The museum is located at the ancient Monastery of Santa Chiara which later became a conservatory for the daughters of well-bred families, and more recently a middle school.
The museum complex, modified by a series of restructurings from the 17th to the 19th century, was finally renovated in the 1980s and 1990s. A group of carefully designed spaces for exhibits was created, including the Archaeological Museum, the Spezieria di Santa Fina, and the Raffaele De Grada Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Archaeological Museum houses noteworthy artifacts dating back to San Gimignano’s earliest history, from the Archaic Etrsucan Period through to the 18th century. Exhibitions are divided into two sections: one is dedicated to Etruscan and Roman art, with artifacts from settlements and necropolises unearthed in the local territory (such as Pugiano, Cellole, and La Ripa) from the the 7th century B.C. to the 1st century A.D.; the other section displays the products of artisans in crafts such as glasswork and ceramics, which thrived in the city from the Middle Ages on.
The Spezieria di Santa Fina, annexed in 1253 to the Hospital of the same name founded in the mid-1200s, offers an ample collection of equipment and furnishings from the city’s ancient health institutions. The exhibition recreates the original work and herbal storage stations of the pharmacy, one of the oldest in Tuscany, divided into the “cucina” (kitchen) where medicines were prepared, and the “bottega” (shop) where the products were sold. The remedies were kept in ceramic and glass containers of the highest quality. Such vessels dating from the 15th to the 18th century are still on display, complete with their medicinal herbs. Visitors follow the history of the drugs, or better yet, the “medicaments”, and learn about healing activities traditionally carried out in the spezieria, the old apothecary. Many ancient tinctures are exhibited, such as scorpion oil, along with ingredients used in preparing medicine, including mandragora and precious stones.
The Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art is named after Raffaele De Grada (1885 – 1957), a noted Milanese painter who, after travelling throughout Europe, chose to make San Gimignano his home. The museum is located in the ancient Monastery of Santa Chiara. Raffaele de Grada began to frequent the town in the Valdelsa in 1915 after marrying Magda Ceccarella, a native of San Gimignano. On display in the rooms of the museum are many works that are noteworthy not only because of their artistic value but also because of the profound bond that grew up between the artist and the town. Opening in 2002 under the curatorship of Enrico Crispolti, the permanent collection brings together works of art from 19th-century Tuscany and from the 20th century. Visitors may explore two monographic rooms that are dedicated to Niccolò Cannicci and to Raffaele De Grada after viewing the impressive surreal canvasses by Giannetto Fieschi. The museum continues with works that were added to the collection starting in the 1970s thanks to the Premio De Grada (an award won by such notables as Guttuso, Sassu and Vacchi), and moves on to the exposition called Grande Adesione—Great Adhesion (1985), curated byAndrea Del Guercio and dedicated to abstract art and design, and to new approaches to painting which, thanks to later initiatives, have enriched the gallery with donations since the beginning of the 2000s.
The recent bequest of the Pacchiani Collection has enriched the gallery with Italian paintings from the 1930s and 1980s, created by such celebrated artists as Casorati, Campigli, Carrà, De Chirico, Sironi, Soffici, Mafai, Morlotti and Adami. The gallery also serves as the most important exhibition space in the city, for it is here that frequent temporary shows are held to exhibit 19th-century, 20th-century and contemporary art.