Mu­seum magic

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Two of Florence’s oldest mu­se­ums have re­cently re-opened af­ter un­der­go­ing ren­o­va­tions. Jane For­tune vis­ited them to see the new im­prove­ments and finds that they cap­ture all that is best of Florence’s art her­itage

Left, clock­wise from top right: In­side the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo; Don­al­tello’s Pen­i­tent Mag­da­lene; The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Musuem (Im­age: Sailko, CC BYSA 3.0); De­tail of Michae­lan­gelo’s

Florence Pi­eta; The re­stored Me­dieval fa­cade; (All images: An­to­nio Qu­at­trone, Cour­tesy of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo); Brunellesc­hi’s Dome (Im­age: Clau­dio Gio­van­nini, Cour­tesy of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo)

An idea forged in 13th-cen­tury Florence con­tin­ues to in­spire won­der to­day. In 1296, the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore was es­tab­lished by the Floren­tine Repub­lic to su­per­vise the con­struc­tion of the Cathe­dral (the Duomo). It is the fourth largest cathe­dral in the world and con­tains the world’s largest ma­sonry dome, con­sist­ing of four mil­lion ter­ra­cotta bricks. Brunellesc­hi’s dome is 180 feet above ground, it weighs 37,000 met­ric tons and one must climb 463 steps to reach it. The dome, whose in­te­rior re­calls the Sis­tine Chapel, has no sup­port­ing frame­work and is an ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­piece, and to many - a mir­a­cle.

Florence’s ‘New’ Duomo Mu­seum

The re­cently re­vamped Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Mu­seum, re­opened in Fe­bru­ary 2016, is lo­cated on the east­ern side of the Pi­azza Duomo and spans over 6,000 square yards. The mu­seum, lo­cated in an an­cient palazzo that once housed the head­quar­ters and work­shop of the Cathe­dral Works, now con­sists of twenty-five rooms, on three floors. It is truly an ex­cep­tional trea­sure-trove of art, spiritual in­spi­ra­tion and his­tory. One of the mu­seum’s most in­ter­est­ing new fea­tures is its fourstory life-size re­con­struc­tion of the Cathe­dral’s me­dieval fa­cade, which was torn down in 1586.

The mu­seum itin­er­ary be­gins at the Teatro Nic­col­ini, the first “mod­ern” theatre in the city, founded in 1648; there, vis­i­tors can watch an in­tro­duc­tory film fea­tur­ing mu­seum high­lights as well as other mon­u­ments within the Santa Maria del Fiore Com­plex, in­clud­ing Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Bap­tis­tery of San Gio­vanni and the Crypt of Santa Reparata. The mu­seum opens onto a space that was once the court­yard where Cathe­dral Works sculp­tors worked. In­deed, it was where Michelan­gelo carved his cel­e­brated David, now housed in the Academia.

The orig­i­nal mu­seum, in­au­gu­rated on May 3, 1891, was com­prised mainly of sculp­tures. It now pro­vides an in­cred­i­ble glimpse of over 750 stat­ues, in­clud­ing such Re­nais­sance masters as Luca Della Rob­bia, Ver­roc­chio, Cen­nini, Mich­e­lozzo, Donatello and Brunellesc­hi. The venue’s sta­teof-the-art light­ing daz­zles and il­lu­mi­nates each artist’s works, so that the stat­ues look as if they were step­ping out of the shad­ows!

Other mas­ter­pieces view­able are the re­cently re­stored gaunt and ema­ci­ated wooden statue of the Pen­i­tent Mag­da­lene (1453-1455) by Donatello, and Michelan­gelo’s Florence Pi­età, an un­fin­ished mar­ble group that the artist, ac­cord­ing to Vasari,

had in­tended as his own fu­neral mon­u­ment. Michelan­gelo was 72 years old when he be­gan work­ing on this piece. The face of Ni­code­mus (un­der the hood) is con­sid­ered a self-por­trait.

Af­ter twenty-seven years of restora­tion, one can also see the ten breath­tak­ing Re­nais­sance re­lief pan­els, from what Michelan­gelo first dubbed ‘Gates of Par­adise’, as he likened the gilded bronze doors to the gates of Heaven. Lorenzo Ghib­erti cre­ated the pan­els for the east Bap­tis­tery doors be­tween 1425 and 1452. Six of the ten pan­els were ripped off the 17-foot bronze doors by the fe­ro­cious force of the Arno River as it rav­aged Florence on Novem­ber 4, 1966. The oc­tag­o­nal bap­tis­tery, with its mag­nif­i­cent mo­saic ceil­ing (1225) is one of the oldest build­ings in Florence and was con­structed be­tween 1059 and 1128. Vis­it­ing this ‘new’ mu­seum should be on ev­ery­one’s bucket list.

