Last week, I stopped by Florence’s museum of sculpture, the Bargello Museum. The Bargello is a great small museum to visit – housed in the castle-like fortress that served as town hall until the sixteenth century when it became an infamous prison. The building served as a prison until the 1860’s and opened as the sculpture and ceramic museum in 1886. With its beautiful courtyard and tower, the museum offers variety to visitors, and its size makes the Bargello a manageable stop for families with children.
Although the collection is relatively small, it is full of important renaissance sculpture – here you can compare Donatello and Michelangelo in close proximity. There are also many terrra cotta reliefs by the della Robbia family on display and a comprehensive collection of Italian ceramics. Donatello’s famous depiction of David is housed at the Bargello and is currently undergoing restoration. This David is the first free standing sculpture, and first nude male sculpture since antiquity. Usually, works under restoration are taken out of the collection and are brought to the closed workshops to undergo whatever cleaning, restoration and repair is needed. Because this David is really the star of the collection, the museum feared falling attendance if it was taken out of view, hence the museum administrators have decided to restore it in the open. For the next several weeks, David will be lying on his side as the restorers work to make some repairs. It’s quite interesting to witness a public restoration. Also at the Bargello at this time, a special exhibit honoring Vincenzo Danti, sixteenth century sculptor from Perugia.
The fall is a perfect time to visit, because there is no air conditioning at the Bargello. Like many Italian museums, the Bargello is experiencing great financial difficulty at the present time, and they just don’t have the funds to make the kind of improvements they need, which is unfortunate. A piece about the difficulties of Italian arts organizations appeared in the New York Times today: Wanted – Money for Italy’s Starved Cultural Institutions – NYTimes.com