Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore
The Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral) hosts many of the original works of art originally created for the Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral (Duomo) of Florence, and must be considered one of the most important church museums in Italy.
The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo was inaugurated in 1891, based on the design of architect Luigi del Moro. It was renovated after the 1966 flood. Today's layout dates from December 1999. The present palazzo was built over a previous construction purchased in 1400.
Since the end of the 1800s, the Museum has received an uninterrupted flow of works of art removed from their outdoor location at Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery, and the Campanile for reasons of conservation.
The collection is therefore the most tangible testimony of a typically Florentine tradition of the plastic arts, a tradition that was formed during the various construction phases of Santa Maria del Fiore, and continued evolving for centuries.
A typical example is the first façade, which remained in place until 1587, until the Grand Duke - advised by Bernardo Buontalenti as part of new town-planning program - had it demolished and replaced with a more modern project, which was to reach its definitive version only in 1871. This development excluded the use of the original sculptures - therefore these are still in the Museum.
On the ground floor, you will find the original statues by Arnolfo di Cambio for the first partial façade of the Cathedral, as well as Ghiberti’s now restored original panels for the doors of the Baptistery. You will also see the room with the gold background paintings and the Relics Chapel, which includes the famous Reliquary with St. Paul’s Book.
Climbing up the monumental staircase, you will come face to face with the Museum’s jewel: the second of the three Pietas by Michelangelo.
On the second level, the Room of the Cantorias by Luca Della Robbia and Donatello, moved here from inside the Duomo, is among the most significant moments of Renaissance sculpture from both architectural and sculptural points of view. Here, you will also have the opportunity to take a close look at the magnificent originals of the statues for the niches of the Campanile.
The adjoining room exhibits the hexagonal and lozenge-shaped panels of Giotto’s Campanile by Andrea Pisano, Alberto Arnoldi, Luca Della Robbia, and others. The sixteenth and seventeenth-century sculptures of the Tuscan school are also part of the Museum collection, bearing witness to the interest in continuing the development and building of the Duomo. The new adjoining rooms exhibit the various wooden models of the cupola, as well as the tools Filippo Brunelleschi used to build it.
Next to the Room of the Cantorias, you will find the room of the Duomo’s treasure: liturgical furnishings, including a series of reliquaries from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, a processional cross, perhaps enameled by Luca Della Robbia, and several sixteenth-century gold-embroidered tapestries. Donatello’s wooden Magdalene stands out in the center of the room. The splendid Altar of San Giovanni, a masterpiece of Florentine goldsmith's work (1366-1480), realized by artists like Michelozzo, Verrocchio, Antonio del Pollaiolo, and Bernardo Cennini. Both the Altar and the Cross by Pollaiolo above it were created for the Baptistery.
Very important are the three Antiphonaries and a Gradual with sixteenth-century miniatures. These are four of the 58 codices that survived the 1966 flood.
For the upper floor, a learning center for the blind is planned with a privileged route allowing touching the statues. A learning area for children is planned for the future.
The use of the space in this new museum is, however, temporary. A new Museum will indeed be born thanks to the recent acquisition of the adjoining building, the former Teatro degli Intrepidi, also known to Florentines as the “Downtown Garage.” It offers approximately two thousand square meters of exhibition space that will serve to organize a detailed learning trail through these “living stones” of Florence.
Thanks to the tireless work of its marble workers and stonemasons, the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, custodian and guarantor of these treasures, attends to the care and maintenance of the sacred complex formed by the Duomo, Baptistery, and Campanile.
The Dome by Brunelleschi
Formed by two interconnected domes, the octagonal cupola was built from 1418 to 1434 based on the project Filippo Brunelleschi presented at the 1418 competition. Dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower), the temple consecrated on March 25, 1436 is still the largest dome ever built with bricks.
The Duomo is a wonder of the world of architecture, and its execution is in many regards still a mystery. With its octagonal dome higher and wider than any ever been built, with no external buttresses to keep it from spreading and falling under its own weight, the technical difficulties were some of the greatest ever faced – and overcome - in the history of architecture.
