A Neapolitan in Florence

Salvatore Romano Foundation, cenacle of Santo Spirito, in the background the Crucifixion and the Last Supper frescoed by l'Orcagna and Andrea di Cione, 1360-66.

Piazza Santo Spirito is the heart of Florentine night life. With the metaphysical facade (1792) of the basilica as a backdrop, it is known to both everyone who loves art and everyone who loves night life. Not very many people know, however, that there is a hidden treasure on the left side of the church.

The church of Santo Spirito and the Salvatore Romano Foundation in Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence

There, the old 14th-century refectory hosts one of the most delightful and tucked-away museums in the whole city: the Fondazione Salvatore Romano. In 1946, this extraordinary antiquarian gave some of his masterpieces to Florence, on condition that they would be displayed in the Santo Spirito refectory, where the Last Supper frescoed in about 1360 by Nardo di Cione, known as Orcagna, and his brother Andrea would be their backdrop.

Tino di Camaino, caryatid, c. 1320, the Crucifixion and the Last Supper frescoed by Andrea di Cione, called l’Orcagna, and Andrea di Cione, 1360-66.

The museum preserves a collection of medieval and Renaissance sculptures as well as paintings and furniture. The geometric, perspectival arrangement of the works was chosen by the antiquarian, who is even buried there, in a large stone tomb. What you feel inside the vast room with a trussed roof is a sensation of balance, where the value of the vision of the whole is preferred over that of the individual work. There is no order, neither chronological nor based on merit. The sculptures and stone fragments are mounted on simple, unadorned wooden bases. It is a timeless place, where two caryatids carved by the 14th-century Tuscan sculptor Tino di Camaino co-exist with a monumental 4th-century feline head from Campania.

Head of feline bell, IV century, Fondazione Salvatore Romano, Florence

Salvatore Romano was born in Meta di Sorrento, near Naples, in 1875. The son of a sea captain, his passion for antiquity struck while he was in Genoa, studying to become, in the family tradition, a sailor as well. Visiting the museum, you cannot help but agree with his choice of this magnificent place as his final port.

Salvatore Romano Foundation, Cenacolo di Santo Spirito, Florence