Guide to visiting the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is the museum that collects works from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery and Giotto’s bell tower. The museum is located in Piazza del Duomo, in the same location, behind the cathedral, which has hosted the Opera del Duomo since 1296. Founded by the Florentine Republic and overseen by the Arte della Lana (the wool guild), the Opera del Duomo was the institution that had to deal with the construction, furnishing and maintenance of the Florence Cathedral.
History of the museum
Here Brunelleschi had his material deposit for the construction of the dome of the Duomo, and also here Michelangelo sculpted his famous David, which originally had to be placed right on the Duomo, to be precise on a spur of the tribune.
After the construction of the cathedral was completed, the Opera was committed to making changes and improvements, so over time it accumulated a large number of statues, ornaments and other objects from the cathedral. Among these, we also find important historical testimonies such as the models by Brunelleschi made for the dome and the various projects proposed for the facade of the cathedral.
Having such a large and interesting collection at its disposal, in 1891 the Opera del Duomo decided to use some of its spaces as an exhibition hall, thus creating the first nucleus of the museum. During the twentieth century it was expanded on several occasions and its collections became increasingly full-bodied and important. Between 1999 and 2000, on the occasion of the jubilee, the museum was further modernized and expanded but it was with the intervention of 2012-2015 that it completely changed its face, becoming one of the most modern museums in all of Florence.
The new Museum of the Opera del Duomo in Florence
The new Opera del Duomo museum was designed by Adolfo Natalini together with Studio Guicciardini & Magni following the ideas of director Timothy Verdon. On this occasion, the museum was further expanded to include the spaces of the adjacent Teatro degli Intrepidi.
The new exhibition follows very modern museological criteria and is conceived as a well-defined and organic didactic path. The exhibition unfolds along 28 rooms, arranged over three floors, for a total of 6,000 m². With its magnificent collection consisting of more than 700 works of art, the museum offers a magnificent insight into Florentine art from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century and a complete overview of the history of the cathedral and other monumental buildings in the square from the late thirteenth century to the late nineteenth century.
Visit to the Opera del Duomo Museum
The visit begins with the sculptural group Gloria di San Giovanni Battista, by Girolamo Ticciati and with the Corridoio dei nomi where the names of the most important characters linked to the history of the Opera del Duomo in Florence are carved.
The corridor takes us to the Sculpture Gallery where some works from the Baptistery and the sides of the Cathedral are exhibited. Here we find the works made by Tino di Camaino for the Baptistery and fragments from the “Porta della Mandorla”, which was by several sculptors, including Donatello and Nanni di Banco.
Sala del Paradiso
The next room is the large and spectacular Sala del Paradiso. This name has a double reference: “Paradiso” (heaven) was traditionally the name of the space between the baptistery and the church and “del Paradiso” is instead how it was defined by Michelangelo the door of the Baptistery (the one facing the cathedral) built by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Here we find the Florentine Paradise rebuilt with the original facade of the Cathedral, which was never completed, on one side and the original doors of the Baptistery on the other.
Thanks to a drawing from that time, it was possible to put many of the statues that had been sculpted for the facade by Arnolfo di Cambio and other masters of the fourteenth century back into their position. As mentioned, in front we find the three bronze doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, or the “South” Door by Andrea Pisano, with the Stories of San Giovanni Battista, the “North” Door by Lorenzo Ghiberti with the Stories of Christ and the Door known as “del Paradiso”, with the Stories of the Old Testament, also work of Lorenzo Ghiberti. Above the doors you can admire three sixteenth-century statuary groups by Giovan Francesco Rustici, Andrea Sansovino and Vincenzo Danti.
Sala della Maddalena
The visit continues with the Sala della Maddalena where the magnificent Penitent Mary Magdalene is found, made by Donatello between 1453 and 1455. Here the Magdalene, once famous for her beauty, is represented in old age with an almost skeletal body, the sunken face, sunken eyes, very long braided hair that covers the body as if they were a robe.
Tribuna di Michelangelo
The tribune preserves one of the greatest masterpieces of the collection: Michelangelo’s Pietà Bandini. Made in old age, this piety was abandoned and partially destroyed by the artist who was frustrated by some defects in the marble. Purchased in 1671 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Pietà was first placed in San Lorenzo and then in the Cathedral. This piety was conceived by Michelangelo as a funeral monument of him and in fact Nicodemus, one of the two characters who supports the body of Christ, is actually a self-portrait.
First floor: Galleria del Campanile and Galleria della Cupola
Going up to the first floor we immediately find the Galleria del Campanile which is centered on Giotto’s Bell Tower. Here we find, on two opposite walls, the statues and sculptural decorations that were made for the bell tower of the cathedral. Among the sculptures we recognize some of Donatello’s masterpieces: the Prophet Abacuc, the Prophet Jeremiah, the Prophet called “pensive” and the Sacrifice of Isaac. The sculptural panels are the work of Andrea Pisano and collaborators and Luca della Robbia.
The second room is instead the Galleria della Cupola dedicated to the dome of the cathedral and its brilliant architect Filippo Brunelleschi. In addition to two large modern reconstructions of the dome and the lantern, here we find some fifteenth-century models with proposals for the decoration of the dome drum and the original tools used on the site at the time of construction. At the end of this room there is access to a terrace that overlooks the underlying Sala del Paradiso which can thus also be admired from above.
Second floor and terrace
The main hall on the second floor is the Galleria dei Modelli. Here we find seven large wooden models with as many proposals for the facade of the cathedral. These are the proposed projects for the construction of a Renaissance facade that was to replace the medieval one dismantled in 1587.
Going up the stairs you reach the third floor where we find the Terrazza Brunelleschiana which offers a spectacular close-up view of the Dome of the Florence Cathedral.
Information on tickets and prices for the museo dell’Opera del Duomo
There are three different types of tickets that give access to the Opera del Duomo Museum and other monuments connected to it.
The Ghiberti Pass (price 15 euros, reduced 5) in addition to the museum, also allows you to visit the Baptistery and the remains of the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata.
With the Giotto Pass (full 20, reduced 7 euros), in addition to what can be visited with the first ticket, you can also climb Giotto’s Bell Tower to enjoy a fabulous view of the historic center of Florence.
The Brunelleschi Pass (price 30 for the whole, 12 for the reduced) finally includes everything included in the others and in addition it includes a visit to the Brunelleschi’s Dome. All tickets are valid for three days, with no restrictions on access times while respecting the opening hours of the various monuments.
Opera del Duomo Museum: 9 am – 7.45 pm
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore: 10.15 am – 4.45 pm
Brunelleschi’s Dome: 8.15 am – 7.30 pm
Baptistery of San Giovanni: 9 am – 7.45 pm
Giotto’s bell tower: 8.15 am – 7.45 pm
Basilica of Santa Reparata: 10.15 am – 4.45 pm
For more information, I refer you to the official website of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence.