Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore

From the museums

Anna Mitrano
November 2, 2006

The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore was established by the Florentine Republic to supervise the construction of the Cathedral, the first stone of which was laid on Sept. 8, 1296. In 1331, the institution came under the patronage of the Arte della Lana (the wool guild), whose symbol, the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God), is still featured on its coat-of-arms. Today, 700 years after its foundation, the Opera holds as its duty and responsibility managing and preserving the entire monumental complex of Santa Maria del Fiore. Besides the Cathedral itself, this complex includes Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and, of course, the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum.



The Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum is located behind the apse of Florence’s Cathedral, in the ancient palazzo that once housed the headquarters and workshop of the ‘Opera,’ or Cathedral Works. These premises have witnessed several Renaissance masters at work: both Donatello and Brunelleschi are known to have worked here, and it was in this building’s courtyard that Michelangelo carved his famous David.


The museum was inaugurated on May 3, 1891. The original nucleus of the collection comprises sculptures—such as the Virgin and Child Enthroned, better known as the Madonna of the Glass Eyes. Noteworthy, as well, is Arnolfo di Cambio’s statue of Pope Boniface VIII. One can also find the two cantorie (singing galleries) carved by Luca della Robbia and Donatello. A magnificent silver altar with scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist was also created for the Baptistery between 1366 and 1480 by such sculptors and goldsmiths as Antonio del Pollaiolo, Michelozzo, Cennini and Verrocchio.

The museum’s collection was further enriched with other art works removed from their original location for conservation reasons: foremost amongst these is the entire sculptural decoration of Giotto’s Bell Tower—the hexagonal and lozenge-shaped panels of the first and second level, by Andrea Pisano, Luca della Robbia and others, and the 16 statues carved for the third level by Andrea Pisano, Maso di Banco, Nanni di Bartolo and Donatello.


Other masterpieces which have been brought into the museum are the wooden statue of Mary Magdalene (1453-1455) by Donatello and Michelangelo’s Florence (or Bandini) Pietà, an unfinished marble group that the artist had intended as his own funeral monument. One can also see the ten panels, now restored, from the ‘Gates of Paradise’ that Lorenzo Ghiberti created between 1425 and 1452. Other works include The Baptism of Christ, a group begun by Andrea Sansovino in the early 16th century, and the marble bas-reliefs of the choir enclosure of the Cathedral, by Baccio Bandinelli. Besides this inestimable collection of sculpture, the museum—entirely renovated in 1999—houses wooden models of Brunelleschi’s dome and lantern, and several models and plans of different designs for the Cathedral façade developed over the centuries.



Monday to Saturday 9-7.30;

Sunday 9-1.40

Entrance Fee: 6 euro

Piazza del Duomo, 9

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