We re-visited the little museum a few days ago: every time we are impressed all over again -- and shake our heads in dismay that it gets too few visitors. If you are in Pienza, don't miss it!!
Pienza is famous for its renaissance piazza and cathedral, for its scenery (and food!), but there is more. This museum has the great good fortune to hold treasures of the early Italian renaissance provided by Pope Pius II (pope 1458-1464) to his newly-built cathedral. There are magnificent works of great renaissance goldsmiths, works that in their day were valued more than the paintings we so much admire today -- the splendid bishop's pastoral staff illustrated here, for instance, and the huge reliquary head of Saint Andrew made originally for a prominent place in St. Peter's at the Vatican in Rome, no less. There is an astonishing cope ('piviale') or bishop's ceremonial cloak from about 1300, embroidered in England as a royal gift, one of the works of so-called 'opus anglicanum' that were among the greatest artistic luxuries of their times -- few of which remain, in great collections such as the Victoria and Albert in London, but among them this Pienza cope takes pride of place. It has just recently been gently cleaned and put into a new display, beautifully lit for seeing its numerous fascinating figures in gold thread and subtle colours: that is what we went to see, and it alone is worth a visit.
But the museum as a whole, its 'ensemble', is more than the sum of even such splendid parts. Its diverse paintings illustrate the development and history of medieval-to-renaissance art not only in period -- that one can see elsewhere too, although often smothered by the sheer bulk on view -- but also in the different types of artworks, for varying purposes from monumental crosses hung high in churches' naves to delicious small triptychs meant for the personal devotion of wealthy patrons, from grand altarpieces (or 'pale') to a very rare surviving portable folding altarpiece with scenes patterned on Duccio's huge altarpiece for the Siena cathedral. All the forms of late-medieval and early renaissance art ... paintings, sculpture, goldsmithery, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, emroidered papal vestments ... can be appreciated together, more as they were appreciated and understood in their own times than in the nineteenth-century-model-museums (however wonderful they may be) still separating painting, sculpture, and so-called 'decorative arts' into distinct curatorial empires: No headline-grabbing Michelangelo, no Leonardo, no Botticelli, admittedly: but a remarkable collection well worth a contemplative hour (or more).
All brought together in the first floor rooms of a small fifteenth century palazzo, simply renovated (with modern security), entered through a lovely, peaceful cortile (courtyard) just off Pienza's main piazza. But it is too easy to miss: the name seems fusty, its entry is too-discreetly marked, unadvertised and linked with a town tourist information office, and glancing through the entry portal gives no hint of what may be found within. Nevertheless, don't just pass by: SEE IT !!
Here is a helpful link: http://www.museiinmostra.it/MuseoPienza.html
[ Photo image from http://www.museiinmostra.it/MuseoPienza.html ]