so much about the Innocenti Institute and even more, about the values in a society striving to be fundamentally good and putting their civic duty and communal responsibility on display in very real and practical terms.


To the Innocenti Institute of Florence, Italy for for generously allowing allowing our crew to film this process and for for the use of their imagery on our website, social media and throughout the course of the film. We are honoured to be able to tell the story of this distinguished and unique Institute founded in Florence in 1419.

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©2019 David Battistella – Bottega Battistella