- April-October: everyday from 10am to 7pm;
- November-March: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
- Close on 25th December.
The nine rooms where the Diocesan Museum of the Capitolo of Cortona has been fit out in 1948 are part of the original structure of the Church and the Oratory of Gesù, which was provided with another wing after the restoration of ancient buildings and alleys wanted by the last Bishop of Cortona, Monsignor Franciolini.
The Church of Gesù was built by the Lay Company of Buon Gesù between 1498 and 1505 and was made up of an oratory on the lower floor and a church on the upper floor. The church had a single nave with three altars, which were embellished by three masterpieces by Luca Signorelli, displayed today in the rooms dedicated to this famous painter from Cortona: the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Immaculate Conception on the side altars and the Communion of the Apostles on the main altar. The stairway connecting the church and the oratory was built during the 17th century by Filippo Berrettini, Pietro da Cortona’s nephew. At that time Doceno, an apprentice of Vasari, frescoed the Oratory following his master’s preparatory studies.
Today the museum collects some of the most valuable works of religious art coming from the most important churches of Cortona and from the territory, which were gathered here after World War II. The museum collections open with the Roman sarcophagus (room 1), a beautiful example of Hellenistic sculpture, which was found in the fields underneath the city walls near the Cathedral. Some extraordinary and rare pieces from the 14th century Church of Santa Margherita are preserved in room 2, which once was the sacristy of the Church of Gesù : some frescoes attributed to the Lorenzetti family, the painters who frescoed the whole church, and an old painting portraying Santa Margherita with some scenes from her life, dating back to the beginning of the 14th century and related to painter Margarito d’Arezzo.
In Room 3, which originally was the Church of Gesù, the main masterpieces of the 14th and 15th centuries are displayed: the famous Annunciation and a triptych painted by Fra Angelico, the Triptych by Sassetta, the Cross by Lorenzetti and the Lady of the Assumption gives St. Thomas Her Belt by Bartolomeo della Gatta. The splendid coffered wooden roof carved in the 16th century by painter Il Mezzanotte is also to be admired. Under the altarpiece of the Annunciation there is a marble baptismal font, a work by Ciuccio di Nuccio, which originally was in the Cathedral and was moved here when the church became the Baptistery of the community of Cortona, due to the suppressions imposed by grand-duke Leopold and to other events.
Some of Luca Signorelli’s masterpieces painted for the main churches of Cortona, like the Assumption of the Virgin, are preserved in room 4, which is dedicated to this great painter. But no doubt that the most important and famous two works he signed are the Lamentation over the dead Christ and the already mentioned Communion of the Apostles.
In room 5, the last on the ground floor of the museum, magnificent works of the 17th and 18th century by Crespi, Capella and Zuccari can be admired.
Visitors can reach the lower floor of the Church of Gesù through a splendid monumental stairway that Filippo Berrettini, Pietro da Cortona’s nephew, made more than a century after the construction of the church, in 1645. For this reason it became necessary to extend the building of about three meters, as we clearly see in the oratory. On the sides of the stairway one can see the preparatory studies on cardboard for the stations of the Way of the Cross that Monsignor Franciolini, the Bishop of Cortona, commissioned from Gino Severini for the street of Santa Margherita.
At the end of the stairway, visitors can admire another masterpiece by Lorenzetti, a shaped cross belonging to the furnishings of the lower Church of Gesù, where it was found in 1945.
The lower part of the church was originally the lower oratory of the Lay Company of Buon Gesù, reserved for meetings and ceremonies of the brothers. It was smaller at the beginning and was extended on the opposite side of the altar in 1645. The room is embellished by a magnificent cycle of frescoes by Doceno with the Old Testament Sacrifices, the Transfiguration, the Descent into Limbo, the Conversion of Saul, the Virtues (1554-55), and other works of art. In the niche of the altar we find a polychrome earthenware figural group representing the Lamentation over the dead Christ, dating back to the first half of the 16th century, with the figures of the Madonna, of the Three Marys and of St. John. The wooden chancel dates back to the beginning of the 16th century: in 1517 Vincenzo di Pietro Paolo from Cortona made it with simple prospective carvings on the architrave and on the frames of the chancel back.
The last wing of the museum can be reached through a modern stairway: here we can find a small and selected group of holy vessels coming from the churches of Cortona and luckily saved from pillages and thefts. Some of them are particularly relevant: the chalice signed by Michele di Tomè, of the second half of the 14th century, coming from the Church of Santa Margherita, and the Vagnucci reliquary, made by Giusto da Firenze in 1457-58, coming from the Cathedral. For further details, please look up in the catalogue of the museum you can find at the ticket office.
The Passerini Tapestry, a unique group of vestments coming from the collections of the Passerini family and donated to the Cathedral in 1526, is really impressive. The Tapestry, made between the beginning of the 16th century and 1515, was commissioned by Cardinal Silvio Passerini to be worn by Pope Leo X de’ Medici during his visit in Cortona. It is made up of a chasuble, a dalmatica, a tunicle, a cope, two stoles, three fanons, an altar frontal, a lectern cover and a chalice bag. It was made in velvet with a laminated bottom in drawn gold and crimson and light blue silk brocading and gold and silver bouclé wefts in different sizes of Florentine manufacture. The embroideries of the altar frontal and of the cope hood have been created on the basis of some drawings by Andrea del Sarto, while those of the chasuble and of the altar frontal stole are inspired to some drawings by Raffaellino del Garbo.