The Ringling Museum Complex sits in 66 beautiful acres on the shores of Sarasota Bay. It was built and put together by real estate and circus baron, John Ringling and his wife Mable. The complex consists of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Cà d'Zan ("House of John"), The Circus Museum and the Grounds and Gardens.
John and Mable shared a common interest and love of travel, art and culture - especially Italian. They tried to make Sarasota (their winter home) a place to rival Florida’s popular and fashionable East Coast.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
John and Mable scoured the auction houses of New York to buy their many furnishings, tapestries and paintings. They also travelled to Europe every year to source circus acts and buy antiques, art pieces and paintings. In this manner, they put together an important and considerable collection of paintings by many of the great masters. To house the works and artefacts they built a huge, 21 gallery, Florentine style building modelled on the Uffizi Gallery.
The Museum contains works by Peter Paul Rubens, Hals, Velàzquez, Poussin, van Dyck, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and other Baroque masters. There are also rare objects from Cyprus, a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David, columns and many fine architectural pieces. The result is a museum with a courtyard filled with bronze replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture.
“The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art” opened to the public in 1931.
Cà d'Zan ("House of John")
The Ringlings love of Italian art and architecture is evident. It is most obvious in the design of the buildings that house their collections. The house that is now known as Cà d'Zan is a replica of a Venetian Gothic mansion.
John and Mable began their building plans with this house in 1924. It is a blend of the houses they had seen on their Italian travels. Mable worked very closely with noted architect and designer Dwight James Baum to build Cà d'Zan. The mansion is five stories tall with 56 rooms filled with art and furnishings and combined with its magnificent Venetian architectural style it compares favourably with the finest palaces in Italy.
John Ringling donated his art collection and the estate to the people of the State of Florida when he died in 1936.
The Circus Museums
John Ringling through his acquisition of Barnum and Bailey Circus (combined with the Ringling Brothers) became the ‘The King of Circus.’ So it is only fitting that a celebration of the golden age of circus is housed on the Ringling estate. The museum, established in 1948 was the first in the USA. It is a shrine to the colourful and exciting history of circus.
You can see the parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes and colourful posters that document the circus of the past and of today including the history of the Ringling Circus. Then there is the fabulous private rail car of the Ringlings, named the Wisconsin and the world’s largest miniature circus. The displays allow visitors to experience, up close, the magic of the big top and the centre ring.
Grounds and Gardens
As you enter the beautiful estate you are greeted by the Mable Ringling’s self-designed rose garden. It is a wagon-wheel design. There are also banyan trees with a tram and pedestrian path. There are many rare plants that were gifted to the Ringlings by their friends.
The Ringling Museum Complex is well worth a visit and has an extraordinarily diverse variety of things to see and experience.
Image credit: gracious_tiger