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  • Writer's pictureJoe Nickols, MA

A Brief History of the Museo Novecento in Florence

What is the Museo Novecento?

The Museo Novecento is a 13th-century hospital building that holds great Italian artworks of the 20th century.

Museo Novecento

Museo Novecento History

The popular belief that Florence is not receptive to modern art is robustly challenged by the Museo Novecento. Contained within its permanent collection are works by some of the most influential Italian artists of the last hundred years. The museum opened in 2014 and is built around two sizeable donations to the city. The Alberto Della Ragione Collection allows you to explore the Italian response to many significant art movements of the 20th century. The liquid appearance of sculptures by Lucio Fontana reflects the undulating textures and styles that many artists of that era experimented with. Standouts include the deliquescent forms of Carlo Levi, the brushwork of Felice Casorati, as well as the work of several Futurists, such as Fillia (or Luigi Colombo) and Gino Severini.

This notable collection is enhanced by a large collection of work by the Florentine artist Ottone Rosai. This was donated by Ottone’s widow, Francesca Fei, and the artist’s brother, Oreste. Rosai had trained in Florence and had been part of the avant-garde Futurist movement that called for the destruction of traditional society; its members celebrated violence, war, and the machine age. Futurism is extremely contentious as it was a deeply sexist movement. Its founder, Filippo Marinetti, wrote in the movement’s manifesto that Futurism stood for ‘contempt for women’ and that it ‘intend[ed] to fight against… feminism’.

Despite Rosai’s early membership of this movement, he would reject its principles after the First World War. He is most celebrated for his post-war works that display a renewed interest in classicism. These were part of the Return to Order movement, which sought a total rejection of war. The avant-garde of the pre-war was understandably replaced by a longing for stability and human connection. Gone was any interest in industrialisation and the automation of human society. Together the two collections allow for a comprehensive insight into the issues that were impacting 20th-century Italy and the responses of artists to them.

The Museo Novecento is accessed through a loggia that once housed the Ospedale di San Paolo (or Hospital of Saint Paul). The hospital was built here when Saint Francis visited the city in the early 13th century. However, the current structure was designed much later, in the 1400s, by Michelozzo, one of the most prominent early Renaissance architects. Inspired by Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti, found by the National Archaeological Museum, the loggia was decorated with Corinthian columns. Notably similar to the ornamentation of Brunelleschi’s building are the colourful medallions by Andrea della Robbia, displayed between the arches and depicting Franciscan saints.

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