The Bargello: Not Just an Art Museum

Donatello's David at the Bargello

All the museums in Florence are packed during the summer, but on Sunday mornings, the Bargello is nearly empty. The National Bargello Museum is housed in the medieval former Palace of the Captain of the People and became a sculpture museum in 1886, the fifth centenary of Donatello’s birth. Donatello is considered the first Renaissance sculptor and made significant strides in the effort for naturalism as seen during the Renaissance.

The Bargello is one of my favorite museums because of the wide variety of artifacts and sculptures. I like it, too, because the lenient staff lets me take photographs, a rare occurrence in Florence, although even these patient guards have their limits. I lingered in photographing the audition pieces for the Gates of Paradise and was scolded from across the room.

The museum houses one of Michelangelo’s first sculptures, Bacchus, in a room on the first floor directly around the corner from the entrance to the museum. Cardinal Raffaele Riario commissioned Bacchus during the Renaissance between 1497 and 1499, but the Cardinal disliked the figure and sold the sculpture to his banker, Jacopo Galli, who appreciated Bacchus’ drunken gaze and stance.

When I took art history classes in college, I studied the first nude of the Renaissance, Donatello’s David, which is on the second floor of the museum. David, the biblical figure and mascot of Florence, stands resting with his sword in hand and his foot on Goliath’s head. The museum has a large collection of Donatello, Ammannati, and Giambologna sculptures. Also notable is Giambologna’s Mercury on the first floor of the museum.

The Bargello also has an eclectic collection of silverware, keys, tapestry, furniture, tobacco pipes, religious relics and jewelry. I love cameo and antique jewelry, and I found the jewelry at the Bargello intriguing because of the beautiful craftsmanship and antiquity—some of it dating back to the Middle Ages. When looking at the frescoed vaulted arches of the ceilings and through the gorgeous windows into the courtyard below, it is hard to believe that prisoners were stored in these rooms from 1502 to 1857.

Cameo jewelry dating back to the Middle Ages at the Bargello

Each July, the Bargello hosts the Florence Dance Festival with a stage set up in the interior courtyard. It is also host to operas, orchestras, and plays; a schedule of events can be found at the ticket counter of the museum and on advertisements throughout Florence.

The Bargello is open 8:15 to 14:00 every day, Via del Pronscolo 4, museum tickets cost 4 Euro, event tickets are under 25 Euro and discounted for students.

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