On Saturday morning Stefano and I joined a group of about twenty friends on a guided tour of the museum of the Opera del Duomo. The Opera del Duomo, roughly translated as Cathedral Workshop, was founded in the 13th century with the aim of supervising the building and maintenance of Florence’s magnificent cathedral, the Duomo.
After undergoing a period (three years, I think) of top to bottom renovations and a much-needed expansion, the museum reopened in October 2015 (and in fact one of my closest friends worked very hard on this enormous project…I’m so proud!!!), thanks to the purchase and renovation of adjoining buildings, including a former parking garage and a theater. So in October, for the first time ever, the Opera del Duomo’s rich collection of medieval and Renaissance sculptures, consisting of 750 statues and reliefs, finally had enough room to be put on display. And I must say that it is FABBBBBULOUS. Stunning, simply stunning.
We saw one of the museum’s most famous sculptures: Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà, which, the guide told us, he worked on by candlelight, after he got home at night, when he was 70 years old. Michelangelo evidently didn’t like the way the sculpture was turning out, though, because at one point, in a fit of rage, he hit it with a hammer, damaging it here and there (especially Christ’s arm, which has been reattached–the scar is clearly visible).
The guide told us that Nicodemus’ face (that’s the tall guy holding Christ in his arms) is considered to be Michelangelo’s self-portrait. That’s the wonderful thing about going around a museum with a guide, something that Stefano and I rarely do because we hate to be rushed from place to place, and we like our independence, but I have to admit that a guide CAN give you some interesting bits of information that you otherwise would not have.
For instance, she told us a cute little anecdote about the actual building of the cathedral’s dome. Incidentally, did you know that nobody has been able to build a replica of the dome? That’s right. It has never been done successfully. All the dome replicas have tumbled down. How did Brunelleschi do it? A mystery. An amazing feat of engineering…And we may never figure it out…
Oh, I almost forgot the anecdote, hehe…here it is: according to legend, Brunelleschi used breadcrumbs to show his assistants how to place such a heavy dome on top of Florence’s cathedral. Once they’d understood what they needed to do, he ate all the breadcrumbs, thus destroying all the evidence. He left no plans, no drawings, nothing specific, anyway. How about that, eh? I knew that nobody had been able to recreate this wonderful dome, which I believe is still the largest brick dome in the WORLD, but I hadn’t heard the breadcrumb story…And hey, who cares if it’s not true? It’s cute!!!
An entire wall of the museum’s largest hall, which can be viewed from the upstairs galleries, too (and it’s great to have a different perspective, statues at eye level, etc.), is covered by a spectacular full-scale model in resin of the original medieval façade of the cathedral, which was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. The original façade was never finished and ended up being destroyed in the 16th century (the Duomo’s current façade was built in the late 19th century).
Opposite the resin façade, you can have a close-up look at two of Florence’s Baptistery’s original doors, including Lorenzo Ghiberti’s exquisite, gilded bronze doors. These two doors were removed from the Baptistery and cleaned in the late 20th century, as I recall.
This means, of course, that the doors photographed by thousands of tourists outside, in piazza Duomo, are actually copies…beautiful copies, but copies nonetheless. The only original door out there right now is the North door, which however is supposed to be cleaned up and placed next to the other two inside the museum soon, so hurry up if you want to take a photo of it out in the open…By the way, these two doors are enclosed in glass, which makes it possible to see not just the external gilded sides but the internal wooden paneled sides, too. Very interesting…
Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with too many details (all the various galleries in the museum, Giotto’s Bell-tower gallery with its 16 life-size statues, the Choir galleries with the pulpits by Donatello and Luca della Robbia, etc. etc. etc.), but I hope you will enjoy the photos I took…yes, you can take photos inside the museum…no flash. The one on the left, by the way, is Donatello’s extraordinary “Penitent Magdalen,” a 15th century sculpture of polychrome wood (one of the few that survived the Renaissance, btw!) that really could have been made yesterday by a famous modern artist.
Okay, enough, before this gets too boring! I highly recommend that you make time for a visit to this museum on your next trip to Florence! Ah, and don’t forget to walk up (or take the elevator up) to the museum’s panoramic terrace, which offers a breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s dome and the rooftops of my beautiful city. I took the photo on the right up there, in fact. Another recommendation: buy a cumulative ticket. Our ticket, which cost 12 euros, enabled us to visit the Baptistery as well as an art exhibition going on right now in Palazzo Strozzi. So check it out and see what’s being offered.
Next, as planned, we visited Florence’s Baptistery, with its newly cleaned facade. I hadn’t been inside the Baptistery since I was a kid, I think. Ah, it’s a real beauty. Definitely worth seeing. Plus, it will give you an advantage when Dan Brown’s “Inferno” comes out.
After the Baptistery, our group split up, and Stefano and I headed off to have a romantic lunch in town. Alone. We went to a small restaurant where we’d had dinner years ago, while we were still in the dating phase.
We began chatting (my, er, “fault,” as usual! ) with an adorable young British couple having lunch next to us. They asked us if we had recommendations on places to have decent meals. I jotted down a few restaurant names for them, and we continued chatting. After lunch we went to the above-mentioned art exhibit, and then took the bus back home to our kitties.
A lovely day. Simply lovely.