he Museum (www.operaduomo.firenze.it
) was inaugurated on the 3rd May 1891 when, as a result of an artistic and historiographic reassessment of 15th century sculpture, and the newly growing positivist interest for the opulent archive of the Opera, the idea was developed of a space to contain and exhibit the works of art removed over the centuries from the façade of the Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile and from the Baptistry of San Giovanni. The collection boasts masterpieces that range from the 14th to the end of the 16th centuries, and is characterised by the fact it is forced to expand continually as the result of the impossibility of conserving many other monuments in the open air where they are exposed to atmospheric pollution. The creation of the Museum does in fact bear witness to the extensive commitment expressed by the Opera in conserving and enhancing the artistic patrimony which has been formed over the centuries within the area occupied by S.Maria del Fiore.
n 1688 on the occasion of the sumptuous marriage ceremony of his son Ferdinando to Violante of Bavaria, Cosimo III had the two splendid choirs of Luca Della Robbia (1431/1438) and Donatello (1433/1439 dismantled from the Duomo in order to substitute them with two others made of wood which were more capacious, and also because the taste of the period judged the totally classic grace of those masterpieces of the Renaissance outmoded. From that time on the two works of art remained in storage until when, in the second half of the 19th century, the Italian state authorities suggested reconstructing them in the National Museum of the Bargello. The Opera then decided instead to design its own museum space so as to restore the two masterpieces of the early Florentine 15th century for the public to admire. The promoter of this idea was Giovanni degli Alessandri, representative of the Opera and director of the Gallerie Fiorentine, whose main regret was that it had not been possible to exhibit the two choirs by Luca della Robbia and Donatello in a space within the Opera, seeing them instead removed in 1822 to the Uffizi and then, in 1970, to the Bargello.
The Museum was built in a place where, ever since the middle of the 15th century, the courts and the workshops of the Opera had been located, and where the greatest of Florentine artists, from Brunelleschi to Donatello and Michelangelo, had designed and created their masterpieces. All those works of art which over the centuries had been removed from the monumental structure because they no longer complied with the aesthetic criteria of the time, found a home, along with the two choirs and the entire decorative content of Arnolfo’s unfinished facade of the Duomo which Francesco de' Medici, believing it to be antiquated, had taken down in 1587.
The Opera was also, for both aesthetic and environmental reasons, forced to offer protection to other masterpieces, such as the decorative elements on Giotto’s Campanile, substituting them with copies. The flood of 1966 caused damage to Donatello’s wooden statue of Mary Magdalen in the Baptistry, as well as Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Paradise Gate which, following the necessary restoration, are now exhibited in the safety of the Opera Museum. The most famous work of art in the Museum is Michelangelo’s Pietà which he had sculpted for his own tomb. It was in the Duomo up until 1980, but was in that year removed to form part of the Museum’s collection.
Today, 114 years from its foundation, the Museum of the Opera di S. Maria del Fiore contains one of the most prestigious collections of medieval and Renaissance sculpture and the most important nucleus in Florence of works of art based on sacred subjects.