This took a long time…

Why? I’d like to read the follow-up story here. How will the public help identify these works?

“The Louvre is showing Nazi-looted art in a bid to find its owners. Some wonder why it took so long.”

James McAuley, Washington Post, Feb. 2. 2018.

Paintings looted by Nazis during World War II on display at the Louvre in Paris on Tuesday. (Christophe Ena/AP)

“Please Touch”

…is not a sign you usually see in an art museum. But Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, or the Museum of the Cathedral of Florence, invites visitors to touch the art…at least some of it…okay…copies of some of it.


Above you see my hand on the head of Jesus in a copy of Arnolfo di Cambio’s sculpture of the Madonna and Child of 1296 that was on the early facade of the Florence Duomo.


Above you see the full copy at left and the original at right positioned at eye level and in the central opening of the reconstructed original facade you read about in an earlier post. The sculptures you see here were placed higher on the original facade but have been placed here at the center to allow visitors to see them more clearly while still getting some idea of where they were positioned.

Touching the copy was amazing! I could get a very good sense of the artist’s focus on sculptural details that would not have been seen by viewers at street level or viewers of the original in the museum. For example, Arnolfo carved curly hair on the back of Jesus’s head, as well as the little folds in the child’s ear. These details seem minor, but for a scholar of Renaissance art they suggest the artist’s desire to enliven the Christ Child with human details, a concept that theologians and Humanists as well as artists were exploring at this time. These are details that a scholar cannot “see” when a sculpture is placed against a wall in a museum…and we certainly are not allowed to touch the original. The “copy” allows scholars to explore the work in a different dimension while using the sense of touch as well as sight. And as with the “touchable” painting by Caravaggio in the Capitoline Museum in Rome (see an earlier post on this), the work is accessible to those who are visually impaired.

What do you think “touchable copies” means for scholars and students of art? What might we learn from these? What work of art would you most like to touch and why? What would the copy have to be like to answer the questions you have about the work?

A remodeled museum in Florence

Florence was settled by Julius Caesar in 59 BCE for army veterans, but in time the army camp became a Christian town. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, or the Museum of the Cathedral of Florence, is home to sculptures, paintings, architectural models (designs for the facade made in the 16th c.), mosaics, paintings, clerical vestments, furniture, and liturgical objects such as chalices and reliquaries. All of these objects were once in the 4th c. church of Sta. Reparata (the earliest church in Florence) and the later cathedral built on top of that Early Christian structure. The Cathedral has long owned this property. In fact, Michelangelo carved the David here between 1501 and 1504; his David was initially intended for the Cathedral. The museum reopened in 2015 after being closed for several years. As a museum closely connected to a Christian church, its focus is on interpreting objects within a Christian context. This is different from religious works (from any faith) you might see on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where the focus is primarily on interpreting art within an artistic context that includes faith, but is not exclusively about the faith.

Below is a view of the Cathedral facade today with the Campanile (bell tower) at right and the Baptistery at the far right.

When the church was finished in the 14th and 15th cs., sculptors were commissioned to decorate the facade with statues of Mary and Jesus as well as saints; however, the facade was never completely finished. These sculptures remained on the facade until the 19th c. when the facade of Florence Cathedral that we see today was designed and constructed (see above).


The drawing above dates to the 16th c. and shows the unfinished facade; the 19th-c. photograph shows the facade with the sculptures removed prior to the construction of the new facade in the 1890s.

The museum was remodeled between 2013 and 2015 in order to bring all of these medieval and early Renaissance sculptures together and place them onto a reconstruction of the earlier unfinished facade.

Instead of seeing sculptures on a pedestal against a wall or in the middle of a room, as one sees them in a museum, the visitor now sees these works exhibited in the reconstruction of the original facade. Further, sacred Christian music from the 14th and 15th cs. is heard in the background in an attempt to recreate the experience of a visitor hundreds of years ago.

What are the pros and cons of these curatorial decisions?

Visual art for the visually impaired

The Capitoline Museum in Rome has several paintings by Caravaggio, a Baroque artist active in the city from around 1594 until shortly before his death in 1610. Caravaggio is known for his realism, earthy colors, and depiction of everyday scenes populated by characters one might encounter on the streets of Rome ca. 1600. The museum has developed a way to share these paintings with visually-impaired visitors through panels that “depict” the painting in raised relief. All visitors are invited to touch these panels to gain a better idea of Carvaggio’s painting which is, by definition, to be “seen.”


