Museo Nazionale di San Matteo Travel Guide
The Museo Nazionale di San Matteo (St. Matthew National Museum) is housed in a medieval building along the Arno River that was once a Benedictine convent. The structure itself can be found in St. Matthew Square in the Soarta quarter of Pisa.
The museum is known for its impressive collection of historically important Pisan paintings and sculptures, and within its walls can be founds works by local masters from different time periods, particularly those from the 12th to the 19th centuries. It also has a large number of ancient ceramics as well as other archeological artifacts, and mainly features works from historic ecclesiastical buildings within Pisa. It also has a fine collection of beautifully illuminated manuscripts.
The museum’s collection began in 1796 upon the endowment by the Canon of the Pisa Cathedral, Sebastiano Zucchetti, and the collection grew with the closure of many religious establishments during the Napoleonic era. Other additions were also contributed by the Academy of Fine Arts, and in 1893, Igino Benvenuto Supino helped found the Museo Civico, initially using this museum’s collection. Finally, in 1949, the present Museo Nazionale was founded and housed in the restored medieval Convent of San Matteo where it remains today.
Among the most important artworks at the museum, there are works by Guido Reni, Francesco Traini, Benozzo Gozzoli, Zanobi Macchiavelli, Berlinghiero Berlinghieri, Francesco di Valdambrino, Donatello, Agostino di Giovanni, Giunta Pisano, Simone Martini, Lippo Memmi, Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Benozzo di Lese, Ghirlandaio, and many others.
What to See
The museum collection is distributed among various rooms and sections within the building, which are as follows.
The Archeological Section
- Room 1 features a paleochristian sarcophagus fragment which depicts a scene known as “The Good Shepherd.” It dates back to the 5th century.
- Room 2 is a lapidarium which displays a wide array of columns, markers, and gravestones of Roman and Etruscan origin.
- Rooms 3 to 6 contain artifacts from ancient Pisan history, particularly from the Roman and Etruscan eras. It is mainly composed of busts, pottery, and sculptures, as well as various artifacts discovered from the ancient tombs excavated near the Duomo.
- Room 7 to 12 contain many examples of ceramics and pottery fragments from the 11th to 16th centuries which is a testament to the strong trading ties between Pisa’s Naval Republic and the nearby Mediterranean and Islamic nations. These items were mostly taken from various religious buildings in Pisa.
- Room 13 is dedicated to Byzantine art, and on its floors can still be seen evidence of the various archeological excavations on the site which led to the discovery of the earlier versions of the building itself which were found to be in the Byzantine and Christian Orthodox styles.
Byzantine Art and Coin Cabinet
- Rooms 14 and 15 also feature Greek and Byzantine art, including a cross made of rock crystal, as well as a collection of ancient coins brought to Pisa by via ancient international maritime trade routes. There are also various tools, weights, and seals that merchants of the time used. It has been recently renovated.
- Room 16 is considered as the heart of the museum as it features its main exhibit which is composed of painted crosses which show the changing of Christian iconography from the Byzantine era onwards.
- Room 17 features various painting and murals of the Virgin Mary, including an altar piece.
- Room 18 contains the famous Calci’s Bible which is a set of illustrated manuscripts dating back to 1168. One of the oldest documents in Pisa, it is also considered as one of the finest examples of miniature painting in Italy.
Pisan Cemetery Sculptures
- Room 19 houses a collection of sculptures as well as various architectural elements that originated from Campo Santo in Pisa.
- Room 20 is dedicated to paintings and altarpieces, usually depicting the Virgin Mary. Most notable of these is the large polyptych which was once the altarpiece for the Dominican Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Pisa.
- Room 21 features the works of the famous Italian sculptor Andrea Pisano and one of his sons, Nino. Many of the sculptures are made of gilded marble, and the most famous of these is the Madonna del Latte (Mary of the Milk) which shows the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus.
14th and 15th Century Art
- Room 22 contains example of the various Pisan painting schools and techniques from 13th to 16th century, with themes usually including crosses, the Virgin Mary, and angels. It contains painted altarpieces and panels.
- Room 23 currently houses the lancet windows of the original convent, along with wooden sculptures by Francesco Valdambrino.
- Room 24 is dedicated to the Pisan school of painting of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. It also has a painting which features the oldest view of the Cathedral of Pisa, as well as a triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo .
- Rooms 25 to 28 contain collections of valuable paintings from the Renaissance era. The themes of the paintings are mainly religious, and among the work included are those of the Florentine painter Benozzo Gozzoli, as well as Lippo Memmi, Taddeo Gaddi, Gentile da Fabriano, Masaccio, Simone Martini, and Ghirlandaio. There are also Pisan sculptures from the 14th and 15th centuries.
16th to 18th Century Paintings
- Rooms 29 to 32 will be accommodating 16th to 18th century paintings of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany which feature works by Santi di Tito, Jacopo Vignali , Passignano, Rutilio Manetti , Francesco Curradi, and Matteo Rosselli to name a few.
Tips and Advice
- Museum opening hours are 8:30am to 7:30pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays, while on Sundays, it is open from 8:30am to 1:30pm. It is closed on Mondays, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and May 1.
- Regular admission ticket price is EUR 5.00.
- If you are pressed for time but don’t want to miss the highlights, make sure to grab a copy of their guide, Il museo in 1 ora (“The Museum in an Hour”) which will take you through the sixteen must-see displays in the museum. It covers the sections which include the crosses, paintings and panels, sculptures, and ceramics.