Museo Nazionale di San Matteo ★★

The room of painted crosses, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa, Italy (Photo by Luca Aless)
The room of painted crosses

A treasury of Gothic and early Renaissance paintings by the Arno

To see the collection of Pisa’s only significant painting museum in chronological order, head immediately out into the pretty brick cloister and cross to ascend the central staircase on the opposite side. (If you mistake doors, you’ll be in for a whole lot of medieval and Renaissance painted plates.)

Poorly lit and sporadically labeled, the collections are constantly being rearranged, but you should be able to find the masterpieces amid the shuffle.

The first room is a veritable Golgotha of 12th- and 13th-century Crucifixions, including two by Giunta Pisano, one of which may be the first signed artwork since antiquity.

Upstairs are some Madonna wallflowers and an 1168 illuminated Bible from the Certosa at Calci.

The interior corridor has ancient and medieval marble works along with early 15th-century giant painted wood figures by Francesco di Valdambrino. 

The first large room of paintings has many good 14th- and 15th-century works by Turino Vanni, Taddeo di Bartolo, and Spinello Aretino, plus a pair of Agnolo Gaddi polyptychs.

One of the prides of the collections is the Sienese master Simone Martini’s polyptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints.

In a side room they keep the originals of the Giovanni and Nino Pisano sculptures from Santa Maria della Spina, including Nino’s masterpiece, Madonna del Latte, a very human mother in Gothic curving grace who smiles down at her nursing baby.

Other star works are a St. Paul by Masaccio, the greenishly aged Madonna dell’Umilità by Gentile da Fabriano, and a Madonna col Bambino by Fra’ Angelico.

The Donatello gilded bronze reliquary Bust of St. Rossone (1427) is an important sculptural step from medieval to Renaissance style and is held by some to be a self-portrait.

There's also a pallid St. Anne, Mary, and Jesus by Benozzo Gozzoli painted while he was in town to do the now lost Camposanto frescoes; notice that the tiny kneeling donors (who paid for the painting) are, for a change, women.

The collections peter out after a Lorenzo di Credi Adoration and a pair of Domenico Ghirlandaio Madonna Enthroned with Saints—it isn't hard to tell which of these two was mostly finished by his assistants. 

Photo gallery
  • The room of painted crosses, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo by Luca Aless)
  • The first signed artwork since antiquity, a Crucifix by Giunta Pisano, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • San Lussorio by Donatello, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • St. Paul (1426) by Masaccio, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna del Latte, from Santa Maria della Spina, by Andrea Pisano, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Polyptych of Santa Catalina by Simone Martini, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna of Humility (1415–16) by Gentile da Fabriano, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Madonna dei Mercanti by Barnaba da Modena, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Polyptych of St. Dominic (1344–45) by Francesco Traini, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The cloisters, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Madonna and Child with Two Angels (Madonna of Humility) (1450–52) by the Master Of The Castello Nativity, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Sculptures from Santa Maria della Spina, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
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Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).