One of the most important buildings of medieval Florence
The tour of the Bargello Museum allows you to have a comprehensive idea of Renaissance art in Florence. It is in fact not only through painting that one can come to appreciate that great season of cultural renewal known as the Renaissance, but also and above all thanks to sculpture. If you come away from Florence without seeing the works of Donatello, Giambologna and Benvenuto Cellini, you would have only a partial idea of what Renaissance art was for this city.
Visiting the Bargello Museum also means immersing oneself in the lesser-known history of Florence, the one linked to the medieval era, when the town was an independent Commune which, thanks to its class of enterprising merchants, was beginning to assert itself as a great political and commercial power in Tuscany; at that time, the Bargello had an important function in Florence, since it was the Podestà’s palace.
The elegant courtyard
Also in the Bargello is where some of the most dramatic events in Florentine history took place, such as the public execution of some of the conspirators who took part in the famous Pazzi’s conspiracy, at the time when the building had become the police headquarters town and also served as a prison.
The visit of the complex starts from its elegant courtyard, where we will already have the opportunity to appreciate some important sculptural works, starting with Giambologna’s Neptune (originally in the Boboli Garden), or the elegant fountain by Bartolomeo Ammannati with the representation of Juno together with other allegorical figures that were made to furnish the Salone dei Cinquecento.
The Carrand Collection and the astonishing Donatello’s hall
Going up to the first floor of the building, we discover the wonderful Carrand Collection, a series of precious paintings, ivory sculptures and jewellery objects that in the nineteenth-century were purchased by the French collector Louis Carrand who, then donating them to the museum, went on creating the first nucleus of Bargello works. Carrand also wanted a medieval-looked refurbishment for the rooms of this building, a thing that has certainly helped to create a suggestive atmosphere to the visitor.
Adjacent to the Carrand rooms is the Chapel of the Palace where, in a fourteenth-century fresco by the Giotto school, it is possible to recognize one of the earliest preserved Dante Alghieri’s portrayals. After seeing the Palace Chapel, we go to visit what is the highlight of the museum: the Donatello’s hall.
This imposing space was the ancient Podestà’s hall and today appears as a majestic environment in which some of the greatest Florentine quattrocento sculptural masterpieces are kept, such as the David by Donatello, the San Giorgio – also by Donatello –, the David by Andrea del Verrocchio, and the beautiful glazed terracottas by Luca della Robbia. Leaving the room, we will be in a loggia known as del Verone, a space where you can admire the beautiful bronze birds made by Giambologna and destined for some of the Medici family’s villas. By accessing the second floor, we will have the opportunity to see the precious delicacy of the Dama col mazzolino (the Lady with small bunch of flowers), a celebrated marble work by Andrea del Verrocchio.
The masterpieces by Michelangelo and Bernini
The other important artist present in the Bargello collections – an absolute protagonist of Baroque sculpture that you would never have thought to find in Florence – is the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Of the Roman sculptor we can admire here the bust of Costanza Bonarelli, a marble work whose rendering of the woman’s portrait – who was the artist’s lover – is characterized by a great sensual charge. From the second floor we return to the ground floor to visit the last room of the museum, the one dedicated to Michelangelo. It is here where we will be able to admire some works by the great Florentine artist, including his first full relief sculpture – the Bacchus – together with other works, such as the Tondo Pitti and the Apollo-David.
The works by Benvenuto Cellini and Giambologna
The Michelangelo’s room also preserves important masterpieces of sixteenth-century Florentine sculpture, such as the works by Benvenuto Cellini. Of this artist – one of the most important European sculptors and goldsmiths of that time – we will see the extremely elegant Ganymede and the original pedestal of the Perseus located in Piazza della Signoria.
We conclude the tour of the Bargello Museum with the works by Giambologna. Artist of Belgian origin – whose name was Italianized from the French “Jean de Boulogne” –, Giambologna was one of the undisputed protagonists of Florentine art in the second half of the sixteenth-century. Of this sculptor, able to master with great skill both marble and bronze, we will see the statues of Mercury and Florence subjugating Pisa. The latter is a work that, thanks to its ‘screwed’ line, is the emblem of a sculpture evolution from the initial ‘frontal’ models towards more and more complex elaborations, even getting to prelude what will be the spectacular Baroque sculpture results in the following century.
The rooms are many, the works of art are wonderful: as you will see, the tour in the Bargello Museum remains an unmissable experience if you want to ‘savour’ the very essence of Florentine history and, above all, of Renaissance plastic art.