Opera del Duomo Museum

A preview of Florence’s new museum

Helen Farrell
November 5, 2015


Founded in 1891, in the same space where Michelangelo carved the David, Florence’s Opera del Duomo Museum reopened its doors on October 29. The much-awaited launch features 200 just-restored works, including Donatello’s Penitent Magdalen, Ghiberti’s North Door and 27 panels embroidered in gold and multi-coloured silk based on designs by Antonio del Pollaiolo. In total, the museum is home to approximately 750 masterworks in a variety of media.




Florence’s new Cathedral Works Museum has undergone extensive expansion and renovation, while maintaining its mission: to display and contextualise one of the world’s most important collections of sculpture.




Under the direction of Monsignor Timothy Verdon, the museum focuses on the close connection between art and faith, and contextualizes the works as they relate to their functions within the Duomo complex.



Nowhere is this ethos more apparent than on the ground floor, in the Room of the First Façade, where visitors are wowed by a real-life scale reconstruction of the cathedral’s first façade created by Arnolfo di Cambio starting in 1296, which was unfinished and eventually dismantled in 1587. On this high-impact wall, 20 statues dating to the 14th and early 15th century are displayed, works that were originally crafted for the façade by artists of the calibre of Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello and Nanni di Banco.



On the first floor, the 36-metre-long Gallery of Giotto’s Bell Tower leaves onlookers with more than a touch of Stendhal syndrome due to glimpses of the reconstructed façade opposite. Sixteen life-size statues occupy the right-hand side, including Donatello’s prophets Habakkuk and Jeremiah, while panels that once adorned the bell tower are sublimely displayed on the maroon left wall.



In rooms that epitomize and condense the very holiness of the cathedral complex, Donatello’s Penitent Magdalen and Michelangelo’s Pietà are embraced by their spiritual surroundings. The former embodies an inner strength with a gaze that reaches deep within the viewer’s soul, while the latter is unfathomable in the extreme, to the extent that Michelangelo once sought to destroy the tomb with a hammer.



Don’t miss the unique view of the Duomo and Brunelleschi’s Cupola from the tiny room at the very top of the museum and the panoramic outdoor terrace on the third floor. Welcome to the MOD!


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