On January 19, Orsanmichele, the city’s former monastery and grain store, reopens to the public with an impressively revised museum layout.
After being closed for over a year, the church and museum have undergone an extensive restoration campaign that now sees the medieval complex returned to full glory. Mechanical ratchets keep the impressive wooden doors open in via dell’Arte della Lana, allowing passersby to peer into the church, where Andrea Orcagna’s intricate tabernacle (1359) containing Bernardo Daddi’s Madonna and Child with Eight Angels (c. 1347) has been dusted down, as well as Francesco da Sangallo’s marble sculpture of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1525-c. 1527) behind the main altar.
Across the street, up the monumental staircase and over the outside walkway, visitors are welcomed to the museum on the first floor. State-of-the-art lighting accentuates the vaulted brick ceilings and sculptural masterpieces in a captivating presentation that unleashes the full force of the statues that were formerly displayed in the niches on the edifice’s facade. Raised two metres above the ground and reproducing the original placement, onlookers are obliged to crane their necks to admire the saints set on plinths against sturdy white backdrops. Leather cushions line the external windowed perimeter, encouraging sightseers to linger, look up and marvel at the sculptures and building alike. Meanwhile, the statues stare outwards, averse to eye contact, their height inspiring eternal reverence. Giambologna’s Saint Luke impresses with its sheer bulk, his gaze directed at Verrocchio’s adjacent Incredulity of Saint Thomas, while Ghiberti’s Saint John the Baptist looks towards the Duomo. The central section, which forms the rear of the museum layout, shows short and effective explanatory panels in Italian and English separated by the four surrounding streets: via Calzaiuoli, via dell’Arte della Lana, via Lamberti and via Orsanmichele.
Up the iconic staircase designed by Archizoom dating to the 1960s, the top floor reveals singular perspectives on Florence’s cityscape. Deep in the undeniable heart of the medieval commune, the arched windows frame highlights such as the Palazzo Vecchio, the triumphal arch of piazza della Repubblica and Giotto’s bell tower. The 40-plus sandstone prophets and saints that once topped the external supporting columns of the three-mullioned windows have a new nook, placed on black shelving at alternating heights on all four sides of the striking space.
The Orsanmichele Church and Museum are open Monday to Saturday from 8.30am to 6.30pm and on Sundays from 8.30am to 1.30pm. Closed Tuesdays.