During the eighteenth century the Bargello functioned as a prison, and despite a number of alterations throughout its history, the severity of the original design has remained. The Bargello's use as a National Museum began in the mid 19th century, and now houses many sculptures as well as some fine examples of the decorative arts. On the ground floor there is an exhibition Tuscan works from the 16th century, with four works by Michelangelo, the relief representing a Madonna with Child, Bacchus, David-Apollo, and Brutus, taking pride of place.
The Palazzo del Bargello is located on the Via del Proconsolo, and is home to one of the first National Museum’s in Italy. Construction was first started in the mid 13th century making this one of the oldest buildings in Florence. It was initially the headquarters of the Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People), and later of the Podestà (chief magistrate). In the 16th century it became the residence of the head of the police known as the Bargello, and it is from this that the building got its name.
Entry to the Bargello Museum is restricted. Reservations must be made in advance with at least a days notice. Entry is every 15 minutes, and limited to a maximum of 30 persons.
The entrance of the museum leads to an inner courtyard. This is the site where until 1786 criminals were executed. There is a magnificent stairway where the walls are decorated with coats of arms representing high ranking officials and city districts.
On the first floor are located some outstanding works by Donatello including the marble of a young David, and a further, more ambiguous, David in bronze. Contained on the second floor in two rooms, are works from Andrea and Giovanni Della Robbia, including Verrocchio, and a collection of Medici medals. On the third floor, is an exhibit of armour spanning from the 13th through to the 17th century.