The Mu­seum of ‘The In­no­cents’

Now a fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum, the Ospedale degli In­no­centi was the first foundling hos­pi­tal in Europe that would care for aban­doned in­fants from Florence and the sur­round­ing coun­try­side for more than five cen­turies. Opened in 1445, it is the oldest pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion in Italy.

This his­tor­i­cal ‘ospedale’ was built in 1419 by Filippo Brunellesc­hi, the ar­chi­tect who also cre­ated the famed dome for Florence’s cathe­dral. It was ini­tially funded with 1,000 florins, be­queathed by Francesco di Marco Da­tini (1335-1410), a wealthy mer­chant from Prato. He se­lected Arte della Seta, Florence’s Silk Guild, to su­per­vise its con­struc­tion and the ad­min­is­tra­tion. The silk guild was one of the wealth­i­est in the city and took on many phil­an­thropic en­deav­ours, the In­no­centi be­ing one of them. It was the guild that gave Brunellesc­hi the com­mis­sion and he di­rectly su­per­vised the first phase of its con­struc­tion from 1419-1427.

Brunellesc­hi in­tended his por­tico to rep­re­sent an open­ing onto the city, which was both wel­com­ing and pro­tec­tive and would sym­bol­i­cally re­call ‘the fam­ily’. The por­tico is one of the first ex­am­ples of early Re­nais­sance ar­chi­tec­ture and a ‘must see’ for tourists, for Pi­azza An­nunun­zi­ata is one of the most beau­ti­ful squares in Italy. The Basil­ica della San­tis­sima An­nun­zi­ata, founded in 1250, stands on the north-east­ern side of the square. The church’s fa­cade, added in 1601, im­i­tates Brunellesc­hi’s fa­cade of the found­ing hos­pi­tal.

The ba­bies were orig­i­nally left in a mar­ble basin, in the log­gia’s front por­tico. The basin was re­moved in 1660 and re­placed with a door with a ro­tat­ing wheel (ruota), very much like a lazy Su­san. When it swiv­elled around, this mech­a­nism brought the baby into the build­ing, so the par­ent

could safely leave the child with­out re­veal­ing his or her iden­tity. Once re­moved from the wheel, the child was swad­dled and placed in a manger-scene crib and set be­tween life-size ce­ramic stat­ues of Mary and Joseph, in ado­ra­tion. The chil­dren were raised at the in­sti­tute, as a fam­ily, un­til the age of 18. (In mod­ern-day Italy, those with the com­mon sur­name ‘In­no­centi’ are thought to have an­ces­tors raised at the ‘ospedale’).

The ruota is on the left side of the build­ing at the end of the Log­gia. This sys­tem lasted un­til the hos­pi­tal closed in 1875. The epi­graph be­low

its win­dow states: “For four cen­turies this was the Wheel of the In­no­cents, a se­cret refuge from mis­ery and shame for those to whom char­ity never closed its door.”

The In­no­centi was re­spon­si­ble for the care of the aban­doned chil­dren and for pro­vid­ing them with the abil­ity to con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety. Of­ten, they were en­trusted to fos­ter fam­i­lies, and re­turned to the in­sti­tute upon turn­ing seven. Boys were taught read­ing and writ­ing and fre­quently be­came trades­men in lo­cal bot­te­gas. The girls were more likely to re­main at the in­sti­tute their whole lives, run­ning the in­sti­tute or work­ing for the silk guild. The hos­pi­tal did pro­vide dowries for the girls if they wanted to marry or be­come nuns.

Af­ter three years of restora­tion, the new Mu­seum of the In­no­cents re­opened its doors in June 2016. Housed within the cen­turies-old In­sti­tute degli In­no­centi, the pub­lic can now glimpse into six cen­turies of the in­sti­tute’s his­tory. The new mu­seum, con­sist­ing of four floors, is now over 15,000 square feet, and has 4,800 square feet of ex­hi­bi­tion space. The old gallery, lo­cated above the clois­ters, was com­posed of two sep­a­rate clois­ters, one for men and one for women who worked in the hos­pi­tal. The gallery con­sisted of only a few rooms on the top floor, which was orig­i­nally used for dry­ing the chil­dren’s clothes. The top floor is now an out­door cafe, which has a fan­tas­tic view of the city! Vis­i­tors can ap­pre­ci­ate the build­ing’s Brunellesc­hi-de­signed ar­chi­tec­tural spa­ces and view such mas­ter­pieces as Bot­ti­celli’s su­perb

