Marino Marini Museum in Florence

an afterlife of San Pancrazio church

Is Florence a city for contemporary art lovers? It may seem that after the achievements of Brunelleschi, Donatello and Michelangelo artists will never produce similar masterpieces again. And yet, during your stay in the town you can take a break from the Renaissance and enjoy some 20th-century art too! In a previous article I introduced the Casamonti Collection, where you can admire the works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis or Yves Klein and discover the European post-war artistic movements. However, the Casamonti Collection isn’t the only place where you can explore contemporary art in Florence. In a hidden corner of the city, inside a deconsecrated church once dedicated to Saint Pancras, you can admire the collection of the Marino Marini Museum.

Museo Marino Marini, Florence
The Marino Marini Museum in Florence.

Marino Marini was a Tuscan sculptor, born in Pistoia in 1901. He developed a successful career and became one of the most important Italian sculptors of the post-Second World War era. In his artistic production Marino Marini tried to explore the human nature and to visualise the deeply rooted archetypes, which enclose parts of our identities. Let’s discover the Marino Marini Museum together!

Who was Marino Marini?

Marino Marini was a Tuscan artist. He grew up in Pistoia and in 1917 he started his artistic studies at the Fine Arts Academy in Florence under the guidance of a famous painter and decorator Galileo Chini. Chini was one of the most important figures of the Italian Art Nouveau movement. Yet, his pupil Marini did not follow his master’s manner. Since the very beginning Marino’s art developed in dialogue with the Tuscan artistic tradition. In his early paintings the figures acquire monumentality and heavy volumes, similar to Piero della Francesca’s style. In fact, the artist remains influenced by the artistic movementValori plastici, whose members: Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio De Chirico and Ardengo Soffici promoted a return to the Italian artistic tradition and critically approached the modern avant-gardes.

Influenced by these ideas, Marini started to look for new sources of inspiration and got particularly interested in ancient sculpture. The world of Etruscan, Egyptian, Roman and Greek art excited Marini’s imagination and allowed the artist to develop his own, particular artistic language.

Marino Marini’s virile knights

Since the very beginning Marini focused in his sculpture on the idea of archetypes, trying to express in a visual form these deeply hidden parts of human nature that unite all the human beings and constitute our identities. Through this research Marino Marini arrived to the definition of two visual figures, the figure of a knight and a figure of Pomona, goddess of fertility. The knight on a horse became for the artist a symbolical representation of virtue, an image of honest and just humanity that manages to govern the natural world. The goddess of fertility Pomona represents, instead, natural sexuality, innocence and freedom.

Marino Marini, Pugile, 1935
Marino Marini, Boxer, 1935.
This statue won a grand prix at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. This victory was Marini’s first international success.

The pre-war works by Marini are characterised by harmonic compositions, which testify a belief in balance and some order governing the human world. In the early figures of knights we perceive agreement and unity between the man and the horse. There are no traces of violence or fight between the two. Marini’s early vision was based on a deeply rooted belief in harmony and lawfulness governing the civilisation. The Second World War shook Marini’s reality and drastically changed this faith.

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Marino Marini and the Second World War

In 1940 Marino Marini was already an acclaimed artist. That year he was appointed professor at the Accademia Albertina in Turin and a year later, in 1941, he moved to Milan where he started to teach at the Brera. In Milan he experienced the cruelty of the war. In 1942 the Allied Armies began the violent bombardments of Lombardy. In September 1942 his studio located at the Villa Reale in Monza was hit by the bombs and damaged. Many works of art from the early years of his activity went lost. Marini and his wife decided to take refuge in Switzerland and they moved to Tenero, near Locarno.

This forced relocation, however, had also its positive impact on the sculptor’s career. In Switzerland Marini got acquainted with Alberto Giacometti and entered in direct contact with the Swiss artistic environment. This newly developed network allowed him to exhibit in Basel and Bern in the following years.

In 1947 Marini created a new series of knights. Already in these first post-war works we can observe a stylistic change. The figures became strongly stylized, and they started to obey to a rigid architecture. The knights start to express energy and vitality.

Marino Marini, Cavaliere, 1947
Marino Marini, Knight, 1947, bronze.

The Miracles

The so-called Miracles represent the next step in the evolution of knights’ form. This series was started in 1952 and in Florence you can admire few versions of this dynamic compositions, including the monumental statue on the ground floor. Marini’s Miracles represent a rupture in harmony between the horse and the knight. The animal escapes control, fights against the horseman. Symbolically it represents human condition in the post-war reality.

Marino Marini, Miracolo, 1949-1960.
Marino Marini, Miracle, 1959-1960 (cast post-1980).

One of the consequences of the traumatic event of Second World War is the loss of balance. Man cannot achieve salvation any more. The knight is lost and his existence is represented as struggle, fight against invisible forces. During the last years of his artistic activity, Marini worked on a gradual de-composition of forms. His statues become always more geometrical and almost cubist in style. This tension introduces major dynamics to his compositions and underlines the drama. Also the surfaces of Marini’s statues change. They become scratched and uneven.

This last phase of Marini’s activity expresses tension and struggle and it represents an interesting answer to the question if art was possible after the drama of the war. Marini kept producing works of art, but the optimistic vision of order that governed human civilisation disappeared and was substituted by an image of dis-integration, de-composition and dis-order.

Marino Marini, Miracolo, 1952.
Marino Marini, Miracle, 1952.

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Marino Marini Museum in Florence

The visit to the Marino Marini Museum in Florence allows you to discover these various phases in the artist’s activity. During the last years of his life Marini wanted to make sure his work would be remembered, preserved and displayed in the museums. In 1979 in Pistoia opened the documentation centre dedicated to the artist, which today functions as Marino Marini Foundation.

In the following year the artist made a generous donation of his works to the City of Florence. Marini died soon after, on 6 August 1980.  It took some time to put the artist’s collection on display. The space chosen for the new museum was the deconsecrated in 1808 church of Saint Pancras. The restoration of this unique space started in 1982 and it was coordinated by Lorenzo Papi and Bruno Sacchi. The two architects re-designed the space creating open areas, suspended under the roof, with staircases and walkways, that invite the visitor to a free exploration of the Museum and of Marini’s art. The Marino Marini Museum was inaugurated in 1988.  

Marino Marini, Cavallo, 1954
Marino Marini, Horse, 1942. In the background his Jugglers, 1954, oil on canvas.

The collection of the museum offers an in-depth insight into Marini’s production. You will find here his early Pomonas and the knights from 1930s. You can admire his later Miracles and Marini’s sculpture is put in dialogue with his paintings and etchings. The visit to the museum truly is a fascinating journey through Marini’s world.

Cappella Rucellai at Saint Pancras

The Museum itinerary includes also the unique Rucellai Chapel with the architectonic tomb of Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai designed by Leon Battista Alberti around 1467. Rucellai’s tomb was shaped on the model of the Anastasis, the temple built on Jesus’ sepulcher in Jerusalem. The history of this unique construction will be a good topic for a full article in the future!

Museo Marino Marini

Piazza San Pancrazio

opening hours: Saturday, Sunday, Monday 10:00 am-7:00 pm (last admission at 6:30 pm)
tel: +39 055 219432

Do you want to discover Marino Marini Museum with me? Contact me! I will be happy to organize your private guided tour of the collection!