The Bargello Museum, named after Palazzo del Bargello, houses an important collection of sculptures.
In the mid-thirteen hundreds, the building became the seat of the Podestà, as the highest official of city government was known at the time, and from 1574, under Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, seat of the Bargello, it was used as a place of imprisonment and execution.
In the three centuries when it was used as a prison, the larger rooms were divided into numerous cells and all the decorations were painted over.
However, in 1840 a restorer discovered a portrait of Dante in St. Mary Magdalene’s Chapel, probably painted by Giotto, and the prison was then moved to the Murate, and from 1859 to 1865 the Bargello was restored to its original state.
The Museum was first opened on the ground floor of the building, with two armoury rooms and a room for sculptures from the fourteen and fifteen hundreds.
The sculptures taken from Palazzo Vecchio were then located on the first floor, and later both sculptures in bronze and marble and the collections of majolica, amber, wax, gold, ivory, enamel and small bronzes were taken from the Uffizi, some of which were transferred to the Museum of Silverware in 1928. Other works have been donated or loaned from private collections and public institutions: the seals of the State Archive and the coins of the Mint. The donation of the collection of the antiquarian Louis Carrand, of Lyons, arrived in 1888, the Conti donation in 1886, in 1899 the Ressman donation, and in 1906 the Finachetti collection arrived, to enrich the sector of applied arts. In 1887, for the Donatello centenary, the room was used to house the artist’s works and Florentine sculptures from the fourteen hundreds.
When the building was first used as a prison, the arches of the gallery and of the balcony were filled in. The Courtyard, with arched porticoes with octagonal pillars on three sides, was built in the XIII century and enriched in the following century by the balcony and the gothic-style staircase, the latter constructed on the side without a portico by Neri di Fioravanti between 1345 and 1367. In the second half of the eighteen hundreds, the courtyard was the part of the Palace which benefited most from Mazzei's restoration: the porticoes and balcony were reopened and the coats of arms of the Podestà and of the Court of Justice, otherwise known as the Judges of the Wheel, were restored; frescoes were painted on the vaulted ceilings of the porticoes by Gaetano Bianchi depicting the banners of the districts and the coats of arms of some of the podestà.
The décor includes sculptures from Palazzo Vecchio and from the Boboli Gardens and the Castle. In the centre of the courtyard there is an attractive octagonal well and there are also some excellent statues in marble, including, for example, the six allegoric sculptures by Bartolomeo Ammannati, Giambologna’s Ocean, some bas-reliefs by Benedetto da Maiano and the so-called St. Paul’s Cannon, by Cosimo Cenni.
In 1966, the year of the infamous flood, the museum was seriously damaged and had to undergo a series of modernisations and some removals.