Founded in the late nineteenth century to bring together objects and works of art related to the life and veneration of St. Anthony, the Museo Antoniano was extensively renovated and then re-opened in 1995, on the eight-hundredth anniversary of the saint’s birth. Nowadays the museum houses a wealth of artistic treasures created over the centuries either for the Basilica or for the Venerated Tomb of St. Anthony. These include paintings, sculptures, plaster-casts, holy vestments, tapestries and gold- and silverware. The veritable masterpieces on display include: the lunette fresco which Mantegna painted for the main door of the Basilica; fifteenth-century wooden intarsia work; a priceless Navicella [incense-holder in the form of a small ship] by a sixteenth-century German silversmith; altarpieces by Tiepolo, Carpaccio and Piazzetta; rare liturgical vestments manufactured in eighteenth-century Lyons. In 2015 the Museum collections were further enhanced by the addition of a permanent exhibition dedicated to “Donatello at the Basilica of St. Anthony”. Comprising information panels, photographs and plaster casts of original works, this enables victors to get a much closer view of the masterpieces which the famous Florentine artist created for the Basilica.
The exhibits also include a plaster cast of the bust of Gattamelata which has a special protective coating; this means that visitors can actually touch it, so the visually-impaired have the chance to enjoy the feel of one of Donatello’s masterpieces. The Museum of Popular Devotion contains the ex-votos given to the basilica by the faithful when thanking the saint for graces received. On display are also some copies of famous reliquaries which bear witness to the basilica’s centuries-old history; these include a copy – donated to the Museum in the city of Lisbon in 1968 – of an an original donated by Pope Leo XIII (now in the Vatican Museums). Among the curiosities in the museum is a piece of Chinese silk painted with a Mandarin translation of Si quaeris miracula [‘If you are in search of miracles..’ a prayer written in honour of St. Anthony].