With so many museums in Florence it’s a shame that people don’t often venture beyond the Uffizi or Accademia. While these two heavy hitters certainly deserve all the credit they get, I also like to spend time visiting less-frequented museums. One in particular in Florence is the Bargello, which is quite the breath of fresh air as opposed to the crowds that the others draw to see all the Madonna with Child paintings in the Medici’s world-class collection or to get that photo of Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring David.
The Museo Nazionale del Bargello is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating back to 1255. Its name refers to both the structure (from the Latin word bargillus for “castle” or “fortified tower”) and the head of police who once resided here. If the walls could talk they would have quite the tale to tell as the Bargello has served various other functions over the years including a civic meeting place, arsenal and even prison before opening as the first national museum in a unified Italy during the mid-19th century.
What makes this museum truly special is what it houses – one of the largest collections of Italian Renaissance sculptures, showcasing the who’s who of the period – Michelangelo, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Bernini and more. Notable works range from the “other” David (a bronze sculpture, often credited as the first freestanding nude male of the Renaissance) to two panels entered by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi for the famous Baptistery door competition in 1401.
The two-story building itself is also a treat to explore, anchored by a distinctive tower reminiscent of the nearby Palazzo Vecchio and an airy courtyard that features a menagerie of statues under its portico and charm-like coats of arms adorning the walls that lead you up to the first floor balcony. The courtyard is what drew me into this museum in the first place and proved to be the perfect place to linger.