The premises of the museum are in the ancient “Spedale Nuovo”, built in mid 13th century by will of Pope Alexander IV to be a refuge for pilgrims. The hospital had to record the reconciliation between Pisa and the Church after the excommunication of the city during the wars between the Church and the Emperor, to whom Pisa was faithful. The building was part of the hospital until 1969, when it was decided to renovate and use it as seat of the Museo delle Sinopie.
Why was it built ? On 27th July 1944 a grenade shot by American artillery set fire to the roof of the Cemetery. Molten lead poured over the frescos on the walls. At the time it was thought the only remedy to save these paintings was to strip them off the walls. This operation revealed the sinopias, the preparatory drawings in red ochre (called “Sinopias”) underneath the frescos. Because of their vulnerability, they were stripped off and displayed in the new museum.
This is the largest collection of medieval drawings in the world. We perceive the hand of the artist working in the full of his creativity. The preparatory drawings of the “Triumph of Death” (in the Cemetery) and later cycles are also on display in the museum.