In Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, reuniting sacred art and religion

By Nancy Nathan

FLORENCE, Italy — Ever since patrician Englishmen made Florence a stop on the Grand Tour in the 17th century, the city, a Renaissance crucible of painting and sculpture, has been a destination for art worshipers.

And while some of the great milestones in art history remain in situ — to see Masaccio’s groundbreaking experiment in perspective with the “Holy Trinity” fresco, you go to the Dominican Santa Maria Novella, for instance — a lot of others were removed from churches and monasteries over the centuries. Thanks to the collecting avarice of the Medici and of Napoleon Bonaparte, many of the masters’ religious pictures, though taken from the Florentine churches they were intended for, line the walls of public temples — the Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace and Bargello National Museum.

But now comes a recently renovated museum in Florence, one that aims to inspire art tourists to see masterpieces as religious works in a re-created religious setting. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which first opened in 1891 on the street that runs right behind the great cathedral’s apse, was created to house much of the sculpture and other works originally created for the Duomo in the last part of the medieval era and through the Renaissance.


This arched hall contains 15th-century choir lofts, carved by Luca della Robbia and Donatello, that were originally in the Duomo.

Nancy Nathan /

The Washington Post

Since its three-year expansion, which cost 50 million euros (about US$56.7 million) was completed, the Museo has more than quadrupled its attendance. Most visitors spend about two hours experiencing its galleries, far longer than before.

You enter a light-filled atrium that makes a statement right at the outset. On one long wall facing you is a towering, exact resin model of the Duomo’s Gothic facade, including many original statues in the niches they were created for, as designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in the late 13th century and…

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