From the late 13th century until 1502 the Palace was the official residence of the Podestà, the magistrate who governed the city and who, by tradition, had to come from another town. Around 1287 the balcony was built, a beautiful loggia overlooking the courtyard where the Podestà often held meetings with the representatives of the guilds and corporations. The tower, which predates the rest of the building, held a bell known as La Montanina, which rang to call the Florentine citizens to gather in case of war or siege.
In 1502 the palace became the headquarters of the Council of Justice and of the Police, whose head was known as the Bargello. In 1786, when the grand duke Pietro Leopoldo abolished the death penalty, the torture instruments were burnt in the courtyard. The prisons remained in use until 1857, when they were transferred to the former Murate convent; the palace underwent complete restoration after this date under the guidance of the architect, Francesco Mazzei.
The Bargello became a sculpture museum in 1886, the year in which the fifth centenary of Donatello's birth was celebrated. Two years later, the museum received a generous gift of Gothic and Renaissance artifacts from the French antiquarian, Louis Carrand, followed, in 1894, by a donation made by Costantino Ressman, ambassador and collector of weapons. In 1907, Giulio Franchetti donated his collection of fabrics with examples dating from the 6th to 18th centuries.
On display in the Michelangelo Room are works by that great Renaissance artist: the so-called Drunken Bacchus, sculpted in Rome between 1497 and 1499; the marble tondo with the Madonna and Child with St John, carried out in 1504 for Bartolomeo Pitti; the David-Apollo, marble statue, begun in 1531; the Brutus, marble bust carried out around 1540; as well as the Bacchus, marble statue, sculpted by Jacopo Sansovino around 1520, the bronze bust of Cosimo I by Benvenuto Cellini; also on display another outstanding example of 16th-century sculpture, Giambologna's splendid Mercury, a bronze from 1564. On display in the cabinet are a number of beautiful bronze animals made by the same artist around 1567 for the Medici villa in Castello.
In 1886, the huge room that was the former Great Council Chamber was used to display the works of Donatello and of other Florentine Renaissance sculptors: among the works of the maestro were the David, a beautiful bronze carried out for Cosimo the Elder around 1430; a marble David, considered one of his early works; the Marzocco, the symbol of the city of Florence; the Bust of a Youth and the Bust of Niccolò da Uzzano.
Also on display in this room are two panels depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac made by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi for the competition for the second bronze door of the Baptistery. The Bargello's majolica collection owes much to the Medici's passion for collecting, in particular that of Cosimo I, who particularly appreciated the art of ceramics and porcelain-making. Thanks to many gifts, also by modern collectors, the room offers a practically complete panorama of the history of Italian majolica: extremely rare 15th-century pieces from the Cafaggiolo and Deruta workshops, and, from the 16th century, important examples of Urbino and Faenza majolica, as well as splendid examples of Venice majolica also covering the following century.
Two whole rooms are dedicated to the glazed terracotta works by Giovanni and Andrea della Robbia, among which we should mention the Nativity, belonging to Giovanni's mature period, the Noli me tangere, made by Giovan Francesco Rustici and glazed by Giovanni and, among Andrea's works, a Bust-portrait of a Youth, possibly Pietro di Lorenzo de' Medici.
Since 1873, the Verrocchio Room has housed Tuscan works from the second half of the Quattrocento; the best represented artist is obviously Andrea Verrocchio, who gave his name to the room. Dominating the centre of the room is his famous bronze David commissioned by the Medici family.
Source: Firenze Musei