Museums are a dime a dozen in Florence, but I am so excited to share with you about what I think may be in the running for the coolest museum in the city. Located in the former church of San Pancrazio (fun fact: before being a museum it had a life as a tobacco factory), the museum has so much history but there are hardly any tourists there– on the day that I went, in fact, there was hardly anyone there at all. The vast majority of the people that I saw there were part of the same tour I was on, a free event in Florence called “Digital Invasion” where museums let in a group and give them a guide (in Italian) for free as a part of a social-media publicity thing.
So obviously the Marino Marini museum is known (when it is known) for its collection of… you’ve guessed it, Marino Marini sculptures. Marini was educated at the Academia di Belle Arti in Florence, hence how his work eventually ended up back here. Growing up in the early 1900s, surprisingly he was inspired more by the Etruscan and Roman early styles than the Renaissance works that abound in the city. Irony, there. Anyway, he’s best known for his sculptures of horse and rider, like the one below.
However, in my humble opinion, this was just the icing on the cake. The truly interesting part of the building was not even technically a part of the museum itself, though admission allows you into the area. San Pancrazio contained the Rucellai chapel, which is what you should really go to the museum to see, regardless of whether you are a modern art fan. The Rucellais wanted a chapel in Santa Maria Novella (I think) but they ended up at this smaller church. Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai commissioned Leon Battista Alberti to create the chapel. Alberti designed the chapel as an imitation of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I haven’t been to Jerusalem, but I will definitely be making comparisons when I make it there someday!
After many years of restoration the chapel was opened to the public just early last year, which is perhaps why so few Florentines, expats and tourists seem to know about it. It’s by far worth a stop– one of the coolest things I have seen in the city and something very few other people have heard about! The Rucellai chapel is a great way to get off the beaten path in Florence– only five minutes walking from major piazzas like Santa Maria Novella.