Il Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra di San Miniato è un’istituzione che risale al 1966 anche se di più remoto concepimento. Dopo il secondo conflitto mondiale la precarietà nello stato di conservazione dei beni culturali spinse la curia vescovile e la soprintendenza pisana ad una campagna di restauri per la messa in sicurezza delle opere. Fu così che i locali delle ex sagrestie della cattedrale vennero adibiti a museo e qui fu radunata una collezione artistica proveniente dalle varie parrocchie di San Miniato e dintorni. Il museo si presenta come una galleria le cui opere esprimono, in maniera inequivocabile, alcuni aspetti della vita locale, religiosa e civile del passato di questa piccola comunità della Toscana. La dislocazione delle opere nelle cinque sale segue un criterio cronologico che spazia dal XIII fino al XVIII secolo. Seguendo questo iter temporale, infatti, all’inizio della collezione sono visibili i chiari segni di un mondo ancora in parte medievale, carico di simbolismi, di fondi oro e di figure ieratiche di santi. I vari pezzi raccontano di questa visione religiosa mistica desumibile da un’iconografia ormai nota: “La Madonna col Bambino” (fine XIV sec.) attribuita a Lorenzo Monaco, il giovinetto guerriero in “san Michele Arcangelo” (1420 circa) di Pseudo Ambrogio Valdese o “l’Annunciazione” (1274) del maestro lapicida lombardo Giroldo di Iacopo da Como, solo per citarne alcune. La Vergine viene ritratta nella posa canonica del genere, dolce-amara, soave nel tenero amore della madre ma dal volto rabbuiato da un’espressione che rappresenta un triste auspicio per la sorte, ormai segnata, del bambino. Le mani, finemente cesellate ed arricchite da un raffinato linearismo, cingono senza sforzo il corpo del fanciullo, irrequieto e teso all’esterno, in una posa che viene sottolineata dall’artista da un fine studio anatomico del corpo dell’infante, distratto dal gioco innocente con il piccolo cardellino, un altro presagio della passione di Cristo. Lo stile con cui viene rappresentato san Michele lo rende insieme solenne ed elegante, i chiaroscuri ne corroborano fortemente la volumetria, il disegno è fermo e non concede alle vesti che qualche accenno di movimento. La posa vittoriosa del santo è sottolineata dagli attributi del potere, la spada nella mano destra e il globo nella sinistra, che vanno inoltre a bilanciare con il loro “peso”, diremmo “peso visivo”, l’altrimenti precaria staticità suggerita dal santo, in piedi sul drago sconfitto, ridotto così a mero sfondo.
Nell’Annunciazione lo spazio ultraterreno, occupato dall’arcangelo, si contrappone alle cornici architettoniche appena delineate nelle quali sono inserite la Vergine e la figura defilata di un ancella in basso. Le parole ivi incise contribuiscono a sottolineare la solennità dell’incontro: scritte da destra verso sinistra nel caso della Vergine, danno sostanza al Verbo che in questa scena si forma nella carne e si fa uomo, immagine visibile del Padre, invenzione iconografica questa di grande ingegno e sapienza. Anche la collezione di bacini ceramici di provenienza africana della fine del XII secolo posti, in origine, a decorazione della facciata del duomo così come suggeriva una locale usanza architettonica di influenza pisana, ci rimanda a quest’epoca. Lo spirito dell’Umanesimo, invece, offre i suoi primi rudimenti nei due pannelli di Neri di Bicci ( 1419 -1470) il cui impianto prospettico, non del tutto perfetto, sembra sospeso tra un passato di matrice medievale e un incipiente Rinascimento di botticelliana memoria. Le fisionomie allungate dei personaggi dagli sguardi fissi e attoniti, adornati con vesti sovrabbondanti che ne caricano la plasticità o le decorazioni dorate dei bordi, messe in risalto dall’esecuzione al bulino, confermano la paternità di queste due opere.
Ci conduce verso il XVII secolo la “ Madonna in trono con Gesù Bambino fra i SS. Michele Arcangelo e Pietro Apostolo” di Ludovico Cardi detto “il Cigoli” la cui esperienza pittorica maturò sotto l’influsso di nomi importanti quali il Correggio, Tiziano, Tintoretto e il Veronese. Firmata e datata al 1593 l’opera conduce lo spettatore già nel mondo del Manierismo, stile di garbata eleganza che porterà, successivamente, all’opulenza caratteristica, invece, dell’età barocca. Inserite pienamente in questo contesto storico sono le due tele di Lorenzo Lippi (1606 -1665) che ritraggono due scene tratte dall’Antico Testamento: forti chiaroscuri e un accentuato plasticismo denotano l’elevato livello artistico raggiunto e una certa influenza caravaggesca.