During your visit, you will be able to admire the details of this work, created by the genius of Filippo Brunelleschi. Take the walkways, corridors, and the spiral staircases that lead to the top of the panoramic terrace (92 meters/301 feet), and travel back in time.
The cupola is 45.5 meters (1,492 feet) in diameter, equalling the entire Baptistery. Brunelleschi’s astonishing innovation was that of vaulting the cupola without a skeleton by using a double vault separated by an air space. The bricks of the internal vault (two meters/six feet thick), laid in a herring-bone pattern, are self-supporting, while the external vault is only a covering.
At the top of the cupola rises the lantern with its cone-shaped covering after a design by Brunelleschi, realized after the artist’s death (1446). Verrocchio's gilded copper ball with cross containing holy relics was set in place in 1466.
The fresco decoration covering over three thousand square meters of Brunelleschi’s cupola was created between 1572 and 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. With depictions of the Last Judgment, it shares the iconographic theme with the Baptistery. The frescoes in the cupola were completely restored between 1978 and 1994.
Giotto's Bell Tower
Giotto’s magnificent bell tower is one of the four principal components of Florence's Piazza del Duomo. Richly decorated with sculptures, reliefs, and polychrome marble, it is the most eloquent testimony of fourteenth-century Florentine Gothic architecture.
The slender tower rises on a square plan with a side of 14.45 meters (47.41ft). It rises to a height of 84.7 meters (277.9ft) sustained by four polygonal buttresses at the corners.These four vertical lines are crossed by four horizontal lines, dividing the tower into five levels.
Faced with white, red, and green marble like the Cathedral, the majestic bell tower, probably created as a decorative rather than a functional element and considered the most beautiful in Italy, was begun by Giotto in 1334.
By the time of his death in 1337, Giotto had only seen the realization of the first part of the project. It was continued by Andrea Pisano who completed the first two levels according to Giotto’s project.
The rich decorative apparatus of the hexagonal and lozenge panels shows the concept of universal order and the story of Redemption. The reliefs begin with the Creation of Man and continue with the representation of his activities, the planets that regulate the course of his existence, the Virtues that strengthen him, the Liberal Arts that educate him, and the Sacraments. Most panels are attributed to Andrea Pisano, some to his son Nino Pisano, and to assistants of Andrea Pisano. Six panels on the north side are attributed to Luca della Robbia.
The statues merit separate mention. On the second level, instead of bas-reliefs, Andrea Pisano inserted sixteen niches destined to contain figures of Kings and Sibyls and statues of the Patriarchs and Prophets. Nanni di Banco and Donatello created some of the latter, including the beautiful sculptural group of the Sacrifice of Isaac. This work represents one of the foremost examples of fifteenth-century naturalism in sculpture. For conservation reasons, the originals of all of the sculptures are now in the Museo dell’Opera.
Work on the Campanile was halted for two years by the terrible Black Death pandemic, from 1348 to 1350. But in 1359, the Campanile was completed by Francesco Talenti, the ingenious creator of the large windows of the upper level. A motif borrowed from the Siena campanile, the double mullioned windows and the large triple lancet windows open the building to the light, making the construction elegantly Gothic while maintaining the classical composition of the whole.
A large terrace situated at the top of more than 400 stairs and projecting outwards is the last element we owe to Talenti who rejected Giotto’s project for a spire roof. This panoramic rooftop terrace offers unparalleled views of Florence and the surrounding hills.
The Baptistery of San Giovanni
Architecture and Exterior
The Baptistery of San Giovanni is famous for its octagonal shape. The unusual structure is entirely faced with white and green marble from Prato. A cupola with eight segments, which rest on the perimetric walls surmounts the Baptistery. This cupola was masked from the outside by raising the walls over the arches of the second level, and by a roof with a flattened pyramidal form.
This fascinating and extremely complex structure has created a challenge for scholars seeking to date it.
In the Middle Ages, the Florentines believed the Baptistery to be an ancient pagan temple transformed into a church, dating back to the city’s Roman period. In fact, a good portion of the Baptistery’s marble facing, along with numerous fragments and ancient inscriptions, as well as the large columns supporting the lintels over the doors inside, come from the ruins of the Roman Florentia (precursor of Florence), perhaps from some pagan building.
