Museums, Archives and Libraries
Three cultural institutions, the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca (Museum of the Etruscan Academy), the Biblioteca Comunale e dell’Accademia (Civic and Academy Library) and the Archivio Storico Comunale (Historic Civic Archive), are located in Palazzo Casali where the historic Etruscan Academy has its headquarters. The museum is located on the first and top floor, whereas the Library can be entered from the courtyard of the palace and occupies the mezzanine and the top floor. Finally, the Historic Archive has its entrance on Via Casali on the mezzanine of the palace.
Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca (Museum of the Etruscan Academy)
The Etruscan Academy was founded in 1727, due to the initiative of three brothers, Marcello, Ridolfino and Filippo Venuti. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Giangastone dei Medici, gave them the possibility to use some of the rooms of Palazzo Casali where the members could meet. The availability of these spaces made it possible to install the Academy museum and the library, which was and has continued to be the reference center for studies and research promoted by Cortonese institutions.
The museum and the library were founded when one of the members, Onofrio Baldelli (1667-1728), an uncle of the Venuti's, gave a number of statues, idols, inscriptions, urns, pateras (drinking dishes), cut gems, lanterns, votives and other precious things to the Academy. He added a collection of rare books and antique manuscripts, which he had collected during the course of his life as a scholar. At that time, during all the 1700s and the 1800s, a passion for the private collection of ancient objects developed among the people who had the culture and means available to collect them. Some of these collections were really valuable from a cultural point of view. It happened that with their death some of the members left their collections to the Academy, confirming the public role and the educational function they had intended the Academy to be when they founded it. The member Girolamo Tommasi made one of the last important donations. With his death in 1896, the oldest branch of his prestigious Cortonese family ended. Through the donation of his collections, among which there was interesting furniture, visitors realize what the interior of some of these palaces might have looked like and how the nobility of the city lived.
The various collections of the Museum, a part from the donations made by its members, are also due to the acquisitions made with sacrifice by them, as it is the case of the famous Etruscan Chandelier. The members, in spite of a lack of regular funds, have made the development of the museum and the library possible. They have until now conferred on the museum an outstanding image of originality and to the library a wealth of writings. Among the most important of these are works of humanistic culture, particularly rich are the writings from the 1700's. All of the material is divided into three sections:
- The archaeological collection
- The Egyptian collection
- The Medieval and Modern collection
Only a few of the most important pieces from the three collections will be here described. For more information please consul the guidebook that can be purchased at the ticket office of the museum.
The Archaeological Collection
The most important piece of the archaeological collection is the Etruscan Chandelier, which is displayed in the Sala II (Hall 2). This hall is also called the hall of the Biscione, since there is the crest with a water snake (called “biscia” in Italian), which belonged to Monsignor Giovanni Visconti (the archbishop of Milan in the 1300's). The chandelier was conceived for a very important sacred building. It came from an Etruscan workshop of the central-northern area and it can be dated around the 4th century B.C. It was rediscovered in 1840 in the suburb of "Fratta" and was acquired by the members of the Etruscan Academy for the huge sum of 1600 Florentine scudi. The external ring corresponds to the underside of the spouts and is adorned with alternating figures of sileni and mermaids: the first are playing a double flute called the siringa, while the others have their hands crossed on their chests. Some dolphins splash around on a ring of stylized waves, while on a ring, closer to the central part of the chandelier, there is a series of hunting animals. At the center, surrounded by a crown of snakes there is the figure of a Gargoyle face with an open mouth and its tongue hanging out. Between the spouts where the flames would burn we can see sixteen finely worked figures.
On another free standing display there is a painting on a slate tablet of difficult identification concerning both the dating and its origins. The delicate painting portrays the muse Polymnia, so it is possible that it was made in the classical era. Critics are more convinced that this is a work of the 18th century.
In the following displays we find a series of small bronzes. The bronzes of Etruscan, Italic and Roman origins represent a broad range of the expressions of this antique craft. Most of them were poured bronzes and were then finished when they were cooled with files or a burin. Others were made from sheets of bronze of different thicknesses. Most of them were votive offerings dedicated to the divinities that were venerated in the sanctuaries and took the form of the god or the bidder or the animal that was being presented to the divinity. Their production begun in the 6th century and continued with variations until the Roman age. Among these there are two interesting statuettes that were discovered in Cortona in 1847. As it is indicated on the inscriptions found on both pieces, they were votives offered to a certain Vel Quizio, Arnut’s son. One of the statuettes represents the god Culsans with two faces, the other the god Selvans with the head covered with an animal skin. On the bronze base the name of the city Curton is clearly legible.
From the Hall of the Biscione, crossing the open air corridor, which presents an incomparable view of the domes, rooftops and the Valdichiana, the visitor enters the Sala XII (Hall 12). Here Etruscan, Greek and Italic ceramics are kept along with funerary urns and other valuable examples of Etruscan statuary, most of which come from the collection of Onofrio Baldelli. On the walls between the two windows the top row of five urns coming from Volterra were donated by monsignor Mario Guarnacci, who was lucomone (president) of the Academy from 1770 to 1771.
In the next hall, Sala XI (Hall 11), there are mainly objects tied to daily use from the Etruscan to the Roman age. On the walls we see dedication inscriptions and funerary plaques, almost all from the Roman period from a variety of places. In the Sala X (Hall 10) one should admire a collection of gemstones and gold work displayed in two cases against the walls. In the following Sala IX (Hall 9) we find the collection of coins and medals from various epochs.
The Archaeological collection continues on the upper floor in the Sala XIII (Hall 13), in the Sala XIV (Hall 14), and in the Sala XV (Hall 15). The Etruscan artifacts discovered thanks to the excavations of the Meloni del Sodo (Etruscan tombs called "melon" by the Cortonese because of there round covering) are on display.