Guide to the Ringling Museum
Welcome to one of the many very pleasant surprises of Sarasota. For those of you who have traveled the world and visited museums in Europe and Asia, you are probably thinking, what could a museum in Sarasota have to offer? As it turns out, it has a lot to offer and is definitely worth a trip!
Set on 20 acres of waterfront property, the museum is the culmination of John and Mable Ringling’s love of Sarasota, art and Italy. There are several sections to the Ringling; The Museum of Art, the Ca’d’Zan, the Historic Asolo Theater and the Circus Museum.
The Museum of Art
The 31 gallery Museum of Art is modeled after the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. It is an amazing slice of Italy in the heart of Sarasota. Leading up to the Museum building is a perfectly manicured landscape with the Lygia and the Bull sculpture. As you enter, the galleries are on either side of the building and the middle is a huge courtyard with a view of the gulf in the distance.
The courtyard is adorned with replicas of Greek and Italian sculpture with the highlight of a large bronze cast of Michelangelo’s, David. The galleries are a treasure of original paintings and objects largely by the Old Masters, Velazquez, VanDyke, Rubens and Poussin. As John Ringling was amassing his collection, he began educating himself on art and collecting. To this end, he accumulated many art books which became the foundation for the Ringling Art Library. The West Wing was added in the 1960’s to house special exhibitions. It is a modern building emphasized by Joseph’s Coat. Joseph’s Coat is a skyspace by James Turrell that allows visitors to gaze at the sky through a 24 foot opening in the ceiling designed in contemplation of light and perception. There is a continuous calendar of impressive exhibits. The current, Samurai: The Way of the Warrior is a rich and wide-ranging collection of exquisite objects from when Japan was ruled by the samurai military
class organized by Contemporanea Progetti in Florence, Italy. The Center for Asian Art is scheduled to open late February, 2016. It is an exciting expansion that will support teaching and research on Asian history and society through education, exhibitions and programs.
Traveling Gals Tip: The Museum of Art offers free admission every Monday throughout the year!
Ca’d’Zan: House of John
The former home of John and Mable Ringling is inspired by Venetian Gothic palazzos except instead of being on the Grand Canal, it is on the Sarasota Bay. This 36,000 foot, five story home includes a full basement and an 82 foot high tower with an outside landing and high domed ceiling. The grounds surrounding the home include Mable’s Rose Garden, majestic banyan trees and the burial plots of John, Mable and John’s sister, Ida. The marble terrace behind the home has breathtaking views of the Bay and you are welcome to sit under one of the many chairs and umbrellas to relax and take it all in. Several tours of the home are offered to experience the inside furnishings and design which has been fully restored. Special events and parties are also presented in this glorious venue throughout the year. This palatial mansion is a true representation of the Ringling’s tremendous love for Italy and opulence.
Traveling Gals Tip: Visitors are invited to walk the grounds outside the Ca’d’Zan free of charge any time during museum operating hours.
The Historic Asolo Theater
The Asolo Theater is known as the birthplace of performing arts in Sarasota. The theater itself was created in 1798 in Asolo, Italy and its rich history brought it to Sarasota in 1949. The Ringling purchased the Asolo for $8,000 and extensive renovations have added 21st century auditorium seating and modern technology that is the backdrop for Sarasota’s finest productions. However, many consider the theater to be an attraction unto itself. It is open to the public for viewing during certain select hours and tickets to one of its many productions are available throughout the year.
The Circus Museum
The Ringling could not be complete without paying tribute to the source of the wealth that brought the entire museum into existence and put Sarasota on the map. The museum chronicles the history of the wildly popular form of American entertainment. There are props, posters, equipment, parade wagons, canons and much more to experience. You can also view a film entitled The Life and Times of John and Mable Ringling. The Tibbals Learning Center was added in 2006 and houses an amazing 44,000 piece miniature replica of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus shows from 1919-1938. This complex also has interactive galleries where you can participate in circus acts, such as walking the wire, squeezing into a clown car and others. This piece of the museum campus is a fascinating look at 200 years of popular entertainment.
Tickets and information are available at ringling.org.