The Baptistery we see today is a much larger version of a primitive Baptistery dating to the 4th-5th century. Excavations of the past century have revealed the remains of Roman constructions under both the Baptistery and the Duomo. Several grilles on the floor light a subterranean area showing the remains of a Roman house with its geometric mosaic floors.
In the early 1100s, San Giovanni was faced with splendid green and white marble, which took the place of the previous sandstone. The third order with marble bays and the pyramidal roof with the lantern were probably added in the middle to late 12th century. In 1202, the ancient semicircular apse was replaced with today’s rectangular “scarsella,” the small rectangular apsis that protrudes from the western facade. The building is one of the very fine examples of Romanesque architecture in the city.
Interior of the Baptistery
In the second half of the 11th century, the interior was lined with marble. This fact, together with the monolithic columns and two sarcophagi, evokes the “gravitas” of the Roman Pantheon. The floor with its oriental-style marble intarsia abounds in elegant decorative motifs with zodiacal signs in bold relief, and resembles a precious oriental rug.
On the right wall of the apse, you will notice the sarcophagus of Bishop Ranieri, which bears an inscription in Leonine hexameters from 1113. On the right of the apse, you will notice a precious work created by Donatello and Michelozzo in 1421-27 - the sepulcher of Baldassarre Cossa, the anti-pope John XXIII.
Pairs of holy water fonts on small spiral columns, a Gothic candelabrum attributed to a follower of Arnolfo, and a late fourteenth-century baptismal font attributed to a follower of Andrea Pisano complete the interior decoration. Most of the original Baptistery furnishings, including Donatello’s Magdalene, are today housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
The magnificent mosaic decoration of the interior was begun in the 13th century, lining the scarsella and the entire cupola. It reflects the byzantine traditions in a most splendid way. Many craftsmen worked on the creation of this moving and expressive masterpiece - including unnamed Venetian artists, as well as Jacopo Torriti and, perhaps, representatives of the new Florentine pictorial school, such as Cimabue and Coppo di Marcovaldo.
The mosaics are dominated by a large majestic Christ figure (over 26 feet high!) in the center. Scenes of the Last Judgment occupy three of the eight segments of the cupola. The upper horizontal registers of the five remaining segments depict the stories of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, and stories of Christ and Mary, Joseph, and the Genesis. The highest register in the center of the cupola shows depictions of the angelic hierarchies.
The Bronze Doors
Under the patronage of the wealthy Calimala Guild (woolworkers), the Baptistery was also embellished with three beautiful bronze doors. The Baptistery owes much of its fame to these – and rightfully so, as they form an unsurpassed high point of Gothic and Renaissance sculpture in Italy.
The oldest door, the one facing south, was originally situated in the east. It was successively replaced with the one created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, known as the “Door of Paradise.” It was originally commissioned from sculptor Andrea Pisano who created it between 1330 and 1336. Its twenty upper bays show episodes from the life of John the Baptist, while the remaining eight portray the Christian Virtues. The frieze that frames them was sculpted in the mid fifteenth century by Vittorio Ghiberti, son of Lorenzo Ghiberti. The bronze sculptural group on the lintel representing John the Baptist, his execution, and Salome, is by Vincenzo Danti (1570).
The north door was the next to be realized. It served as a testbed for the competition of 1401, which was won by Lorenzo Ghiberti, and resulted in the defeat of various artists, including Brunelleschi and Jacopo della Quercia.
Substantially laid out like the south door, the twenty upper panels depict scenes of the New Testament, while the eight lower panels show the Evangelists and the four Fathers of the Church. The wings, by Lorenzo Ghiberti, are decorated with stories from the life of Christ, while the lintel depicts John the Baptist Preaching by Giovan Francesco Rustici. The coat of arms of the Calimala guild is depicted above the window - the Calimala eagle holding the bolt of cloth.
The east door is the fully Renaissance masterpiece by Ghiberti and his assistants, including Luca della Robbia. Michelangelo said of it that it could well be the door of Paradise – and it has since then be called by that name.
