The Palazzo Vescovile of Arezzo, in Piazza del Duomo, is the residence of the bishop of the diocese of Arezzo, Cortona and Sansepolcro. The imposing building, the result of continuous renovations over the centuries, was originally commissioned by bishop Guglielmino degli Ubertini, who moved here in 1256 from the seat in Via Seteria, where the bishops of Arezzo had settled permanently following Innocent III’s papal bull of 1203, which had invited them to move within the city walls, abandoning the bishop’s citadel of Pionta, from where they emanated an influence that went beyond the religious sphere.
The church of San Gregorio Magno already stood in the chosen area, which was incorporated into the palace and became its chapel. At that time, opposite the Bishopric, there was the church of San Pietro Maggiore, elevated to an urban cathedral at the beginning of the 13th century, despite its modest size. With the legacy of Pope Gregory X, who died in Arezzo in 1276 on his return from the Council of Lyons, work began on a new, much larger cathedral.
In 1478, at the request of bishop Gentile de’ Becchi, the Florentine artist Bartolomeo della Gatta designed a scenographic loggia to connect the bishop’s seat and the cathedral. The palace underwent other subsequent interventions that gave it its current appearance. The most substantial was the one commissioned by Bishop Pietro Usimbardi starting in 1595, which unfortunately caused the loss of the church of San Gregorio Magno. Other substantial works that affected the building were those of 1710 at the behest of Bishop Benedetto Falconcini. In that phase, the loggia was filled in, to be transformed into a new wing of the Bishopric.
Since 2011, part of the rooms on the ground floor have been the prerogative of the MuDAS – Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, which was officially established in 1963 by exploiting some of the rooms adjoining the cathedral sacristy. After being closed in the 1970s in order to implement a more organic arrangement and expansion, the collection was officially reopened to the public in 1985 with the layout curated by Anna Maria Maetzke. The museum housed the masterpieces already gathered for the great 1950 exhibition entitled “Exhibition of Sacred Art of the Diocese and Province from the 11th to the 18th century”, in addition to works from churches that had disappeared or been sold to private individuals, from the headquarters of suppressed religious companies and institutions, and in general from all those places in the vast Arezzo diocese where the safety, conservation and valorisation of artistic heritage was no longer guaranteed.
With the 2011 move to the bishop’s palace, the museum was structured in five halls that house paintings, sculptures and liturgical objects such as antiphonaries, hymnals, chalices, monstrances, shrines, thuribles, reliquaries and crosses from different periods.
From the MuDAS, the tour moves to the first floor of the bishop’s palace, the noble palace with the function of the bishop’s residence and formal meetings, which is accessed via a staircase. The Vestibule is the reception room that introduces the visitor to the main saints and places of worship in the Arezzo area, painted on the walls.
The museum floor offers various rooms frescoed between 1606 and 1609 by Teofilo Torri with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The climax is reached in the monumental Hall of Justice, used for ecclesiastical assemblies and events, in which allegories of the deadly sins are also depicted. Also frescoed by Torri is the Palatine Chapel with the “Stories of Jesus and St. Peter”.
Three other rooms that can be visited are marked by the colours of the walls – red, green and yellow – and house a varied picture gallery with works ranging from the 16th to the 19th century. Finally, the so-called Camera dei Papi, (the Popes’ Room) is worth mentioning. It was used to house popes visiting Arezzo, and in recent decades hosted John Paul II in 1993 and Benedict XVI in 2012. The neoclassical frescoes from 1794 in the room are by Pietro Benvenuti and depict allegories of peace and justice.