Madonna and Child with an An­gel, painted when the artist was 20; Domenico Ghirlandai­o’s rich­ly­de­tailed and colour­ful Ado­ra­tion of the Magi; Piero di Cosimo’s beau­ti­ful En­throned Madonna

Brunellesc­hi in­tended his por­tico to rep­re­sent an open­ing onto the city, which was both wel­com­ing and pro­tec­tive and would sym­bol­i­cally re­call ‘the fam­ily’. The por­tico is one of the first ex­am­ples of early Re­nais­sance ar­chi­tec­ture and a ‘must see’ for tourists

and Child and Andrea Della Rob­bia’s exquisitel­y glazed ter­ra­cotta re­liefs of swad­dled ba­bies against blue back­grounds, which were com­mis­sioned in 1490. The ce­ramic medal­lions were re­moved from their roundels on the por­tico’s fa­cade and are now in a room within the mu­seum where they can be seen ‘up close and per­sonal’, be­fore they are re­turned to the roundels later this year. Some medal­lions are copies while oth­ers are orig­i­nals.

The In­no­centi’s His­tor­i­cal Ar­chive kept records of all of the chil­dren who lived at the in­sti­tute. Through years of archival re­search, his­to­ri­ans have re­con­structed sto­ries of seventy of the more re­cently aban­doned chil­dren and brought their sto­ries ‘to life’ through video-doc­u­men­taries. Many of the aban­doned chil­dren had dis­tinct ob­jects at­tached to their cloth­ing or body, such as a neck­lace, so if the par­ents ever re­turned, they could iden­tify and claim their child. Coins or charms, of­ten cut in half, were fre­quently left with the ba­bies. In the new mu­seum, 140 of th­ese “iden­tity mark­ers” are stored in in­di­vid­ual draw­ers, which can be opened and viewed. The mu­seum is very child-friendly. For ex­am­ple, the la­bels de­scrib­ing all the works are placed at a height that al­lows a child to read them.

Though the or­phan­age has been closed for over 140 years, the In­no­centi In­sti­tute con­tin­ues to be a point of ref­er­ence for young­sters. It of­fers ser­vices to chil­dren, preg­nant moth­ers in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions and moth­ers with young chil­dren. It also helps pro­mote the rights of chil­dren, pro­vid­ing them with med­i­cal ser­vices in ad­di­tion to a day­care cen­tre and li­brary. The In­no­centi In­sti­tute and UNICEF’s Global Of­fice of Re­search, which has been housed there since 1988, have co­estab­lished a re­search li­brary on child­hood. Since 1997, the in­sti­tute has been Italy’s na­tional cen­tre for doc­u­men­ta­tion and anal­y­sis of child­hood and ado­les­cence and it ad­vises the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment on rel­e­vant poli­cies, both for health­care and for ed­u­ca­tion. This exquisitel­y beau­ti­ful build­ing is truly an in­sti­tu­tion of hos­pi­tal­ity and love.

Don’t miss Mother of Mercy, a paint­ing on the ground floor, where Mary is shown hold­ing her cloak out wide to pro­tect the or­phans sur­round­ing her. This pre­cious paint­ing, re­cently re­stored, was used as the in­sti­tu­tion’s pro­fes­sional ban­ner in pro­ces­sions. The youngest chil­dren in the front are swad­dled in white, while the older ones in the back wear the or­phan­age’s black cloth uniform, with a badge of a swad­dled child, at­tached to their lapels.

Above, left: Ghib­erti’s Gates of Par­adise (Im­age: Ri­cardo An­dré Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Above, right: Panel with the story of Abra­ham from the Gates of Par­adise (Im­age: Sailko, CC BY 2.5) Right, top: The Male Clois­ter at the Ospedale degli In­no­centi (Im­age: Joan­banjo, CC BY-SA 3.0) Right,mid­dle: In­side the newly opened mu­seum (Im­age:...

Left, top: Mother of Mercy (Im­age: Gian­carlo Barza­gli, Cour­tesy of the Museo In­no­centi)

Left, be­low: The Ado­ra­tion of the Magi by Domenico Ghirlandai­o. (Im­age: Gian­carlo Barza­gli, Cour­tesy of the Museo In­no­centi)

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