Cividale del Friuli: Museo Cristiano

Baptismal font of Calixtus.

The museum next to the Duomo of Cividale del Friuli is fairly small. It consists of no more than four rooms. It would nevertheless be a pity to skip the museum, as it has beautiful Longobardic sculptural work from the eighth century on display, as well as paintings from the sixteenth century by Il Pordenone (ca. 1483-1539) and Veronese (1528-1588).

The first room is all about sculpture. Two objects immediately catch the eye. The first is the baptismal font of Calixtus, known as the Ciborio di Callisto in Italian. Calixtus was patriarch of Aquileia in the eighth century and in 737 moved the seat of the Patriarchate from Aquileia to Cividale. His baptismal font was clearly made for traditional baptisms, that is baptism by full immersion. The object consists of an octagonal plunge pool onto which a beautiful baldachin has been placed. The plunge pool is decorated with panel reliefs in the typical Longobardic style. On the panel or pluteus of Sigvald – named after the man whose name is mentioned on the panel, presumably Calixtus’ successor as patriarch – we see the symbols of the four evangelists.

Pluteus of Sigvald, with the symbols of the four evangelists.

Decorations on the baptismal font of Calixtus.

The second interesting object in the first room is the so-called altar of Ratchis. This Ratchis was first duke of the Friuli (739-744) and then king of the Longobards (744-749 and again 756-757). He had the altar made to commemorate his father Pemmo, who by the way did not get along with the aforementioned patriarch Calixtus. The altar dates from 749 and must have once been entirely painted. On the front of the object we can still spot a few traces of paint. The scene on that front is that of Christ and two angels in a mandorla that is held by another four angels. The style is similar to that of the baptismal font of Calixtus. On one of the sides the Adoration of the Magi has been depicted. My travel guide dryly remarks that Mary and Jesus do not appear to be too happy with the gifts that the Magi have brought along (“What’s a baby going to do with a pot of myrrh anyhow?”).

Altar of Ratchis.

Altar of Ratchis, Adoration of the Magi.

Sword, helmet and evangeliary.

On the walls of the first room are more sculptural works and a couple of frescoes, which are from the famous Tempietto Longobardo and the monastery of Santa Maria in Valle. The Tempietto from the eighth century – which must be counted among the highlights of Cividale del Friuli and is moreover UNESCO world heritage – was unfortunately just undergoing restoration when we visited the town (Summer of 2022). A full discussion of the building will therefore have to wait until I get a chance to actually see it. Let us now continue to the second room of the museum, where we find objects from the treasury of the Duomo that date from the tenth to the eighteenth century. An eye-catcher here is the throne from the eleventh century that was used to inaugurate the patriarchs of Aquileia between 1077 and 1412. Inside a glass case we furthermore see the sword of the patriarch Marquard of Randeck (1365-1381). Together with the helmet and evangeliary (also in the case) the sword was and is still used during a special mass that is held each year on 6 January (Epiphany) in the Duomo of Cividale, the so-called Messa dello Spadone. This has been the case since 1366, and the suppression of the Patriarchate of Aquileia in 1751 has done nothing to change the tradition.

In the third room of the museum we find the collection of paintings. The Museo Cristiano owns two late works (ca. 1584) of Paolo Caliari, more commonly known as Veronese. Veronese is of course a big name, but the two works – a Saint Rochus and a Madonna and Child crowned by angels – are not of extraordinary quality. Definitely special is the work on display of Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis, who is generally called Il Pordenone after his place of birth. His Christ and Mary Magdalene or Noli me tangere from ca. 1534 is beautiful in every respect: use of colour, composition, background details featuring buildings, mountains and water. To the right of Mary Magdalene’s flowing hair we see an Annunciation, while on the right an unknown clergyman is kneeling.

Throne of the patriarchs of Aquileia.

Noli me tangere – Il Pordenone.

The fourth room has more sculptures from various churches. There are also religious objects such as a mitre, a chasuble and a beautifully embroidered altar cloth from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. All in all, the Museo Cristiano is a museum that is ideal for a quick visit. Visitors are in and out again before they know it, but they will definitely be satisfied when they leave the building.

Sources: Bradt Travel Guide, Friuli Venezia Giulia (2019), p. 158, and the information from the Museo Cristiano.

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