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Pistoia: city of art at the foot of the Tuscan Apennine mountians

The facades of the most important Romanesque churches in Pistoia are decorated with black and white marble quarried from nearby Carrara

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The black and white marble facades of the churches of Sant’Andrea, San Bartolomeo and San Pier Maggiore underline their architectural structures. At the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas however, the hyperbolic geometry of the façade is overshadowed by the exceptional use of colour in the decoration. In Piazza del Duomo, white and green alternate on the façade of the Cathedral and on the steps of the ancient Palazzo dei Vescovi (Bishops’ Palace). These colours are also found on the front of the ancient church of Santa Maria Cavaliera, which today is used as a government building. White and green also feature on the last part of the bell tower and finally on the baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte which is enriched with bas-reliefs and spires.

There is a highly colourful sixteenth century glazed ceramic frieze which winds round the loggia of the ancient ‘Opedale del Ceppo’ like a ribbon and which is one of the symbols of the city. The seven bas-relief panels that make up the frieze illustrate the Sette Opere di Misericordia (the Seven Works of Mercy) and show crowded scenes with figures with highly characterised gestures and faces. The first six of the panels were done by the Florentine artist Santi Buglioni – a descendant of Benedetto Buglioni who created the lunette showing the ‘Incoronazione della Vergine’ which is made from glazed white and azure blue terracotta and is now above the portal of the neighbouring oratory. The panel which represents ‘Dar da bere agli assetati’ (‘Provide drink to the thirsty’), which is the last panel on the right of the facade was added in the late sixteenth century by Filippo Paladini and was probably commissioned to replace a lost panel. In fact, fragments of the original final panel are held in the Ferri Chirurgici Room inside the Ospedale itself.

Pistoia also provides a unique opportunity to appreciate works of art by Luca della Robbia and his nephew, Andrea della Robbia. For example, there is a beautiful group of very formally refined white ceramic works in the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas which depict the ‘Visitazione’, with the Madonna and Saint Elizabeth clasped in a tender hug. This is one of the oldest free standing glazed terracotta works by Luca della Robbia who was one of the most illustrious artists in fifteenth century Florence. Andrea della Robbia is the author of a lunette under the loggia of the Duomo which shows Madonna with Child and the Angels (1505).The museum network in Pistoia includes some interesting exhibitions which are all contained within a relatively confined area of the city and so are very accessible. It’s possible to quite comfortably visit all the main museums in one day and tourists can pick and chose the order they want to go to each one without having to follow a specific route. The most important works of art in Pistoia are held in the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) and Palazzo dei Vescovi in Piazza del Duomo. There are also important collections in Palazzo Rospigliosi della Ripa del Sale which is just a short walk from the square. The Museo Civico (the Civic Museum) is the main museum and is on the first floor, mezzanine floor and second floor of Palazzo Comunale.

It includes the most important work of Pistoiese art from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The underground floors of the ancient Palazzo dei Vescovi – which was the headquarters of the bishopric from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries – contain many interesting locally found archaeological artefacts. The Museo della Cattedrale (Cathedral Museum) contains an interesting collection of precious gold works of art such as the reliquary of San Jacopo by Lorenzo Ghiberti and other rare sacred hangings and liturgical furnishings. A visit to this museum, with its secret hidden spaces and mysterious atmosphere, is really like taking a step back in time. To the right of Palazzo Comunale is the sixteenth century Palazzo Rospigliosi della Ripa which is home to the Museo Clemente Rospigliosi, the Nuovo Museo Diocesano (the New Diocesan Museum) and the Museo del Ricamo (the Needlework Museum). The Museo Rospigliosi is particularly interesting because it contains not only beautiful seventeenth century paintings belonging to the Rospigliosi family, but also precious original furnishings.

The neighbouring rooms contain the Nuovo Museo Deiocesano which is home to liturgical objects, gold work, devotional sculptures and sacred items that come from parishes all over the territory of the diocese. Some of the rooms on the ground floor of the same building house the Museo del Ricamo which pays homage to the local artisan tradition of needlework. Embroidery is a local skill which for centuries has been passed down from generation to generation and which has been a fundamental part of the local economy. Just a few minutes walk from Piazza del Duomo, in Corso Silvano Fedi, it’s possible to visit the Museo della Fondazione Marino Marini. This museum is dedicated to the life and works of Marino Marini, famous sculptor and artist from Pistoia.