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  • Writer's pictureJoe Nickols, MA

A Brief History of the Marino Marini Museum in Florence

What is the Marino Marini Museum?

The Marino Marini Museum is a museum dedicated to the celebrated Tuscan sculptor Marino Marini, which also includes a 15th-century tomb modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Marino Marini Museum

Marino Marini Museum History

This museum, a combination of a historic space (the former church of San Pancrazio) with modern architecture, mimics Marino Marini’s own fusion of traditional artistic themes with contemporary discourse. Marini attended art school at Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arte in the 1910s, and from 1922 devoted himself primarily to sculpture, though he continued to paint and draw throughout his career. Marini achieved pre-war success, winning the first prize for sculpture at the 1935 Quadriennale in Rome, and becoming a professor at the Brera in Milan. However, the Second World War forced Marini into exile in Switzerland from 1943. Upon returning to Italy three years later, his work reflected an increasing sense of hopelessness and despair at the state of the world.

Marini’s sculptural practice was predominantly focussed on four themes: studies of Pomona (or nudes), portraits, circus figures, and equestrian forms. These themes are reiterated throughout the four floors of the museum, allowing you to observe the sculptor’s evolving style. He was inspired by historic Etruscan culture (a pre-Roman civilisation) in the development of these themes, seeking to create mythical and timeless images infused with contemporary context. Effectively, Marini was elevating the concerns of the modern era to the same level as their ancient precedents.

The most visible and intriguing development in Marini’s oeuvre can be seen in the equestrian sculptures. His first was produced in 1936 and depicted both horse and rider of slender proportions, imbued with a sense of calm formality. In further works on this theme from the 1940s, the form of the horse became squatter and there was increased dissonance between animal and rider. Sculptures showing an immobile horse with a strained expression express Marini’s own frustration. The rider becomes more focussed on his own concerns, preoccupied with inner visions and existential anxiety. The final works depict the rider fallen from the horse in an attitude of post-apocalyptic despair. The uncertainty of the world overwhelms Marini’s representations of humanity. The tactile finishes and careful modulation of material are highlighted by the spacious setting that allows light to dance across the figures.

The museum is also home to a small tomb that recalls Christ’s burial in Jerusalem. The Sacellum of the Holy Sepulchre (or Rucellai Sepulchre) was designed by Leon Battista Alberti, one of the great architects of the Renaissance. It was commissioned by the powerful and rich wool merchant, Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai. Construction of the sepulchre began in 1458 and it’s richly decorated with marble inlay and fresco. The exterior features many family symbols, such as the Rucellai sails. These can also be found on the front of the nearby church of Santa Maria Novella as it too was financed by Giovanni Rucellai.

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