…the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo! But only in the afternoons when the Bargello is closed. Gaaah I can’t choose! So Death Match Thunderdome Battle 5000 it is! But first, a few words about the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo:
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo seems to have the most confusing of all possible museum names, leading to questions like: Opera like music opera? Does Duomo mean dome? But it has to do with the Cathedral, so Duomo must mean dome, right?
Sigh, well, no. In Italian “opera” means “work” and “duomo” doesn’t mean dome, but rather confusingly means cathedral. So Museo dell’Opera del Duomo means: Museum of the Cathedral Works. But what does that even mean? Basically Museum of the construction/maintenance of the cathedral.
SO now that we’ve got the semantics down, why is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo great? WELL for all the typical reasons: no lines, not crowded, decent bathrooms (which is actually a rarity in Italy and very important), air conditioning in the summer, and oh yes, all the best, most important sculptures connected to Florence’s cathedral since the beginning of time. WIN.
BUT! Is it better than the Bargello??? Let’s have a head-to-head match up!
1. Which museum has the better Michelangelo???
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo wins. The Bacchus is nice, but the Florentine Pietà is the best of all Pietàs and is amazing.
2. But which museum has the better Donatello(s)??
While the Bargello’s David almost wins for sheer sexiness alone, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo takes this round too because not only does it have lo Zuccone and Jeremiah, and the Cantoria, it also has Donatello’s Mary Magdalen, which is one of the weirdest and wonderfulest of 15th c sculptures. She’s got wild hair, jacked arms and she’s made of wood.
3. But the Bargello has the Brunelleschi/Ghiberti competition panels!! They’re pretty much the most significant sculptures in all of Italian Renaissance art!! Surely the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo can’t top that!?
Wellllll… yes, the Brunelleschi/Ghiberti competition panels (reliefs made depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac, which were part of a competition in the year 1400 between a number of artists to win the commission to make monumental doors for the Cathedral Baptistery) can be considered the beginning of the Renaissance and are arguable the two most important bits of sculpture in Florence. And since Brunelleschi lost it led him to leave behind sculpture in favor of architecture resulting in the Cathedral dome, San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito among others. So important. BUT the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo has the culmination of the competition panels with Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (I would remind you now that the Gates on the Baptistery currently are copies and the originals are in the museum). So…. wash?
4. More interesting architecture?
Bargello wins this hands down, because it’s a medieval fortress. BUT, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo has had extensive renovations and it’s all clean and new and climate controlled on the inside, which is NICE.
5. Brunelleschi Death Masks?
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo wins because yes, it has Brunelleschi’s (the architect that designed the cathedral’s dome) death mask. By which I mean a weirdo plaster cast made of his face right after he died because the 15th c was WEIRD.
6. GAAAAH, this is impossible! They’re both too good, how do I choose?
You don’t. Go to the Bargello in the morning, have a nice lunch and go to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in the afternoon. Avoid crowds, see the best art in Florence, and go to bed happy. WINNING for EVERYONE.
I honestly can’t tell you which museum is better because they’re both great. They both have really ideal visitor experiences, their art is actually the best in town (screw the Accademia and the Uffizi). Visiting these places is an unmitigated pleasure and that is manifestly not the case for Florence’s two most famous museums. I have mixed feelings about Florence. A solid mixture of love and hate, but when I think about the lovely hours I’ve spent at both of these institutions the balance falls firmly to love. Good job Bargello and Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, you’re both the BEST.