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?

22 thoughts on “A remodeled museum in Florence

  1. I think one of the pros of these curatorial decisions was attempting to recreate the experience from the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Creating this environment allows visitors to have a more authentic experience. Personally, I enjoy a museum environment that represents the time period of the artifacts. I think it allows visitors to appreciate the art even more and understand the context in which they were created in. I think a con could be differentiating between what is an original sculpture or what is a reconstruction of an original facade. Some visitors may have difficulties being able to tell the difference.

    • I agree with your statement. Some people prefer the authentic experience to view art and understand its significance to history.

    • Megan, I agree with your point about allowing visitors to appreciate the context that the most important part of the city was created in. And I think with a revived interest, with shows such as The Tudors and Medici: Masters of Florence, it is important to let people know what things would have really looked like in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. One of the cons of doing this though, is that many curators still don’t want to break the disillusionment about the time that the people who built these buildings lived in.

    • I do agree that having an authentic experience should be one of the main goals of a museum like this and while that might mean that some could be confuse on what is original and what is added, if there are was to distinguish that to the viewer while also heightening their enjoyment and overall learning experience I would say that it is not an incredibly urgent issue to deal with.

  2. The pros of this remodeling is that there is an organized place where you can access both the sculpture and the facade. This museum is a place to study art and history and religion, so to see all of the sculptures that reflect the medieval and early Renaissance era of history in art and religion in is appreciative. However when it comes to remodeling historical building there are things that will be lost or replaced or added to that were not intended in the original, so while the facade and its contents are important, but it’s also important to remember the facade is still a reconstruction and the sculptures didn’t originally go in the facade either.

    • I agree with you Emily. Making sure it is known how the art is displayed is not accurate helps the viewers not get false information. And like the speaker we had, when he was talking about how they were unsure of what color to paint the sculpture, the way the art is chosen to be displayed by the curator may not be how the artist wanted it to be.

  3. A pro would be that the curators are trying to reconstruct a scene from the 14th and 15th century, so people get a more natural setting, as in A Museum without Walls. The reasons for people to visit this may vary, some may want to view the museum simply for the art, others for history, or the religious component. A con would be the visitors telling the difference between what is authentic and what is a remodel.

    • I agree with your thoughts in having the museum be laid out in the natural setting that the works were composed for. Also, it may be confusing for visitors, that aren’t as knowledgable about the works being displayed, to understand the difference between the pieces from the 14th and 15th century versus the modern day remodels.

  4. The pro is the concept from the curators view. They wanted you to experience the art, as it was intended from the 14th and 15 cs. This gives the viewer an accurate sense to experience the art as close to the original state and period.

    The con is the level in which the art is displayed. By having multiple levels, this distracts the viewer from seeing the details in each piece. Visitors have to look up or stand back at a distance to see the art on the upper levers. This changes the museum visitor’s experience. We are accustomed to seeing art closer to our eye level.

    • I actually was afforded the opportunity to visit this museum in 2014, and I think that although some may believe that having art above the eye level detracts from the overall effect of the art upon the viewer, I think it creates a awe-inspiring space, much in the way the National Cathedral forces one to draw their eyes upward. I think that looking up can enhance a space rather than detract from it.

  5. The pros of these decisions is in being able to change the way the artwork is viewed and possibly give it new meaning. Staging artwork the same way is very boring and could deter the visitors interest because they feel like they have seen it before. Another pro is in staging the artwork how the curator wants. Since they are not confined to one choice they can be creative and use many methods to exhibit items.
    Cons of this are in making sure the message of the artwork is not changed or confused. How the art is presented can determine the meaning it should be presenting. If it is presented incorrectly or in a weird way the message is lost. Other cons include not being able to correctly present the art how the curator wants. If they want something that is too much or difficult to do the art cannot be seen.

    • I agree there are pros to the remodel, because it allows for a more interactive exhibit and for the viewers to see more of the artwork. But there is a definite con of the original intention of the art and structure being lost during reconstruction. The artist put everything in it’s place for a reason, and relocating the artwork can change the original meaning. Although it is nice to have a different perspective in the display, it is important to acknowledge what can be lost during remodels of historical buildings.

  6. Beautiful!

    Pros of this decision include finishing what was originally intended to be- the finished facade with statues in situ. This allows the viewer to really appreciate the work in the context the artist intended it to be.
    Some cons of the curatorial decision evident here are that the facade was NOT actually finished, and thus the reconstruction alters that portion of history. Another con is also the exposure of the original statues and decor to the elements, instead of keeping them protected in a climate controlled enviroment.

  7. Pros include giving a visitor a real sense of what it might have been like to see the facade in its original historical context. Personally I like the idea of playing music that is relevant to the art in the gallery. I think it adds to the experience.
    Cons include that some of the statues are mounted quite high, so a visitor on the ground might not be able to really experience a statue higher up, like they perhaps could if it were displayed at ground level. Another con is that the music might not be to everyone’s liking and might change the atmosphere. Some guests who are not Christian might feel alienated.

  8. I think a pro of this space is that it is a fully immersive space. You really get a feeling for what someone may have experienced or felt at the time while touring this museum. I think how the museum is arranged also inspires a feeling of reverence and awe in the viewer. I think a con may be that it can be very alienating for visitors who are not Christian or cannot relate their experience in some way to what they are viewing and listening to.

  9. One obvious con that stood out to me right away was that some of the sculptures were put up higher to show what they would have looked like on the facade. This would make it hard to get a good glimpse at what they look like, and their detailed intricacies. However, this also brings me to a pro which is that this displays the facade truly and as accurate as possible without ruining the Duomo today, which changes the museum experience. I would like to see exhibits portrayed this way more often.

    • Also with them being placed higher up would be the concern with how they are restrained, if an earthquake happens will they be able to stay in place of fall down to the ground?

  10. I love this idea of doing a reconstruction with music from the time period. I am concerned with how much this would cost though and it would be harder to see certain sculptures but it an interesting experience with how they set it up and it would be like stepping back in time to see how the sculptures were originally positioned.

  11. I feel like doing something like this gives the viewer an authentic experience and shows them what the facade would have looked like but unfortunately there are some cons as the sculptures are not fully visible so many details can’t be seen. It might also be hard for curators to distinguish what is original and what is a reproduction. Though this could be overcome with a guidebook or other similar methods and if they are used I fully support this method of presenting art.

  12. A pro to displaying the pieces in this way is that viewers with have an experience that allows them to visualize what the works would’ve been placed and displayed like, back in the 14th and 15th centuries. Differently, it would’ve been a completely different experiences if the works had just been lined up on pedestals in their glass enclosures, scattered around and laid out in whatever way the curator(s) seemed fit for the design of the exhibition. However, a con for this is that if you had the statues on ground and eye level view, viewers would be able to see all of the details on each pieces, whereas now since they are elevated it is hard to see those fine elements.

  13. A pro would be that this concept allows the visitor to experience the art as though they were actually there in the 14th and 15th centuries. A con to this is that, with many of the pieces being displayed so high up, people are not able to see the pieces close enough to see the details.

  14. I’d say that a definite pro would be that you get to experience it as someone would all those years ago. The reconstructed facade could be seen as a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it. One big con is that the reconstructed facade is obviously inside, but these sculptures were meant to be viewed outside, on the building itself. On the other hand, the reconstructed facade can be seen as a pro as weather damage and erosion are no longer an issue for the sculptures, and you can still see them as they were intended to be viewed, just inside instead of outside.

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