The new Florentine museum of the Opera del Duomo, affiliated to the city's cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is set to reopen its doors to the public next week following years of restoration and reconstruction. 6000 square metres of exhibition space, designed by Adolfo Natalini and Guicciardini & Magni architetti, will house the largest collection of Florentine medieval and Renaissance sculpture in the world, including pieces by Donatello, Michelangelo (the Florentine Pietà), Andrea Pisano, Lorenzo Ghiberti (Gates of Paradise), and Luca della Robbia. It will also exhibit fifteen 14th century statues and almost seventy fragments from the cathedral's original medieval façade.
Read Monsignor Timothy Verdon's, Director of the Opera, narrative of the new spaces after the break.
"The first hall of the new museum will, on one of its long walls, recreate the fourteenth-century cathedral front, resituating our statues in the positions indicated in the sixteenth-century drawing. Particularly important works which in that arrangement would be visually inaccessible will be exhibited at eye level, with plaster casts in the niches on the reconstructed façade. In the same hall Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise will be installed just as they were in 1452, across from the main cathedral portal with its marble sculpture; the other two bronze baptistery doors will occupy positions at right and left of the Gates of Paradise. Above the three doors will stand the groups of monumental sixteenth-century statues made for those positions, and the same hall will also host two large Roman sarcophagi known to have stood outside the Baptistery throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Reuniting works made to stand in close proximity but later separated, the installation in this 1500 square foot space will reactivate the dialogue between Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early and later Renaissance that once made Florence famous."
"After this experience evoking public grandeur, three smaller rooms suggest the private piety that also characterised art made for the Baptistery and Cathedral: a ”reliquary chapel” with masterpieces of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque goldsmith’s work; a hall of votive paintings at whose centre stands Donatello’s wood statue of the penitent Saint Mary Magdalene; and a gray sandstone sanctuary where Michelangelo’s penultimate sculpture, a Pietà, stands alone; this work, meant for Michelangelo’s own tomb, portrays the artist lowering Christ’s body into Mary’s arms. For those with limited time, these first two sections of the great hall with the reconstructed façade and the smaller “rooms of piety” constitute an abbreviated itinerary, and visitors can in fact move directly from the Pietà to the exit."
"For those with greater leisure, the visit continues on the upper level in a 100 foot long gallery hosting sculptures made for Giotto’s bell tower: sixteen larger-than-life statues by Andrea Pisano, Donatello, and their collaborators, and almost sixty reliefs, including several by Luca della Robbia. One of the long walls of this gallery is pierced with openings looking back into the great hall with its reconstituted cathedral façade, which was in fact the visual point of reference for the bell tower, begun later; the statues are positioned between these “windows” opening on the façade, and thus are necessarily seen in relation to it. An adjacent gallery then, 60 feet in length and 20 high, gathers objects and artifacts related to the building of Brunelleschi’s dome: fifteenth-century models and construction materials, Brunelleschi’s death mask, the sixteenth-century ‘shrine’ with the architect’s bust portrait created in the Opera del Duomo rooms he had occupied in the years he directed the raising of the cupola."
"On the museum’s third level, another 100 foot-long gallery opening onto the great hall brings together sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century works reflecting the efforts of the ruling Medici family to “modernize” the cathedral: large wooden presentation models by Bernardo Buontalenti, Giovan Antonio Dosio, Gherardo Silvani, and others for a new façade to replace the unfinished medieval one dismantled in 1586, and ephemeral statues and paintings made for the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici to the French princess Christina of Lorraine in 1589. Again, ceiling to wall apertures in the outer wall of this gallery make the reconstructed façade in the great hall continually present, and a small theatre area helps visitors visualize the cathedral’s documented role as dynastic church."
"At this point the itinerary leads back to the old museum’s historic rooms on the intermediate level, where a completely revamped installation evokes the cathedral interior, with a further selection of gold-backed medieval and Renaissance altarpieces, the marble organ lofts or “cantorie” by Luca della Robbia and Donatello, twenty-five reliefs from Baccio Bandinelli’s sixteenth-century choir enclosure, and the fourteenth–fifteenth-century silver altar made for the baptistery, with its monumental crucifix by Antonio Pollaiuolo. Precious liturgical textiles are exhibited alongside these furnishings, including the twenty-seven embroidered panels designed by Pollaiuolo in the 1460s for the set of vestments used on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the city’s patron saint."
"A last enfilade of rooms is dedicated to the sixty-year-long design process that would finally, in the 1880s, produce the neo-Gothic façade that today adorns Florence Cathedral: drawings, paintings, statues, plaster casts, and models offer a rich panorama of the architectural and decorative impulses of the decades corresponding to the “Risorgimento” or period of national unification. Florence indeed was the capital of Italy from 1865-1871, when the government transferred to Rome, and the new Florence Cathedral façade was the first major monument of the new nation state."
The new Museo dell'Opera del Duomo will reopen on the 29th October 2015. Its opening ties in with the Italian Church's 'Fifth National Ecclesiastical Congress' which will be visited by Pope Francis next month.