The monastic complex dedicated to San Matteo was commissioned by Ildeberto degli Albizi and his wife Donna Teuta del fu Omicio, through the validation of two separate deeds, one dated 1027 and the other of 1028. The deed dated 18th May 1027 was signed by Donna Teuta who, with the consent of her husband, ordered the building of a female Benedictine monastery on a land owned by her, named after the apostle and evangelist St. Matthew. The place chosen for the monastery was Soarta, a place near the Arno river which included an area located on the right bank. The convent is organized around the quadrangular cloister of medieval origin, and was renovated in the middle of the 16th century as the inscription attests, with the construction of the Renaissance portico.
The history of the Museum starts from the culture of antiquarian recovery which was very alive in Pisa since the eighteenth century, which is identified with the first nucleus of “primitive” paintings collected by the canon of the Cathedral Sebastiano Zucchetti (1796). The collection left in use for the School of Drawing, in the following century was increased with other pictorial and sculptural works, also recovered through acquisitions from state property made in the Napoleonic and post-unification eras, with the gradual confluence in the local Academy of Fine Arts. It’s only in 1893 when Iginio Benvenuto Supino set up the new prestigious Civic Museum at the convent of San Francesco, of which he also compiled a precious catalogue. Finally, in 1949, the new National Museum was created with the collections of the former Civic Museum and further increases and it takes place in the restored convent of San Matteo in Soarta. Today only some of the original structures of the ancient medieval monastery can be identified, mainly in the internal rooms. The current entrance facade to the museum, overlooking the river Arno, of neoclassical inspiration, probably dates back to the end of the Eighteenth century or the beginning of the Nineteenth century.
The National Museum of San Matteo is the most important museum of Pisan painting and sculpture with real masterpieces ranging from the 12th to the 16th century, coming from churches and convents in the city and the surrounding area. It preserves the largest collection of ceramic basins in the Mediterranean area, fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts, as well as the splendid section dedicated to painted crosses, important objects of worship and prayer. The sculpture collection includes works from the Middle Ages to the 16th century, among which evidence from the “Romanesque” period and masterpieces from Giovanni Pisano to Donatello stand out. The painting collection is of capital importance: over 200 works created starting from the 12th century by important artists such as Giunta Pisano, Simone Martini (author of the magnificent polyptych), Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Gentile da Fabriano and Ghirlandaio.