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Museo del Bargello information
It was behind the stark exterior of Palazzo del Bargello, Florence's earliest public building, that the podestà meted out justice from the late 13th century until 1502. Today the building safeguards Italy's most comprehensive collection of Tuscan Renaissance pieces and some of Michelangelo's best early works.
Michelangelo was just 21 when a cardinal commissioned him to create the drunken grape-adorned Bacchus (1496-97), displayed in Bargello's downstairs Sala di Michelangelo . Unfortunately the cardinal didn't like the result and sold it to a banker. Other Michelangelo works to look out for here include the marble bust of Brutus (c 1539-40), the David/Apollo from 1530-32 and the large, uncompleted roundel of the Madonna and Child with the Infant St John (1503-05, aka the Tondo Pitti).
After Michelangelo left Florence for the final time in 1534, sculpture was dominated by Baccio Bandinelli (his 1551 Adam and Eve , created for the duomo , is displayed in the Sala di Michelangelo) and Benvenuto Cellini (look for his playful 1548-50 marble Ganimede in the same room).
On the 1st floor, to the right of the staircase, is the Sala di Donatello . Here, in the majestic Salone del Consiglio Generale where the city's general council met, works by Donatello and other early-15th-century sculptors can be admired. Originally on the facade of Chiesa di Orsanmichele and now within a tabernacle at the hall's far end, Donatello's wonderful St George (1416-17) brought a new sense of perspective and movement to Italian sculpture. Also look for the bronze bas-reliefs created for the Baptistry doors competition by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti.
Yet it is Donatello's two versions of David , a favourite subject for sculptors, which really fascinate: Donatello fashioned his slender, youthful dressed image in marble in 1408 and his fabled bronze between 1440 and 1450. The latter is extraordinary – the more so when you consider it was the first freestanding naked statue to be sculpted since classical times.
Criminals received their last rites before execution in the palace's 1st-floor Cappella del Podestà , also known as the Mary Magdalene Chapel, where Hell and Paradise are frescoed on the walls, as are stories from the lives of Mary of Egypt, Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist. These remnants of frescoes by Giotto were not discovered until 1840, when the chapel was turned into a storeroom and prison.
The 2nd floor moves into the 16th century with a superb collection of terracotta pieces by the prolific della Robbia family, including some of their best-known works, such as Andrea's Ritratto idealizia di fanciullo (Bust of a Boy; c 1475) and Giovanni's Pietà (1514). Instantly recognisable, Giovanni's works are more elaborate and flamboyant than either father Luca's or cousin Andrea's, using a larger palette of colours.