Time Pieces: The Most Notable Museum and Gallery Destinations in Italy...

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 04:46
michelangelo's david

John Bensalhia is your guide to some of the most notable museum and gallery destinations in Italy...

HG Wells pioneered the concept. Doctor Who achieves it with a rickety old police call box. The concept of time travel, in reality, however still frustratingly seems out of our reach. If you ever thought about seeing the building of the pyramids or going dinosaur spotting, the nearest you'll get is watching it on the TV or at the movies.

However, one type of place can allow you to step back in time. The museum is the ideal location to explore the past in vivid detail. Whatever your preferred type of museum sector – art, archaeology or Egyptology – a good museum display can educate and enchant at the same time.

Italy boasts some of the finest museums and galleries in the world. Visitors can come to these museums from the other side of the world to sample the wonders on offer. So, hang on to your passes, let's step back in time and take a guided tour around some of the finest Italian museums!


If you're not satisfied with just one museum, then the museum complex of Palazzo Pitti in Florence could be for you. It's said to be the largest complex of its kind in Florence which is segmented into separate gallery and museum spaces.

Dating back to 1458, Palazzo Pitti was originally a home of Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. By the next century, it had become the property of the Medici family before becoming the principal base for the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Over time, it became the source of acquired collections of the finest jewels, plates and paintings.

The scale of the amassed paintings is quite something. The Palatine Gallery alone includes more than 500 paintings. This collection is split into 28 rooms, mainly comprised of works from the Renaissance. Works adorning these walls include Vision Of Ezekiel and Granduca Madama by Raphael; Giorgione's Three Ages Of Man and Verrocchio's St Jerome.

Two other art galleries worthy of note at Palazzo Pitti: The Royal Apartments include 14 rooms' worth of paintings collected by the Medicis while the Gallery Of Modern Art dates back to 1748. It's been the location of award-winning art works in conjunction with the Florentine Academy, and today boasts 30 rooms of classic art pieces including those from the early days of the Impressionist era.

In addition to these galleries, there are special sections devoted to other types of collection. The Costume Gallery showcases theatrical outfits from the 16th century to the modern day as well as a collection of costume jewellery from the mid 20th century.

The Silver Museum puts the spotlight on a priceless collection of silver pieces, cameos and other works, including a collection brought by Grand Duke Ferdinand from his return from exile in 1815. Meanwhile, the Porcelain Museum, which opened in 1873, contains a selection of porcelain items made by famous manufacturers such as Meissen and Sevres. Another must-visit part of Palazzo Pitti can be found on the ground floor in the Carriages Museum. It holds some of the notable transport conveyances taken by the Grand Ducal Court between the 18th and 19th centuries, including the Golden Carriage (Carrozza d'oro) which was the transport choice for special occasions.

The Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti

(Palazzo Pitti: The Palantine Gallery)


One of the oldest and best known art museums across the globe, Galleria Degli Uffizi continues to be an iconic destination, over 400 years after its establishment in 1581.

Uffizi translates as 'offices', which is what the building was originally designed for. On the instruction of Cosimo I de'Medici, Giorgio Vasari started work on a building that would provide office facilities for Florentine magistrates. As well as the offices, the building became a focal point for Medici art collections for paintings and sculptures. By 1765, the building welcomed visitors in to see the gathered art collections.

Many great works of art are collected in Galleria Degli Uffizi, with contributions from Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Michelangelo. Notable works of art include Leonardo's Annunciation, Giorgione's Moses Trial and Botticelli's Adoration Of The Magi.

Uffizi hallway

(Uffizi hallway: Ph. Wikimedia Commons)


Another famed art museum in Florence is Galleria dell'Accademia. It was founded by Pietro Leopoldo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1784. It's said that this museum was devised to solely include pieces produced by Michelangelo, but over time, other artists were added to the mix. Other notable artists represented in this museum include Botticelli, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Sarto.