Ghiberti and his workshop obtained the commission for the door without competition. It was made differently from the other two and has only ten large panels. These illustrate scenes of the Old Testament and are no longer framed by a Gothic border. Ghiberti and his assistants proposed instead new solutions in perspective, and used Donatello’s “stiacciato” style (minimally raised relief). The sculptures over the door, dated 1502, are by Andrea Sansovino and Innocenzo Spinazzi.
On either side of the Door of Paradise are two porphyry columns donated to the Florentines by the Pisans for the military help given in 1117 against Lucca. The Pisan fleet had at the time been engaged in the Balearic Islands against Muslim piracy.
The archaeological site of the crypt of Santa Reparata
A major excavation campaign beneath the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore conducted between 1965 and 1972 brought to light the remains of the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata, the most concrete testimony of early Christianity in Florence. Evidence found before that time includes the excavations of Santa Felicita, some notes about the cathedral of San Lorenzo, and some tombstones and sarcophagi, but little else.
Today, the ancient early Christian basilica of Florence, which was restored several times, and also used for the meetings of the Parliament of the Republic before the construction of the Palazzo Vecchio is accessible to the public.
Santa Reparata was among the largest early Christian complexes of Tuscia, the historical region that comprised the southern territories under Etruscan influence, including the whole Region of Tuscany, a great part of Umbria and the northern parts of Lazio. Santa Reparata is positioned in front of the Baptistery, eight meters/twenty-six feet forward with respect to the present Cathedral.
The first Santa Reparata must have been open and luminous, with elegant arches and marble columns, similar to San Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. It had a nave and two aisles. Colonnades delimited the nave, and an enclosure separated the apsidal choir and area of worship from the area for the public. The center walkway was extended for the distribution of the communion. It was probably built to celebrate the Christian victory over Ostrogoth king Radagasius in approximately 405 AD.
Santa Reparata was later reconstructed during the Carolingian epoch after having suffered damage in the Gothic-Byzantine war. Santa Reparata maintained its previous layout with the addition of two lateral chapels in the apse area, a small crypt, and a new floor, and can be imagined similar to the abbey of Pomposa in Ferrara of the same period.
The years 1050-1106 mark the construction of a new raised choir and a new crypt where the body of Saint Zenobius was transferred from the old cathedral of San Lorenzo in the 9th century. It was kept there until the 1440s when it was moved inside the new Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore.
Successive maintenance renovations kept Santa Reparata alive until 1379 when it was definitively demolished to make way for the new Cathedral. An image of Santa Reparata in this period can be seen today in the fresco in the Museo del Bigallo della Madonna della Misericordia.
There is now archeological proof that the remains of four churches lie beneath today’s Duomo: the original plus three reconstructions. Between the first and second pilasters on the right side of the nave inside the Duomo, are the stairs that descend to the excavations of the ancient Cathedral. The vast area, open to the public in 1974, contains numerous remains of the walls and floors of houses of the Roman “Florentia”. The floor bears the names of the fourteen donors of Latin origin who financed the construction.
The floor is formed by a beautiful polychrome mosaic with geometric decorations, including the motif of the cross, not dissimilar from the mosaic floors inside the Duomo of Aquileia. Also worthy of note is a beautiful peacock, symbol of immortality, one of the few remaining figurative elements.
A 14th century Florentine fresco that decorated the semicircular wall of the apse on the right leads us to believe that Santa Reparata was still dear to the Florentines.
This work of a Giottesque painter of the mid 1300s was added to Santa Reparata though the church was condemned to destruction and already inserted into the new Cathedral.
The numerous tombstones include the very beautiful stone of Lando di Giano, chaplain of Santa Reparata, who died in 1353, the stone of Niccolò Squarcialupi of 1313, as well as that of Giovanni Di Alamanno de’ Medici who died in 1352. Santa Reparata may perhaps even house the tombs of two popes: Stephen IX and also Nicholas II, Bishop of Florence in 1058. In the course of the excavation campaign, the tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi was also found, while no trace remains of the tombs of Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio, or Andrea Pisano who, according to tradition, were also buried here.