The magnificent Palazzo del Bargello in Florence
The Bargello is one of the most beautiful and famous medieval buildings in Florence and inside it houses one of the most important museums in the city. It is therefore no coincidence that every year it is visited by many people eager to admire its treasures. Located in the heart of the historic center of Florence, a stone’s throw from Palazzo Vecchio, with itstower (the Torre Volognana), 57 meters high, it is easily recognizable in all the views of the city.
The history of the Bargello
The history of the Bargello begins in 1250 when it became necessary to build a seat for the Capitano del Popolo, a very important political figure in the municipal system that was established in Florence. Subsequently, the palace was used as the seat of the podestà, the council of the Elders and the Bargello, hence the name of Palazzo del Bargello. But who was this Bargello? He was the head of the Guards (or of the Piazza); he was the one who handled the arrests, interrogations and death sentences.
Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Bargello also served as a prison and the bell that is located at the top of its tower, the Montanina, was famous because it rang on the occasion of dramatic events such as capital executions, calls to arms or the riots.
The conversion into a museum dates back to 1865 when the first rooms were set up with objects from the Medici armory and from Palazzo Vecchio, which at that time had become the seat of the Italian Parliament (for the uninitiated, Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy between 1865 and 1871).
The National Museum of the Bargello
The National Museum of the Bargello in Florence collects some of the most beautiful and important sculptures of the Renaissance starting from the masterpieces of Donatello and Michelangelo. Over the years it has collected works from various collections such as those of the Medici family and grand dukes or that of Louis Carrand, antiquarian from Lyon, who donated his collection of over 2,500 works to the Bargello. Visiting the museum you can admire works of various kinds and in addition to the statues there are bronzes, majolica, medals, ivories, tapestries, seals and much more.
The first stop of the visit to the Bargello museum is the beautiful central courtyard which in my opinion represents one of the most beautiful places in the whole city. Built in the thirteenth century, the courtyard is surrounded by a magnificent portico that extends on three sides while on the fourth side there is a delightful Gothic-style staircase from the mid-fourteenth century created by Neri di Fioravanti. In addition to the architectural beauties, in the courtyard there are some important statues made by Bartolomeo Ammannati, Giambologna and many others.
Sala di Michelangelo
Also on the ground floor we find the medieval sculpture room which often hosts temporary exhibitions and the Sala di Michelangelo. Here are preserved some sculptural works by the great master: the Bacchus, the Pitti Tondo, the David-Apollo and the Portrait of Brutus. In addition to Michelangelo’s sculptures, the room contains the works of many other sixteenth-century masters such as Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, Baccio Bandinelli and Ammannati.
The history of the statue of Bacchus deserves a closer look, because it is the story of how a scam contributed to Michelangelo’s fame. In 1496 another work by Michelangelo, the Sleeping Cupid, had been sold to Cardinal Riario, a great collector of antiquities, as a classic work. The scam, probably carried out without the artist’s knowledge, was successful both because the work had been artificially aged, but above all because the statue fully respected the beauty standards of ancient works. Once the deception was discovered, the cardinal sent one of his men to find out who was the author of this work to commission another one (the Bacchus). The end of the story is a surprise, because the cardinal decided to give up the statue which was bought by others.
Sala degli Avori
Going up to the first floor we find a series of truly magnificent rooms, both for the quality of the works on display and for the beauty of the rooms. The first is the Sala degli Avori so called because it is intended to house the ivory works from the Carrand collection. In addition to these you can also admire some paintings, wooden statues and other artifacts in wood, bone and leather.
Cappella del Podestà
One of the main points of interest of the visit is the Cappella del Podestà, also known as Cappella della Maddalena. Entirely frescoed by Giotto’s workshop, the chapel preserves the earliest and probably most likely portrait of Dante Alighieri that has survived. The Supreme Poet is represented with the Divine Comedy in his hand and is inserted in a group of elected people destined for Paradise.
Sala di Donatello
Also on the first floor we find the Carrand Room, the room dedicated to the Islamic Collection and the Sala delle Maioliche but the most awaited is undoubtedly the Sala di Donatello. Here we find the most famous works of the Florentine artist such as the Marzocco, the lion holding the shield with the lily, one of the symbols of Florence, the valuable San Giorgio from the Church of Orsanmichele, the Amore-Attis and the famous David. In reality there are two of David in this room: one in marble made in his youth and the one in bronze that everyone knows… I hope!
In addition to the works of Donatello, in this room you can admire the works of other great Tuscan masters, such as the bronzes by Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti and the majolica by Luca della Robbia.
Sala del Verrocchio
Going up to the second floor you will find the Sala del Verrocchio, the rooms dedicated to Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia, the Sala dei Bronzetti, the Sala del Medagliere and the Sala dell’Armeria. Andrea del Verrocchio, master of Leonardo da Vinci, was an important painter, sculptor and goldsmith. His version of the David in bronze is preserved at the Bargello, made about 30 years after that of Donatello. Other works in the room were made by Antonio del Pollaiolo, Benedetto da Maiano, Mino da Fiesole and Antonio Rossellino.
For all information on timetables and tickets, I recommend you visit the museum’s official website.