Works on display include Michelangelo's David and Botticelli's Madonna and Child and Madonna Of The Sea. It's also the home of an assembly of Russian icons collected by the Grand Dukes of the House of Lorraine.


One of the seminal Renaissance painting gatherings can be located in Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, part of Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. The Ducal Palace was originally constructed by Maso di Bartolomeo in the mid 15th century for Duke Federico III da Montefeltro.

Today, it's the site for one of the most amazing collections of Renaissance art. Many artists are represented here including Raphael, Uccello and Viti. Raphael's La Muta, Piero della Francesca's Madonna Of Senigallia and Scenes 2, 4 and 6 of Uccello's Miracle Of The Desecrated Host are among the works on show.


(Duke's Palace: Ph: Georgette Jupe)


If you're looking to visit a diverse range of historical collections, then Sforza Castle in Milan holds all sorts of past treasures.

Originally, the castle was built in the 15th century for the Duke Of Milan, Francesco Sforza. Over the years, it has been augmented by more rooms with renovations and rebuilding, for example, by Luca Beltrami between 1891 and 1905. It's a superb source of art collections and museum pieces. The art works boast a line-up including Mantegna, Tintoretto and Tiepolo. A collection of applied arts includes pottery, ceramics and art glass.

One of the most notable collections in the complex is the Museum of Musical Instruments which collates more than 700 instruments from between the 15th and 20th centuries. Pianos, organs, bassoons, horns and wood instruments are on display as a fascinating snapshot of the changing trends in music over the years. Cremonese Lutherie and Lombard and Cremonese violins are just some of the most unique examples of this wonderful music collection.

The changing times of furniture making can be witnessed in the museum devoted to antique furniture and wooden sculptures. Many distinctive pieces are on show here including an Alberto Issel writing desk, a Carlo Bugatti chair and a Giuseppe Maggiolini chest of drawers. Going further back in time, Sforza Castle also offers museum areas dedicated to Egyptology and prehistoric times.


Museo Nazionale Romano was established in the latter part of the 19th century with a view to housing an amassed collection of archaeological finds unearthed during excavations after the Union of Rome. Today, there are many branches of rare and priceless finds throughout the city.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is one such example with all kinds of collections on display. One of the most impressive coin collections in the world is in the basement of this building and includes four ducats of Pope Paul II and Theodoric's medallion. The first floor spotlights a collection of sculptures from the eras between the late Roman Republic and the early Imperial era. Another notable find on this floor is a mummy which was discovered on the Via Cassia. It lies in a sumptuous and ornate sarcophagus which is laden with jewels and artefacts. The second floor pays host to a selection of mosaics and frescoes including a series of frescoes found in 1863 which are said to date back to the 1st century.

Palazzo Altemps houses a choice of sculptures which date back to the Renaissance period from the likes of Boncompagni and Mattei. Crypta Balbi, meanwhile, is the spot which includes the colonnaded quadriporticus of the Theatre of Lucius Cornelius Balbus. The Baths of Diocletian is another notable area in the National Museum of Rome, which boasts a collection of sculptures found on Roman bath sites such as Boxer and The Athlete. Displays of funerary sculptures and altars can be witnessed in the Cloister of Michelangelo.


When it comes to global museum top spots, the visitors will always come to see the Vatican Museums.

From its foundation in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II, the Vatican Museums contain masses of artefacts collected by Popes over the years. Altogether, there are 54 galleries in the Vatican Museums, including destinations such as the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms and the Gallery Of Maps.

If you're an art admirer, then a good first port of call is Pinacoteca Vaticana, the gallery that holds many outstanding works of art such as Lippi's Marsuppini Coronation, Leonardo Da Vinci's St Jerome In The Wilderness and Giotto's Stefaneschi Triptych. If you want to see portraits of the Popes from the 16th century to the present time, then head on over to the Vatican Historical Museum, which also includes religious items connected Papacy rituals and carriages taken by Popes over the years.

