The suggestive actuality of the elongated form of the Ombra della sera (Shadow of the evening), or the disturbing expression on the faces of the ageing couple
figured on the Urna degli sposi (Urn of the married couple) are reason enough to visit the Guarnacci museum, one of the earliest public museums in Europe.
The beautiful palace where the Etruscan and Roman collections from Volterra are displayed along with the period design of the interior of the museum and the criteria used for the presentation of the collection, make an historical statement of a certain way of making culture.
Visitors to the museum today might have the impression of an institution with a double personality. In the oldest part of the museum the collection is exhibited in period furniture with objects often grouped together for the sole reason they are made of the same material. In the contemporary part of the museum a more modern conception is used to display a selection of the most significant works along with explanatory panels. The museum was founded in the mid-18th century in what was an epoch of intense research into Italian antiquity during which Volterra was an important cultural capital.
Mario Guarnacci (1701-1785) was a bizarre character who was fully involved in the academic circles of the 18th century. He was the founder of the first stable collection of antiquity in Volterra and was an able promoter of Volterra’s image in the lively culturalpanorama of that period. The rich Abbot Guarnacci was not only a brilliant historian, but also a collector of antiquity on par with other contemporary personalities throughout Europe. He was one of the first historians to realize that through his acquisitions he was preventing the dispersion of material from the necropolis of Volterra. By donating the fruits of his arduous and costly research to the “public of the city of Volterra”, he sanctioned the transformation of his collection from private to public ownership.
In 1877, after a series of events, the Museum was transferred from the Palazzo dei Priori and housed in its actual location in the Palazzo Desideri-Tangassi.
The director in that period, Niccolò Maffei, displayed the collection in accordance with the very latest exhibition criteria. A significant example of this is the arrangement of 600 funereal urns according to the subject represented in relief on the lower part of each case. Other objects were grouped together according to type; work in bronze, gold, glass, ivory, ceramics and so on. This method of display soon became obsolete and inadequate because of a lack of space. The palace also housed a vast library and the city archives.
More than a century later the Museum has undergone a radical transformation. Following the removal of the library and the archives to the adjacent Palazzo
Vigilanti, a more appropriate site for the conservation of the documents, the vast second floor of the palace was made available for an exhibition on the theme of arts and crafts in the Hellenistic period. The exhibition has been conceived so as to offer a meaningful itinerary from a chronological point of view, given that the Hellenistic period represents the last in Etruscan history and is a prelude to integration with the Roman State. For this reason, on the ground floor, a concise itinerary has been arranged with the scope of presenting a significant collection of material from the villanovian, oriental, archaic and classical periods.
The itinerary continues on the first floor where, as mentioned above, space is duly dedicated to the great flowering of Etruscan Volterra from the 4th to the 1st centuries B.C.
Opening hours: Open every day (excl. 1/1 and 25/12)
Mar 16 - Nov 1: 9am-7pm
Nov 2 - Mar 15: 8.30am-1.45pm
For further information: Ph.:+39 0588 86347