The Tuscan Guide

What's on in and around Firenze


The Bargello Museum of Florence

written by Diane Warner from Tuscan Talent

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It was a warm spring morning when we arrived at Florence’s busy Santa Maria Novella station. There’s always a twinge of excitement when you find yourself in the Tuscan capitol, a city heaving with glorious Renaissance architecture and art works, and tourists. Despite the morning haze, Brunelleschi’s magnificent terracotta dome was clearly visible and making our way towards it, helped by a local map we soon found ourselves in the Piazza della Signoria.
To our right we could see the queues already forming outside the famous and much loved Uffizi gallery, while on display in front of us were various statues including Michelangelo’s
David. However, these are mostly copies and we decided to forgo joining the lengthening queue and instead head for a museum which is often overlooked by the tourist, but is to great Renaissance sculpture what the Uffizi is to the paintings of the masters, the Bargello.

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With the Palazzo Vecchio, on our right, we walked down the Via de’ Gondi making a left turn into Via del Proconsolo and suddenly, there it was on our right, a large rather austere looking Renaissance palazzo with battlements, seeming rather out of place in this narrow street. It is the oldest public building in Florence and had once been a fortress; then in the 16
th century a prison, as well as the living quarters for the chief of police.

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Over the years the building was neglected and it wasn’t until Giotto’s
Portrait of Dante and frescoes attributed to the great artist were discovered in the chapel during the 19th century that interest was awakened and restoration work begun. In 1865 it opened as a national museum with Italy’s largest collection of Renaissance sculptures on display.

The entrance hall, with walls covered by coats of arms from another time leads out into a large, open courtyard that is both impressive and tranquil.

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There are more coats of arms and various interesting 16th Tuscan century statues lining the walls.

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Just off the courtyard is the
Michelangelo Room, where the marble statue of Bacchus caught my eye. It’s an early work, commissioned in 1496 and is a reminder of Michelangelo’s creative genius. The obvious drunken state, the attention to detail from every angle and the beauty of this important Renaissance work are spell bounding.

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Pre Michelangelo, during the 15th century, two artistic giants were living and working in Florence; the architect Brunelleschi and Donatello who was to sculpture what Brunelleschi was to buildings. The sweeping open staircase leads to a loggia and to the right is a large hall now called the Donatello Room, housing some of his finest works, including two versions of David

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This early work
was one of his first commissions, created in 1409 in marble. The elegantly draped figure with the head of the vanquished Goliath at his feet is Gothic-Classical in style and rather different from a later version created in the 1440s. I love this piece and wonder how Donatello and later Michelangelo were able to forge such delicate and intrinsic detail out of a piece of stone!
Donatello’s bronze
David was commissioned by the Medici family and is the first free - standing nude sculpture to have been created since Roman times. Despite holding the sword with which he has just slain Goliath, the head lying at his feet, the figure has a remarkable softness and a stance that is very feminine.

Again the attention to detail is remarkable and Vasari found it hard to believe that
it was not moulded over the living form.
There are many other fine art works and collections stored in this museum, including
include several examples of Roman and Byzantine ivories, medieval glazes, Limoges porcelain and relief panels formed by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti. These last two were created for a competition for the second door of the Baptistery, showing Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. Ghiberti was the winner with this beautifully composed piece, full of life and serenity.

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The Bargello is not open every day so it is worth checking opening times on-line before visiting. For art lovers, a visit to this wonderful museum is a must!

Diane Warner
of Tuscan Talent