About the Ringling Museum in Florida: A Guide to Its Wonders and History


Nestled on Sarasota Bay in Florida, The Ringling serves as a testament to the American circus magnate, John Ringling. As the State Art Museum of Florida and a part of Florida State University, The Ringling complex is a cultural beacon that draws visitors with its diverse assembly of art, history, and performance.

The venue encompasses the Museum of Art, the original Circus Museum, the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, the Historic Asolo Theater, and the Bayfront Gardens, offering a multifaceted experience that reflects the legacy of its founder.

Established through the munificence of John and Mable Ringling, the museum complex presents a unique fusion of European artistry and American circus history. The Museum of Art showcases an extensive collection ranging from ancient sculptures to Baroque masterpieces, while the Circus Museum celebrates the rich tapestry of circus life, complete with artifacts and exhibits that hark back to the golden age of the American circus.

The Ca’ d’Zan, John Ringling’s palatial mansion, allows visitors to step into the opulence of the 1920s, revealing the personal tastes and lavish lifestyle of one of America’s most affluent couples.

With its expansive gardens and diverse cultural offerings, The Ringling is not only an archive of historical significance but also a living institution that continues to inspire creative minds and provide educational opportunities. Its dedication to the preservation of art and circus heritage makes it an invaluable resource for scholars, artists, and the general public alike.

History of The Ringling

The Ringling Museum stands as a testament to the vision of John and Mable Ringling, preserving their legacy and serving as Florida’s state art museum.

John and Mable Ringling Era

John Ringling, one of the five original circus kings of the Ringling Brothers and his wife Mable, purchased land in Sarasota, Florida in 1911. They established their winter quarters for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus there in 1927, symbolizing the town’s enduring connection to the circus industry.

The couple’s shared passion for art and culture led to the construction of an opulent Venetian Gothic mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, and the beginnings of a museum to house their substantial art collection.

Expansion and Legacy

After John Ringling’s death, it was determined that his estate would be bequeathed to the people of Florida. The Ringling estate faced financial challenges until it officially became part of the state’s university system in the late 20th century, which ensured its preservation and continued expansion.

Additions to the estate include a Circus Museum celebrating circus history and the Historic Asolo Theater, which once stood in Asolo, Italy, before being transported and reassembled on the museum grounds.

State Art Museum of Florida

Designation: The Ringling was designated as the State Art Museum of Florida in 1980. 

Collections: It houses expansive collections of European paintings, including a world-renowned collection of Baroque art, and features diverse temporary exhibitions.

  • Location: Sarasota, Florida
  • Acreage: 66 acres with bay front views
  • Highlights: Ca’ d’Zan mansion, a Circus Museum, and the historic Asolo Theater

Art Collections

The Ringling Museum boasts an extensive array of artworks, with significant collections spanning from ancient times to contemporary pieces. Visitors can explore European masterpieces, modern creations, Asian treasures, American expressions, and intricate decorative arts, each offering a unique cultural perspective.

European Paintings

The collection includes an impressive array of European paintings encompassing works from antiquity to 1900. It features notable Italian Baroque paintings, including those by masters like Fede Galizia and Guercino.

Contemporary Art

Modern and Contemporary Art constitute a dynamic part of The Ringling’s collection, exhibiting a breadth of artistic innovations and concepts from the 20th century onward.

Asian Art

Asian Art at The Ringling includes ancient Indian sculptures, among other artifacts, that reveal the rich heritage and artistic diversity of the Asian continent.

American Art

The museum’s American Art collection showcases pieces reflecting America’s cultural evolution, highlighting the development of its artistic styles and visual narratives.

Decorative Arts

Visitors to The Ringling can discover a selection of Decorative Arts, ranging from Ancient craft to European decorative creations, revealing the intricate artistry and design history that span across various periods and regions.

Circus Museum

At the heart of The Ringling in Sarasota, Florida, the Circus Museum celebrates the rich history of the American circus. It showcases an array of artifacts that capture the spectacle and cultural impact of circus life.

The Circus in America

The American circus has been a venue for entertainment for over a century, mesmerizing audiences with a blend of human and animal performances. The Circus Museum at The Ringling provides insights into this intriguing aspect of American history through its extensive exhibits.

The Howard Bros. Circus Model

  • Key Exhibit: The Howard Bros. Circus Model
  • Scale: 3/4-inch-to-the-foot
  • Detail: Over 44,000 handcrafted pieces

The Howard Bros. Circus Model is a detailed miniature replica of a circus from the early 20th century, representing every component of circus logistics, from the big top to the performers, animals, and even the audience.

Circus Posters and Memorabilia

  • Collection Includes: Original posters, costumes, and props
  • Highlight: Vibrant circus posters that were once used to advertise shows

This subsection delves into the Circus Museum’s collection of circus posters and memorabilia, providing a visual narrative of the circus’s evolution, marketing techniques, and the performers who became icons.

The Ringling Estate

The Ringling Estate stands as a multifaceted cultural landmark in Sarasota, Florida, offering visitors an immersive experience that includes the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, exquisite gardens, and the Historic Asolo Theater.

Ca’ d’Zan Mansion

The Ca’ d’Zan Mansion is a testament to the opulence and splendor of the 1920s. Constructed over two years and completed in 1926, this grand residence served as the winter home for John and Mable Ringling. It remains a significant example of the Mediterranean Revival architectural style, attracting attention for its intricate design and historical value.

The Gardens

The Bayfront Gardens surrounding the Ringling Estate are diverse and meticulously landscaped, providing tranquil scenery and a diversity of flora. They embody a comprehensive design that complements the overall aesthetic of the estate, enhancing the ambiance and offering a peaceful retreat.

Historic Asolo Theater

The Historic Asolo Theater has a rich narrative; originally built in Asolo, Italy in the late 18th century, it was purchased by John Ringling and reconstructed on the estate grounds. The theater today functions as a cultural hub for the performing arts, upholding a legacy that dates back to when it first hosted European royalty.

Visitor Information

When planning a visit to The Ringling Museum in Florida, it is essential to consider the hours of operation, admission fees, membership options, and accessibility to make the most of the experience.

Hours of Operation

The Ringling Museum offers varying hours for its numerous attractions. The Museum of Art operates from Tuesday through Sunday, ensuring ample opportunity for guests to explore the vast collections.

Admission Fees

Admission fees are structured to provide guests with multiple options based on their interests:

  • Museum of Art
    • Adults: $25
    • Seniors (65+): $23
    • Children (6-17): $5
    • Children (under 6): Free

Note: These prices are examples and might not reflect the actual current rates.

Membership Options

Membership at The Ringling provides a range of benefits, from unlimited free admission to the Museum of Art to discounts on programming and dining:

  • Individual Membership: Grants museum access for one person.
  • Family Membership: Offers museum access for two adults and children in the household under 18.

Accessibility

The Ringling Museum is dedicated to being accessible to all visitors. Both sides of the drive approaching the Museum of Art offer free parking, with designated spots for individuals with disabilities.

Jerry Joyce

Jerry Joyce has been a Florida resident since 1998 and has lived in a variety of places in the South Florida area. Jerry is an avid boater & water sports enthusiast, beach aficionado, a lover of great food, muscle car fan and a theme park annual passholder for many years. Some of his favorite places in Florida include the Florida Keys, Walt Disney World, Cedar Key, the Loxahatchee River, St. Augustine and Ten Thousand islands.

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