The Museum of the Collegiate Church of Empoli

13:57 18 October in Insights

collegiata_empoliThe Museum of the Collegiate Church of Empoli arose on a background of Risorgimento uprisings aimed at creating the Unification of Italy. Its origin dates back to 29 June 1859, when the provisional government of Tuscany awarded the Opera di Sant’Andrea a first grant of 5,040 liras as a subsidy for the restoration and enlargement of the church.

The contribution, assigned in a timely manner, was to be used also to restore some ancient works kept in the church: on 13 February 1860, the Ministry was notified that the Company of Saint Lawrence, inside the Collegiate Church, was the seat designated for the establishment of the picture gallery. In order to understand the speed with which the contribution was granted, certainly not at a time suited to setting up a museum in a small provincial town, it must be remembered that the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the provisional government was the lawyer Vincenzo Salvagnoli, member of an old Empoli family that could boast its own chapel in the Collegiate Church: in all respects, he can be considered the father of the Museum of the Collegiate Church.

Vincenzo Salvagnoli was an undisputed protagonist of Tuscan liberalism, a collaborator of the “Antologia Italiana”, a member of the Viesseux Cabinet; he was a friend of Bettino Ricasoli, but also an acquaintance of the protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento, from Cavour to Vittorio Emanuele II and Napoleon III, performing not only a fundamental intellectual role, but also occupying important political offices both in the provisional government of Tuscany and later in the Kingdom’s Senate.

Salvagnoli, a devoted supporter of the autonomy of the Church from the State, had risked – when he was the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs – a break with the Archbishop of Florence, for having supported the Protestants’ freedom of religion and of proselytism, and the alienation of the more moderate part of the provisional government, for his proposals to abolish the 1851 Concordat between Tuscany and the Holy See as well as to eliminate the feudal perpetual leases controlled by ecclesiastical mortmain.

The personality of Vincenzo Salvagnoli, his Catholic upbringing but liberal principles, extremely tied to Pasquale Martelli, the provost of the Collegiate Church of Sant’Andrea and in fierce opposition to the grand ducal government, helps to explain the individuality of the Museum of the Collegiate Church of Empoli. In fact, the museum arose at a moment of profound museographic change that concerned all of Italy in the second half of the 19th century, with the creation of a very tight network of minor museums, the civic museums, created after the Siccardi laws came into force in 1866, (the so-called “revolutionary” laws that liquidated the ecclesiastical patrimony) and with the objective, being founded on municipal pride, to establish a departure point for the civilization of a new Italy, fed by the progressive and lay ideals of the new Risorgimento élites.

In this political and cultural climate, the Museum of the Collegiate Church of Sant’Andrea also rose, but with its own peculiarities. First of all, it was created before the Siccardi Laws, taking its place among the oldest museums in Tuscany, coming only after the Civic Picture Gallery of San Gimignano in 1852 and the Municipal Gallery of the Palazzo Pretorio in Prato, greatly coveted by Cesare Guasti in 1858. In addition, even having all the characteristics of a civic museum, it began as a museum with recognition of the ecclesiastical property and management entrusted to the Collegiate Church of Sant’Andrea. So it was an unusual case in the Italian museographic panorama: in this way, Empoli had the privilege of a local museum that was in tune with the religious authority, without removing its own patrimony from its historical seat.

These characteristics, that anticipated by more than a century analogous operations later carried out nationwide, are the result of Vincenzo Salvagnoli’s sensitivity and intelligence. He died in 1861, precisely at the dawn of the museum’s creation, when the first core of works was still being arranged.

Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani

in, Museo della Collegiata di Sant’Andrea a Empoli. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio, a cura di Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani. Polistampa 2006