The Bargello, formerly used as a barracks and a prison, now serves as an art museum in Florence, Italy.
It is mentioned many times in Dan Brown’s novel Inferno and is also known as the Museo Nazionale del Bargello or the Palazzo del Popolo (Palace of the People).
The word “bargello” appears to derive from the late latin noun bargillus, meaning “castle” or “fortified tower“. Bargello was the title attributed to a military captain, precisely the “Captain of justice”, who from 1554, under Duke Cosimo I, made arrests, conducted interrogations, and carried out death sentences.
The Bargello was used as a prison until 1786, when the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo abolished capital punishment. Consequently, from this time on, the Bargello no longer held executions. The Bargello next served as the headquarters of the Florentine police until 1859. When Pietro Leopoldo II was exiled, the makeshift Governor of Tuscany decided that the Bargello should no longer be a jail, thereby becoming a national museum.
Construction of the palace began in 1255 when Lapo Tedesco, an Italian architect of the XIII century, incorporated the old palace, the tower of Boscoli, the property of an ancient Florentine family, as well as certain houses and towers belonging to the Badia Fiorentina. Subsequently, the palace was merged with a new building on Via dell’Acqua, and in 1295, its arcaded courtyard was created. Between 1340 and 1345, the famous Italian architect Neri di Fioravante added another story to the building.
The Bargello was designed around an open courtyard with an external staircase leading to the second floor. An open well is located in the center of the courtyard.
Incorporated in the side of the building is the tower of Boscoli, also called “Volognana“, which is fifty-seven meters high. The tower, whose basement served for centuries as a cramped prison, was named after Geri da Volognano, one of its first prisoners.
Located at the top of the building is a bell called “the montanina” by the Florentines, whose ring was at one time used to call young people to arms, to announce executions, or to warn of insurrections and riots, which led to a large number of injuries and deaths.
The Bargello opened as a national museum (Museo Nazionale del Bargello) in 1865, displaying the largest Italian collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures (14-17th century). Here we find masterpieces by Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio, Michelangelo, and Cellini.
Throughout the years the museum has been enriched with splendid collections of bronzes, ceramics, wax, enamel, medals, ivory, amber, tapestries, furniture, textiles, and seals derived from both the Medici collections and private donations.
On the first floor of the Bargello Museum one can find the Cappella del Podestà (or Cappella della Maddalena), an ancient chapel that contains fragmentary frescoes of Giotto’s school dating from 1332 to 1337. Among these is a famous portrait of Dante Alighieri.
This fresco, in which Giotto or his scholars depicted Dante dressed in red, is mentioned by Dan Brown in his novel Inferno:
Langdon quickly scrolled through several other images, all showing Dante in his red cap, red tunic, laurel wreath, and prominent nose. “And to round out your image of Dante, here is a statue from the Piazza di Santa Croce … and, of course, the famous fresco attributed to Giotto in the chapel of the Bargello.”
Picture by Prof. Mortel