Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

We've been in Florence for about two and a half months now and starting to feel like we need to tick off a few things on our things-to-do list. Given the weather has been a bit variable lately we decided we would visit a couple of those things that were inside, namely the Duomo interior and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, which is where most of the valuables and relics from the Duomo are now stored. We are leaving climbing the Cupola (dome) and the Campanile (bell tower) to a later date.

The variable weather

First some explanation. The word Duomo originates from the latin domus, for house, but has the church has the full name Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore which translates to "Cathedral of Saint Maria of the Flower". In this case obviously "Saint Maria" is Mary, and "the Flower" refers either to Christ or the city itself (Fiorentina), depending upon whom you ask. As for the name of the Museum, Opera refers to organisation set up to manage the "work" in constructing the Duomo, and later in managing the artworks removed from the Duomo during subsequent renovations. The letters OPA seen on the floor of the Duomo refer to the Opera and it is not an acronym (the P is of a sort you won't find it on your keyboard and is actually pronounced Per). Aren't words interesting!

The Duomo dome and Palazzo Vecchio tower

The Duomo itself is the most conspicuous landmark in all of Florence (although the Torre of Palazzo Vecchio is a contender). It is amazing, when walking the streets of Florence, just how frequently the dome of the Duomo looms over you as you turn a corner, which is often a relief if you are lost!

The famous facade was only completed in 1887, even though the Duomo itself was completed in 1496 (started in 1296). The facade has been ridiculed as being garish, but I find the intricate design quite fascinating. The dome has an epic story all for itself and I'll write more about that whenever we get around to climbing it.

Once inside the Duomo it actually just feels like a really big hall, in comparison to other churches we have visited such as the Duomo of Siena which is very richly decorated [there was another Opera for the Duomo in Siena]. The dome itself is impressively high, but doesn't seem amazingly big, perhaps because it is just so far away from ground level. In the end we didn't have a lot of time to spend within the Duomo since we entered only shortly before closing time, and anyway we had mostly come to see the Museum. So we moved on.

I think we must be approaching museum saturation point because, although we committed ourselves to an audio self-guide and dutifully read all the english explanations we could find, we both found it hard to get excited by the first few rooms of the museum. We pepped up, however, when we came across the Pietà by Michelangelo. This is an impressive sculpture intended for Michelangelo's own tomb but discarded by the artist when he became frustrated by the poor quality of the marble (which reputedly gave off sparks when struck). Michelangelo took out his frustrations on the sculpture by attacking it with a hammer, breaking one of the arms and leaving Christ short a leg. The sculpture was later repaired by one of Michelangelo's students and spent time in the Duomo before being moved to the museum. The face of the central character, Nicodemus, is that of Michelangelo.

Crucifixion of Christ and
Mary Magdalene by Donatello

The rest of the museum contains relics from the history of the Duomo construction, including examples of tools and models used for building the dome and facade.

Coming to the end of this post I feel like I've glossed over the full contents of the museum (possibly a reflection of our state of mind at the time), which actually make it more interesting than the interior of the duomo and well worth a visit. You can read more about the Museum here.

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