One of my favorite parts of our time in Florence last month was visit to the Duomo Museum, a museum created to house the Duomo‘s artwork, much of which was originally on the outside of the church and therefore exposed to the elements.

Here’s a picture of the outside of the Duomo:

Almost in the middle of the picture you can see four statues. Here’s a closer look:

The originals of these statues, along with some exterior doors and other objects from the Duomo, have been moved into the Duomo Museum, which is behind and across the street from the church.

The statue that is second from the left on this picture of the church’s exterior, for example, is of the prophet Habakkuk. Here are my pictures of the original: 

I love this statue by the sculptor Donatello.  This picture illustrates what I thought was so great about this museum: you get to see objects up close that you never would have seen like this in their original setting. Instead of being high up on a wall, outside of the possible scrutiny of the human eye, statues like this one are right in front of you, literally just a couple of feet away. I love that this statue is so haunting. This Habakkuk is grizzled and kind of hollow looking. I love that he’s not idealized–but almost mad-looking (how a prophet would likely look to his contemporaries who were hearing his prophecies for the first time).

This next statue shows the way in which sculptors worked with proportion so that the statue would look normal to viewers far below:

I also liked the sets of statues in the museum. Here are two sets that appealed to me:

But my favorite exhibits in the museum (apart from Habakkuk) are these next two. First, there was a great statue of Mary Magdalene by Donatello:

She is depicted here as ragged, as world-weary, as having seen better days. She has starved and suffered for her devotion to Christ. This statue would seem at home in a much later period than the fifteenth century, when Donatello sculpted it.

My other favorite is this relic:

This relic is supposedly the finger of John the Baptist. This is both fascinating and grotesque. It’s difficult to fathom a religion that seems so interested in dead people’s bodies and body parts enough to ascribe spiritual powers to them. Obviously, the church no longer believes this relic is worth foregrounding, but it’s interesting that you can still see it in the museum.

I really enjoyed the Duomo Museum. This is just a small taste of its exhibits, which also includes another Pieta by Michaelangelo, this one much later than the one in St. Peter’s and intended for his own tomb.  I think more of these old churches that have a lot of art attached to them (literally and metaphorically) should consider doing this too. It makes for a great museum.

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