Museo Pio-Clementino includes galleries linking to Greek and Roman pieces. Originally founded in 1771, this museum was designed to feature antique and Renaissance works of art. Today, this locations plays host to exhibits such as the Gallery Of The Statues (which includes the Bust of Menander and Sleeping Ariadne), the Greek Cross Gallery and Sala Rotonda (which boasts a number of ancient statues and mosaics).

Pope Gregory XVI was responsible for the foundation of two notable museums. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco includes Etruscan items located in excavations, with all sorts of pieces on display such as sarcophagi, vases and bronzes. Three years after the establishment of this museum in 1836, Pope Gregory XVI founded a museum dedicated to all things Egyptian. All kinds of Egyptology can be found here including animal mummies, papyrus collections and reproductions of the Book Of The Dead.

(Vatican Staircase: Ph. Wikimedia Commons


This hothouse of archaeological wonders takes its name from the noted archaeologist Francesco Ribezzo. It was initially founded in 1884, with local collectors donating to the museum. As time went on, Pasquale Camassa and his group of intellectuals spread the word about this burgeoning museum, ensuring that this was to become the cultural talking point of the area.

Today, it's the home of many rare discoveries, spread over a series of levels. Among the items on display are terracotta figurines from the seventh century, classical coins and bronze statues. In addition to this are underwater archaeological finds and excavated items which are said to date back to the prehistoric era.


Another excellent example of an archaeological showcase is Ostuni's famous museum which opened in the late Spring season of 1989. Initially displaying archaeological discoveries unearthed in the local countryside, the museum went on to exhibit rare and valuable finds sourced from all of southern Murgia.

The items in the Ostuni museum date back to the prehistoric and Messapico eras. All sorts of fascinating tools and flints, ornaments and ceramics provide a unique snapshot into the Paleolithic age while Messapico funerary tombs, jugs and vases form an equally fascinating look at this particular period.


If you're interested in Egyptology, then a visit to Turin's Museo Egizio is highly recommended.

It's the second largest collection of Egyptian items in the world, second only to Cairo. Boasting an impressive array of Egyptian history, this museum is packed with artefacts and relics from mummies to sarcophagi. It's a treat for anyone with an interest in this field, displaying up rare finds such as the Table of Isis, Assemblea dei Rei, a set of statues of the Kings of the New Kingdom, as well as tombs and books of the dead.


Said to be one of the key archaeological museums in the world, Museo Archeologico Nazionale is the site of many Roman artefacts as well as collections from the Renaissance and Greek periods.

One of the most memorable collections in this museum is the Farnese set which includes the Farnese Cup and the Farnese Marbles. The Farnese Marbles collection gathers many classic sculptures. When you visit this museum, you can take a look at the Farnese Hercules, the Farnese Bull and the Farnese Atlas, which is alleged to be the oldest version of Atlas from Greek mythology in existence).

It's also a museum famed for its collection of mosaics, which include those located in Pompeii and other Venusian cities. A notable mosaic of value is that of the Alexander Mosaic which is said to date back to around 100 BC.

Naples' Museo Archeologico Nazionale also contains a prized collection of Egyptian items, including objects from the private collections of Cardinal Borgia and Picchianti. Also to be found in this museum is the Secret Cabinet, which has gathered together various erotically-related finds from Pompeii, including frescoes and sculptures.


Fresco fan? Then Museo Civico offers it all fresco. The City Museum of Siena serves up some of the highest quality paintings, sculptures and frescoes in the area.

Notable frescoes include Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory Of Good And Bad Government, which portrays the two separate approaches to governing with their respective consequences. Meanwhile, Taddeo di Bartolo's contributions include Storie della Madonna and The Virtues Of Illustrious Gods And Men.

Other examples include Spinello Aretino's depiction of the life and times of Pope Alexander III dei Bandinelli and Domenico Beccafumi's ceiling frescoes which chart the subjects of patriotic duty and justice.

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