College art museums

This is from 2016…but it can start our discussion about the place of art museums on college campuses.

Jacoba Urist, “Why Do Colleges Have So Much Art?” The Atlantic, Nov. 1, 2016.

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?

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?