The painting here is an early work by Caravaggio, The Fortune Teller of ca. 1595.

What do you think of this? What other ways might art museums make their collections available to the visually impaired?


How do we get the public to visit?

Marcus Aurelius may seem esoteric to many Americans, but this late 2nd c. CE Roman emperor was a philosopher, and some scholars today consider his Meditations to be one of the most important texts from the ancient world.

Yes…this is interesting and important! But will it bring people to a museum?

The Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, one of Rome’s museums of ancient art, is located in one of the busiest sections of the city…right next to Rome’s main railroad station. Posters showing objects from the museum’s collection together with passages from Hadrian’s writings inform passersby what treasures lie within. Keep in mind…these are not ads but posters with objects from the museum’s collection and philosophical passages about life from Marcus Aurelius’s writings.

Do you think these are inviting? Do you think they bring visitors into the museum? Do you think the goal is to attract visitors, teach the public, something else?

A museum without walls?

Yesterday we visited the Colosseum in Rome. Yes…it’s amazing! What’s also amazing is that one of the top floors has been set up with “exhibition rooms” or small galleries to present different aspects of the history of the Colosseum. But this area is completely open! To pigeons…seagulls…wind…rain…snow (it can snow in Rome)…and extreme heat. So how and why is it done?

Below you see two views of introductory panels that have reproductions of views of the Colosseum from the 15th to the 19th cs.



Above are two views of “gallery spaces” that have been built to hold large-scale models of the Colosseum, various ancient sculptures and architectural pieces found in the excavations of the Colosseum, 18th- and 19th-c. paintings, micromosaics, drawings, and contemporary sculptures and videos. You can see the arches of the Colosseum are used as both supports as well as “walls” within the new “gallery spaces.”


Above is one of the displays in the new “gallery space.” You wouldn’t know you were in the Colosseum…and completely outside! You see a painting (a landscape), a glass case with four micromosaics, and a detail of one of the micromosaics depicting the Colosseum. (Micromosaics are just that…mosaics made of tiny tiny tiny tesserae [the different colored pieces of stone]. These were very popular in the 18th and 19th cs. Here is a link to some information about micromosaics.)

What are the curators’ concerns here? Why exhibit these materials here (sculptures, architectural pieces, paintings, decorative arts, reproductions of prints and paintings)? What value do they add to a visitors’ experience of the Colosseum? What problems do curators and registrars face when exhibiting precious objects in the open?

Exhibiting ancient jewelry

The popes have been collecting art for centuries, and from at least the 16th c. visitors to Rome made a special point of stopping at the Vatican to see the collections of ancient and contemporary art. One important area of collecting has been ancient Roman and Etruscan art, including jewelry.

Why would the center of the Roman Catholic world have such a focus on these areas? In part because 1) this is Rome, 2) the papacy is in Rome, and 3) Early Christian art developed in the Late Antique period, from around 200 to around 400 CE. Jesus was born sometime around the year 1 BCE/CE, but there was no “Christian art” to speak of until Christians gained a political presence in the major cities of the Roman empire, including Rome. Christian artists and patrons relied on established symbols and iconography when creating “Christian” art. For example, you will see many winged figures in ancient Roman art; these are sometimes cupids, sometimes a genius (spirit) figure that Christians developed into angels.

So why would the popes be so interested in collecting objects from ancient Rome? And from the even more ancient Etruscan civilization? (The Etruscans were a powerful people who lived in the center of the Italian peninsula between ca. 800 and 100 BCE, and co-existed with the Romans once the Romans conquered Etruscan cities after the sixth century BCE.)

Collecting Roman and Etruscan objects is one way Renaissance popes demonstrated their sincere interests in understanding Christian history.  It was also a way to demonstrate that Christianity conquered Rome, as Rome had conquered the Etruscans.

The Etruscans were among the finest goldsmiths in the ancient world. Indeed, their exquisite gold jewelry has seldom been equaled. The Vatican Museum is fortunate in having some of the most important Etruscan objects in stone, bronze, and gold. Here, you can see how they exhibit gold earrings next to what survives from a stone sculpture of a woman’s face…the woman is wearing the type of earring in the collection. All of these objects were found in tombs.


I’ll have a second post on the Vatican’s Etruscan collection. I’d like for you to think about how these objects can be exhibited.

How do we exhibit objects from an ancient culture that demonstrates both respect for that culture and teaches the public about that culture?

Here’s a link to the Vatican Museums’ page on this collection of gold jewelry.