The Bardini Museum
As if I am not embarrassed enough to admit my slackness, I realized after my visit that I have spent my whole time in Florence living only about a five-minute walk from this little gem of a museum. The entrance is only a block from the Ponte alle Grazie, my bridge of choice. Many tourists, no doubt, pass it on their way to the “must-see” Piazza Michelangelo and San Miniato. One day, heading to the above-mentioned piazza myself, I did a double take in front of one of the Bardini’s large windows, which was open onto one of its sprawling galleries. I peered into what (I later learned) had been a 19th century art dealer’s display space, restoration studio, and storehouse. It is stuffed to the brim with an assortment of works from the late Medieval, Renaissance, and Mannerist periods.Akin to museums like the Frick in New York City, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston, and the Stibbert here in Florence (also on the list!), the Bardini collection is displayed in what was once a home. To be more precise, it was a palazzo, convent, and adjoining church, which, once deconsecrated, were purchased, combined, and transformed by Stefano Bardini to house his growing collection. Bardini, who was also a respected restorer, had a keen eye for works of quality and the skill to repair any damage they had suffered over the years. The characteristically Renaissance rooms he created aided Bardini in the display of repossessed and refurbished (and for sale!) fireplaces, cassone (chests), domestic art, and other Renaissance furnishings.
The artworks’ current presentation no longer reflects Bardini’s original display – a combination of items that were for sale and items he could not seem to part with. However, much care has been taken in creating an interesting and engaging experience for today’s visitor. Each room has its own personality, complete with uniquely decorated ceilings, wall textiles, and media. What is more, the building’s uneven and quirky layout creates a viewing experience that is more like a treasure hunt in a Renaissance fun-house than a walk through a museum.The collection, while lacking in independently notable works, is rich in variety and breadth. In addition to the kinds of paintings and sculpture you might find at other smaller collections in Florence, like the Horne or Sir Harold Acton’s Villa La Pietra, the Bardini boasts a collection of eastern Turkish carpets, miniature bronzes, and a small but impressive set of weapons, which include metal and painted shields, daggers, and an incredible dragon shaped helmet. To add a bit of dungeon-like atmosphere, the weapons are displayed in the space that once served as a church.
Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is Pietro Tacca’s Porcellino, a sculpture of a boar that also functioned as a fountain and was based on a Hellenistic marble original. A modern copy lives near the “new market” where countless tourists rub his nose every year and wish to return to Florence. The base on which the wild boar sits is perhaps the most interesting feature. While the original has worn away from the water it once spouted, a recreation in the museum shows the incredible diligence the artist showed in recreating a small pond in every imaginable natural detail.
My only complaint was about the signage, which is scarce. Even the larger excerpts of text that are reserved for the more important pieces in the collection are somewhat wanting in their English translations (call me people! I speak English and want you to have good signage!). However, when we asked, one of the guards promptly brought us a catalogue of the entire collection.
So put it on your list! I just knocked it off mine.
Where: Via dei Renai 37
When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 11:00am – 5:00pm
Cost: While this museum is not included on the Friends of the Uffizi card, it is included in the Firenze Card. Regular entrance fee is 6 Euro.
*Just to clarify, by old “haunts,” I am referring to amazing, mind-blowing, life-changing museums and monuments like the Uffizi, the Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens, the Duomo of Florence etc. I am not in any way suggesting these ever get boring. They don’t. I have been a million times and they are still earth shattering and not to be missed. We coo’?