The New Opera del Duomo Museum in Florence

The New Opera del Duomo Museum in Florence

After two years of intense restoration, arrangement and enlargement, the Opera del Duomo museum of Florence finally reopened its doors on October 19, 2015. Over 750 works of art representing 720 years of history, this new museum in Florence is the feather in the cap of a city already abundantly endowed with magnificent artwork and monuments.

“The "Fabbriceria della Cattedrale di Firenze", or Florence Cathedral Works, was founded by the Florentine Republic in 1296 to oversee construction of the cathedral. Tradition has it that the foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid under the watchful gaze of Arnolfo di Cambio on the 8th September of that year.

Over seven hundred years after its foundation, the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, as it is known today, is still actively engaged in preserving and enhancing the monuments comprising the Great Museum of the Duomo: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with Brunelleschi's Dome and the crypt of Santa Reparata, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, Giotto's bell tower and the Historical Museum.”

This is the Opera del Duomo!

The new museum has more than doubled from its previous size with the added space of the ex -18th century Teatro degli Intrepidi , closed in 1914 and transformed into a warehouse and later a garage. The project has preserved the large open-space of the theater transforming it into a room lit from above giving harmony to the architecture and the works of art which adorn it.

The museum was projected by Florentine architects Adolfo Natalini, Marco Magni, and Piero Guicciardini who gave the new space 25 rooms on three floors. The Opera del Duomo invested 45 million Euros which includes a review of 600 of the 750 exhibits – 130 of them major restorations.

The heart of the museum is the great hall where the medieval façade of the Duomo, conceived by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296, is situated. The original façade was raised to the level of the portals (1/3 of its height) but never completed and thus dismantled in 1586-87. The façade, faithfully reconstructed in resin and marble dust is based on a drawing made in 1587, and many of the sculptures have returned to their original place. In fact, more than 50 works created in the 14th and 15th centuries have returned to their original location which is the case for the Evangelists by Donatello and Nanni di Banco. Some of the works were placed in a position too far from the visitor’s vision, so a copy is placed in the niche in scale 1:1 with the original statue exhibited nearby. This is the case of the Madonna, famous for the eyes of molten glass, by Arnolfo di Cambio.

The “Gates of Paradise” by Lorenzo Ghiberti are directly opposite the central door of the façade, flanked by the other two doors of the Baptistery, each crowned by their respective groups of statues. Recent restoration has returned the northern gate to its past splendor. Andrea Pisano’s door, the southern door, will be also be relocated here in the coming years, upon restoration. Also located here are the two large Roman sarcophagi which were once located outside the Baptistery. From the bright light of the main hall, one moves to the darker room where the Maddalena by Donatello and Michelangelo’s Pietà are exhibited. The lighting is a deliberate effect to urge the visitor to reflect and meditate. This is an exhibition choice the recurs in all of the rooms in an attempt to place the works in a “theme” but also in respect the their original locations.

The second floor of this magnificent museum is dedicated to Giotto’s bell tower and to Brunelleschi’s Dome. This gallery houses the 54 relies and 16 statues of Donatello, Andrea Pisano and others. A building site has been recreated here showing a model of the dome and features a video projection that traces the work and history of its construction.

An unforgettable view of the Duomo can be enjoyed from the terrace of the top floor which is assigned to the 16th century projects for the construction of the new façade of the Duomo and the digressions into the different styles that followed into the 19th century when the present façade was designed by Emilio de Fabris.

This incredible museum experience should be followed (or anticipated) with a visit to Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral (Duomo) and the Baptistery, the center of “religious” Florence, and in order to better understand the importance of the church’s patronage to the arts in the past but also in the present and future.