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The Middle Ages on the Road

Mostra in occasione dei 150 anni di Firenze Capitale e della fondazione del Bargello

03-20-2015 | 06-21-2015

The project for this exhibition dates back to 2011, the year in which the Réseau des Musées d’Art Médiéval was established, linking four major European museums: theMuseo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the Musée de Cluny in Paris, the Museum Schnütgen in Cologne and the Museu Episcopal in Vic, in Catalonia.  What these four museums have in common is a selection of the most important extant medieval masterpieces, particularly in the fields of sculpture and the applied arts. The Bargello and the Musée de Cluny share a further bond dating back to over 150 years ago when the two museums were founded within roughly twenty years of one another,Cluny in 1843 and the Bargello in 1865. In May of that year in Florence which had just been proclaimed the capital of the Kingdom of Italythe Bargello reopened its doors for the first time no longer as the city’s prison but as united Italy’s first national museum. To mark the 150th anniversary of its foundation, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello has put together a schedule of celebratory events which kicks off with this exhibition. 
The Middle Ages on the Road, which ran from October 2014 to February of this year at the Musée de Cluny in Paris, is now coming to the Bargello, its layout unchanged aside from a few differences dictated by requirements of space and by the inevitable rotation of the more delicate exhibits. Exploring the Middle Ages and our common European culture, the exhibition showcases over 100 works of art in a real and symbolic "journey" comprising panel paintings, stone sculptures and illuminations alongside a selection of ivory artefacts, small plaques, medals and badges made of metals both precious and common, ancient navigational instruments and maps, seals and reliquaries. Equally interesting is a selection of extremely rare everyday items such as footwear, messengers’ pouches, letters or travelling caskets, all of which testify to the "material culture" that consisted of items which may have been made of poor materials but which are just as valuable on account of their rarity.  The exhibition is broken down into five thematic sections investigating five different types of medieval traveller:

1. Depicting the World
The first section uses a selection of maps and plans, along with one of the earliest surviving celestial spheres or globes, to illustrate the confines of the known world and medieval man’s vision of that world.  The maps are criss-crossed by routes and itineraries which were the product of travellers’ first-hand experience – a kind of early "road map", like the one printed for the Jubilee in 1500 (cat. 4), intended primarily for the convenience of travellers from northern Europe bound for Rome.  The section also explores the sea voyages of the era with a parchment dated 1311 and signed by Genoese cartographer Pietro Vesconte – one of the oldest nautical maps still in existence (cat. 6) – and with typical navigational aids such as the two astrolabes, one English and one Arab (cat. 7 and 8), which were extremely costly and which were also used to tell the time by measuring the height of the sun or of a given star above the horizon.

2. Saving the Soul: Pilgrims, Preachers and Clerics
Pilgrimage was one of the most common forms of medieval travel, eventually becoming a mass movement which criss-crossed Europe for centuries.
This section illustrates the "travel kit" and accoutrements that accompanied those who undertook the long and arduous journey in search of redemption.  Alongside some extremely rare items of footwear (cat. 11, 13), there are also examples of the "badges" used to identify pilgrims.  These were small metal plaques sewn onto the hat or tunic (cat. 14–18), which varied according to the shrine visited. The most popular shrines included Rome, Santiago de Compostela and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Pilgrims would alsoacquire relics to bring home in bags or caskets like the rare cotton pouch from the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne (Cat. 31).  To get an idea of what pilgrims looked like, we can choose from a broad variety of sources ranging from illuminations (cat. 10, 27) and stained glass (cat. 9, 19) to seals (cat. 23) and wooden sculpture (cat. 29).

3. Travelling to War:  Crusades, Knights and Military Expeditions
The crusader, the knight and the common soldier loom large in this section devoted to war, another extremely frequent source of mass movement.  The section explores the theme with examples of the equipment that accompanied those who set out to fight in distant lands on horseback or on foot (cat. 38–46).  Codices recounting journeys – both real and imaginary – include the Cantigas de Santa Maria (cat. 49), which illustrate important episodes in the religious wars, and a Tuscan "cantare" in "ottava rima" narrating the feats of Febus, a valiant knight errant from the court of King Arthur (cat. 51). A delicately carved ivory plaque (cat. 56) portrays the luckless King Louis IX, who was captured during the Seventh Crusade.  And four pectoral crosses (cat. 52–55) from the east, evoking the Christian conquest of the Holy Land, capture the very essence of the term "crusader", which began to be used in the 13th century.
4. Travelling for Business:  Merchants, Bankers and Messengers
This section looks at the figure of the merchant, with a selection of objects and tools of the trade that were essential for the safe carriage of goods and money in medieval Europe.  Pouches and satchels for documents (cat. 64, 73, 74) and bills of exchange (cat. 78) were standard items carried by merchants travelling on business, as indeed were "merchants’ tokens" (cat. 66, 67), an interesting early attempt to make trading more convenient.  The political missions of "professional" travellers such as diplomats and ambassadors are evoked by two small messengers’ boxes (cat. 79, 80), which were often marked with the crest of the sender and fashioned in such a way that, despite their small size, they could be securely locked.

5. Travelling for Show:  Travelling Monarchs and Bridal Parades
The final section investigates the image of the travelling court. Regular tours made by the sovereign or the feudal lord around his estates, with his entourage of dignitaries and his sumptuous display of wealth (cat. 100), served to underscore his political and social standing and to confirm his authority.  But short distances could be considered a journey too, for instance the metaphorical journey made by an aristocratic bride when she left her father’s home to enter the home of her future husband, a symbolic move illustrated by two sumptuously carved ivory saddles (cat. 101, 102), by nuptial caskets (cat. 82–85) and by a travelling chest (cat. 81) which appears to mirror those depicted in the lavishly embroidered Flemish tapestry (cat. 94) that brings the exhibition to a close.


Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo
Segretariato regionale del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo per la Toscana
Ex – Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico
e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze
Museo Nazionale del Bargello
Firenze Musei


La mostra è stata realizzata nell’ambito del Réseau des musées d’art médiéval in collaborazione con il Musée de Cluny di Parigi, il Museum Schnütgen di Colonia e il Museu Episcopal di Vic

Curated by

Benedetta Chiesi, Ilaria Ciseri and Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi

Exhibition Management

Ilaria Ciseri


Marta Bencini, Silvia Vettori

Press office


Ticket prices

Full Price: € 7,00
Reduced: € 3,50