The New Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Founded in 1891, the Florence Museo dell’Opera del Duomo was dramatically enlarged and rethought in 2013-2015 and today is considered an innovative response to the challenge of displaying historic art. Site-specific, the museum hosts masterpieces created for the Florence Baptistery, Cathedral and Giotto’s Bell Tower, telling the story of those buildings with installations that evoke the original architectural settings and groupings, the mix of media and atmosphere of prayer for which the statues, paintings, liturgical objects and vestments were destined. Short room texts, films, applications, organized tours and a printed guidebook help visitors grasp the relation between content, form and function in the periods which produced the works, making their messages intelligible to today’s global public. A main objective is to communicate the universal values which art’s beauty exalts.
Timothy Verdon, priest and art historian, is the first director in the 127-year history of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, appointed in 2011; his is the museological project which informed the 2013-2015 reinstallation of the collection. With a doctorate from Yale University, Verdon has been a Counselor to the Vatican Fine Arts Commission and a Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence (Villa I Tatti). He has published books and articles on Christian art, including recent volumes on Fra Angelico’s painting and the Sistine Chapel frescoes, and has curated major exhibitions in Turin, Washington, D.C., Seoul and New York City. Monsignor Verdon is a canon of Florence Cathedral and Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Sacred Art, teaches for Stanford University in Florence and writes for the culture page of the “Osservatore Romano”; at the Museo dell’Opera he is assisted by Dr Rita Filardi, collection manager, and by Dr Giovanni Serafini, research assistant.
The idea for “Museology and Values. Art and Human Dignity in the 21st Century” arises from the Florence cathedral Foundation’s recent experience in designing a new installation for the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and seeks to stimulate exchange among museum professionals on the role of historic art in today’s global culture. Invited speakers and round-table participants are all directors and curators of major museums, academics in the field of museology and architects who work with museums, who will recount problems and solutions in the communication of meaning. A central question is whether people still believe that museums can, through the way they display art, shape their visitors’ sense of the dignity of the person. Through the readings of history and style which they propose, can museums bridge the gap that today seems to separate present from past, isolating individuals and groups in a contemporaneity without roots? If so, how? If not, why?