Make the most of the Jubilee of Mercy to visit some of the world’s unique religious art museums. Tuscany is brimming with really important collections of this kind: here are some of the most famous ones.
There’s no better place to begin than at the just reopened Opera del Duomo Museum in Florence, which, with its 750-plus works, telling 720 years of history, presents itself as the greatest concentration of Florentine monumental sculpture, home to medieval and renaissance statues and reliefs in marble, bronze and silver by leading artists of the Renaissance. In most cases, these masterpieces were created for the exteriors and interiors of the church buildings that still stand in front of the museum today: the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Giotto’s Bell Tower. The purpose of the Cathedral Works Museum is to present the works designed for these buildings in context, in their entirety they form today’s “Grande Museo del Duomo”.
Another internationally renowned cathedral works museum can be found in Siena, whose exhibition space is located inside what was designed to be the right-hand nave of the new cathedral. In the rooms on the ground floor there’s an important collection of 14th-century Sienese statues originating from the Cathedral’s facade. Admire the extraordinary marble statues depicting the Sybils, Prophets and Philosophers, carved by Nicola Pisano during his time as master mason (1285-1297). The room also contains a bas-relief depicting the Madonna on the Throne with Child and Cardinal Casini, by Jacopo della Quercia (1437-38), and the famous Tondo by Donatello with Madonna and Child, known as ‘del Perdono’ (1458). At the back of the room, since June 2004, there’s the majestic window by Duccio di Buoninsegna for the apse of Siena Cathedral. On the first floor, gaze at the magnificent altarpiece with the Maestà also by Duccio, the crowning jewel of the entire collection.
We move to Lucca where visiting the Cathedral’s Sacristy is a must see, home to the Ilaria del Carretto Monument. Since 1995 the room has been the location of the famous burial monument whom her husband Paolo Guinigi commissioned from Jacopo della Quercia in 1405, who crafted one of the absolute masterpieces in Italian 15th-century sculpture. The sacristy are houses several paintings including the “Madonna with Child and Saints Peter, Clement, Sebastian and Paul” by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Another religious art collection beside one of the ‘special churches’ for the Jubilee of Mercy can be found in Pisa’s Opera del Duomo Museum, with its 25 rooms. The works come from the monumental buildings on the piazza and span the twelfth to the nineteenth century. The quadrangular room is home to 27 statues and 9 busts in marble from the outside of the baptistery. Room 7 is wholly dedicated to Giovanni Pisano: 7 marble works from 1306 to 1312, all from the outside of the Duomo, including the “Madonna del colloquio”. In Room 11 see the Cathedral’s treasure: 14 of the oldest and most religious pieces in the history of the Republic of Pisa, including a crucifix and an ivory Madonna by Giovanni Pisano, and the remains of the “Cintola del Duomo”, a belt in enamelled silver and gems on red damask, which embraced the entire Cathedral during solemn occasions.
Our essential itinerary ends back in Florence, at Santa Croce. The basilica complex, which is the largest Francescan church in the world, winds its way through the two fifteenth-century cloisters before reaching the Pazzi Chapel, decorated with Andrea della Robbia’s glazed terracottas. The real museum lies in the refectory, home to frescoes, paintings and sculptures from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century: from the huge Crucifix by Cimabue to the frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea Orcagna and Domenico Veneziano. The highlight in terms of sculpture is the gilded bronze statue of Saint Louis of Toulouse by Donatello.