A conclusione del nostro percorso troviamo i due pezzi più suggestivi della V sala: l’Educazione della Vergine di Giovan Battista Tiepolo (1696 -1770) e il Gesù che riceve il pane eucaristico di Lorenzo Lippi. Il primo, sulla cui paternità ancora si discute vista la moda imperante di produrre copie degli originali per ricchi committenti, non racconta pienamente l’altissimo livello nella resa pittorica raggiunto da quest’artista che operò nel bel mezzo di quel periodo storico di eccessi decorativi e ornamentali che fu il Barocco. Colpisce piuttosto la scena ritratta, abbastanza insolita perché propone un momento della vita della Vergine poco conosciuto: quello della giovinezza. Il secondo conferma il “modus operandi” del Lippi, portavoce nella divulgazione delle istanze figurative fiorentine.
Questo il museo vuole e può raccontare: i canoni di pensiero di un lontano e più recente passato, attraversato da più conflitti ma produttore di ineguagliabile bellezza.
During the early Middle Ages, small open settlements arose in the lowland between the rivers Usciana and Arno, where the limites of the Augustan age land division were still visible. In many cases the only surviving testimony is the name of the titular saint of the village church, generally founded by the local lord.
These small rural communities, with their churches, fell under the scope of the parish church of Sant ‘Ippolito di Anniano – which was located on the slopes of the castle of S. Maria a Monte – and also on that of the other parish church in the area, S. Pietro, situated at Cappiano.
Archaeological findings and studies on the local topography allowed to correctly identify and locate a good number of the many villages mentioned by written evidence. Some of these are of fundamental importance for the history of Castelfranco: The village of San Pietro a Vigesimo was perched, as the toponym indicates, at the twentieth mile of the ancient road that run on the right of the Arno and connected, in Roman times, Florence with Pisa. The village of Catiana had developed along the same road, and was still a popular site in the Middle Ages. A pathway, today southwest of Castelfranco still recalls the ancient village church, San Martino, founded around 1000 A. D. by the Cadolingi counts. Conversely Paterno, with the church of San Bartolomeo, was possibly built along one of the minor axes that connected the Arno to the Esciana river. The village of Caprugnana was also located just north of Castelfranco, as we read in the documents that mention the church – dedicated to San Michele – and its cloister. The families of the future dwellers of Castelfranco originated from these villages. Two new ‘twin’ fortified hamlets – Castelfranco and Santa Croce – were created by Lucca towards the middle of the thirteenth century, precisely on the bank of the Arno contended by Pisa. Castelfranco was placed in a barycentric point with respect to the villages of Catiana, Paterno, Caprugnana and Vigesimo, destined to disappear to make way for the castle. It was designed according to a regular layout, divided by two main streets into four districts that bore the name of the original communities. At the intersection of the two streets, the urban fabric opened up to make way for the communal spaces, namely the square and the domus communis, that is the town hall, which was already completed by October 1253. In this first phase, the square, large and already paved with cut-out bricks, extended up to the portico of the town hall, as documented by the excavations of square Remo Bertoncini that took place in 1995.
In the fourteenth century, the heart of public life in Castelfranco was radically altered: the town hall now stretched to occupy a large part of the square while the portico overlooked the street of greatest attraction – the road axis leading Porta Paterno to Porta Vigesimo – which become, in fact, the new community space, once again paved in brick with a beautiful herringbone pattern. Even the city walls were made of bricks and defined the almost square-shape plan of the new foundation. They were punctuated by cross-section towers with a square base, while those at the four corners had a polygonal shape. The walls opened on the exit of the two main orthogonal streets in the four doors: the door to Caprugnana to the north, the door to Paterno to the west, the door to Catiana to the south and the door to Vigesimo to the east. The high bulk of the door in Vigesimo is superbly preserved and bears traces of the original shape: the vaulted passage of the main access and at least two practicable floors open towards the interior, as well as a summit balcony that allowed the control over the bridge on the moat and through the front door. It was possible to partially retrace some of the transformations occurred to the walls of Castelfranco, destined to be completely erased over the last few centuries. This is what the emergency excavation – carried out in 2007 in the square 20 Settembre – revealed. Within that corner of the walls stood the monastery of Saints Jacopo and Filippo, with a beautiful fourteenth-century cloister supported by octagonal brick pillars. By the end of the 1500s, the monastery annexes had extended beyond the walls of the castle, which had by now exhausted their function. At the beginning of the 1600s, the construction of new walls was planned to envelop the vegetable gardens that were now largely outside. The foundation section, a wall on pillars, was built with new bricks, while the elevation was raised with salvaged bricks from the walls of Castelfranco.
The excavation data expose the way in which the two sites run concurrently, the former dismantling the city walls, and the second rearranging the monastery complex. The excavation data expose the way in which the two sites run concurrently. The bricks were carefully extracted from the debris of the walls and cleaned of the mortar residues. Then, they were positioned for the new wall of the monastery garden. The waste resulting from this operation was thrown into the outer moat, which – no longer exploited – was now made use of as a waste pit. Thus, while on the one hand large sections of the medieval walls were lowered until they disappeared – and the moats were filled with debris to the top – on the other, new private brick buidings arose, to define spaces removed from the public function they originally held, which was now completely outdated. It appears that in 1612 the Master mason Antonio Maestrucci had made use of 4,000 bricks coming from the old walls of Castelfranco to complete the new wall of the monastery garden.
The Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra of San Miniato is an institution that dates back to 1966, albeit it was conceived long before that. In the aftermath of Second World War, the threat to the cultural heritage pushed the Episcopal Curia and the Superintendency of Pisa to take necessary steps towards the restoration and preservation of art works. Hence, the premises where had formerly taken place the complex of the cathedral sacristies, were converted into a museum which was to house an artistic collection made from various pieces coming from the parishes of San Miniato and its surroundings. The museum – which resembles an art gallery – unequivocally reflects some aspects of past local, religious and social life of this small Tuscan community. A chronological criteria informs the works disposition throughout the five rooms allocated, displaying art pieces ranging from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century.
The collection chronology is in step with a complex evolution of the pieces. It starts with obvious signs of a still partially medieval world, where symbolism, gold backgrounds and hieratic figures of saints take the stage. The various pieces tell of a mystical religious vision whose essence is immediately traceable in a well-known iconography such as ‘The Madonna and Child’, attributed to Lorenzo Monaco ((late 14th century), the young warrior in ‘San Michele Arcangelo’ by Pseudo Ambrogio Waldensian (1420 ca.), or ‘The Annunciation’ by the Lombard stonecutter Giroldo di Iacopo da Como (1274), just to name a few.
The Virgin is portrayed in the canonical pose of the genre, a bittersweet, gentle mother who displays her tender love, her face nonetheless darkened by an expression that incapsulates the ominous omen for the fate, by now sealed, of the child. The hands, finely chiseled and enriched by a refined linearism, effortlessly encircle the child’s body, restless and tense outwards. The artist’s fine anatomical study of the infant’s body emphasizes the care free attitude of the child engrossed in an innocent game with a little goldfinch, another omen of Christ’s passion. Saint Michael is represented as an elegant and equally dignified character. The chiaroscuro strongly strengthens the volume of the figure, the bold strokes do not allow for more than some little ‘movement’ of the garments. The victorious pose of the saint is underlined by the attributes of power, the sword in the right hand and the globe in the left: with their “visual weight”, they make for a nice balance for the otherwise precarious stillness suggested by the saint standing on the defeated dragon, thus reduced to mere background. In the Annunciation, the otherworldly space, occupied by the archangel, contrasts with the architectural frames – barely outlined – introducing the Virgin and a handmaid further away. The engraved words underscore the solemnity of the meeting: written from right to left for the Virgin, they give substance to the christian message ‘The Word become flesh and dwelt upon us’, a visible image of the Father, a powerful iconographic invention of great ingenuity. Another reminder to the period is the collection of ceramic basins of African origin from the late twelfth century – originally placed as a decoration for the façade of the cathedral, as suggested by a local architectural tradition of Pisan influence.
The first rudiments of the spirit of Humanism, on the other hand, are embodied in the two panels by Neri di Bicci (1419 -1470), whose imperfect perspective seems suspended between a medieval past and an emerging Renaissance inspired by Botticelli. The elongated characters with their fixed and astonished gazes, adorned with owerflowing garments that sustain their plasticity, or the golden decorations of the edges, finely chiseled, confirm the authorship of these two works. Ludovico Cardi known as ‘Il Cigoli’, whose painting experience matured under the influence of important artists such as Correggio, Tiziano, Tintoretto and Veronese, is the author of the ‘Madonna enthroned with the Child Jesus amongst the Saints Michele Arcangelo and Pietro Apostolo’, which steers the way towards the 17th century. Signed and dated 1593, the work accompanies the viewer into the world of Mannerism, a style of graceful elegance that will subsequently take to the opulence characteristic of the Baroque age. Fully inserted in this historical context are the two canvases by Lorenzo Lippi (1606-1665) which portray two scenes from the Old Testament: strong chiaroscuro and an accentuated plasticism denote the high artistic level achieved, and a certain Caravaggesque influence.
At the end of our journey we find the two most evocative pieces in the 5th room: ‘The Education of the Virgin’ by Giovan Battista Tiepolo (1696 -1770), and Lorenzo Lippi’s ‘Jesus receiving the Eucharistic bread’. The first, whose authorship is still under discussion – given the prevailing fashion of producing copies of the originals for rich clients – does not do justice to the supreme painting skills achieved by this artist, who worked right between the historical period of decorative excesses known as Baroque. The scene portrayed is striking, yet quite unusual, as it offers a little-known moment in the life of the Virgin, that of her youth. Conversely, the modus operandi of Lippi – one of the principal vehicles for the dissemination of Florentine figurative stances – is embodied in the second painting.
This is the mission of the museum: to tell the order system and other expressive means of thought of a distant, as well as more recent past, crossed by multiple conflicts but producer nonewithstanding, of unparalleled beauty.
Testi: Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra di San Miniato (PI)
Voice-over: Andrea Giuntini (ITA) e Alice Dettori (ENG)
Registrazioni sonore: Gabriele Bochicchio
Traduzioni: Alessia Meneghin