Museums, whether they are about science, history or art, provide a fantastic service to the community. They give us a chance to educate ourselves through visual learning and by actually immersing ourselves in a subject, instead of reading about it.
Located on 5401 Bay Shore road, right in front of the bay, is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
The museum was built by John Ringling. It opened to the public in 1931. Ringling was also one of the five brothers which operated the famous circus often called, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
“The couple bought property here in 1911, built a home in the 1920s and then built an art museum,” said Assistant Director of Academic Affairs David Berry. “He left it to the people of Florida when he died in 1936.”
Visitors can view art collections that come from European, American and Asian backgrounds, as well as circus material from Ringling’s past, which is located in a separate building.
“The European collection goes from antiquity to present day, the American collections are particularly strong in modern and contemporary art, and the Asian material also spans centuries,” said Berry. “We have an extraordinary range of circus material. There’s a railcar that is 80 feet long, circus carriages and a collection of circus posters as well as other material.”
The museum obtains their collections and exhibits through donations and purchases. A lot of the pieces showcased inside the museum came from the Ringlings and that set the foundation for the rest of the collections.
“It’s different collections throughout the year,” said Berry.
One thing that makes the museum stand out from others is that Ringling built it to replicate a European style of architecture. In the courtyard of the museum, one can see various replicas of Greek and Roman culture. This aesthetic includes a bronze duplicate of Michelangelo’s David. The statue stands against a beautiful backdrop of palm trees and the Sarasota Bay. It’s a sight that is seen as soon as museum goers open the doors to the courtyard.
“The two historic buildings, the house [Ca’ d’Zan] and the art museum, reflect the architecture of the Italian Renaissance,” said Berry. “It’s a circus impresario’s take on the Italian Renaissance.”
The house that the Ringlings built, Ca’ d’Zan, is an exquisite building that represents a Venetian Gothic style vibe in its architecture. The construction of the house finished in 1926. It is five stories tall with 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms.
“The house reflects the personalities of its creators, John and Mable Ringling,” said Berry. “It’s an extraordinary building, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that you’re talking about a showman who brought entertainment to the masses.”
The museum also offers many tours, one of which includes a tour of the Ca’ d’Zan.
“It [the tours] tends to be one of the easiest and most interesting ways to engage with the collections and the galleries,” said Berry. “We have set tours for the museum of art, the historic home and the circus museum.”
Admission to the museum for adults is about $25, out-of-state college students with a school ID can get in for $5, children over the age of five pay $5 and Florida teachers with an ID can get in for $10. Museum members get in for free.
“We offer students from local universities, including USF, free admission with ID,” said Berry.