The Ringling Museum of Art is the state art museum of Florida and has a wonderful collection of artworks in a purpose built gallery. This was the legacy left by John and Mable Ringling, who made their fortune in the early 20th century as part of the famous Ringling family circus. However, your admission gives you far more than this wonderful art museum.
Within the 66-acre grounds overlooking Sarasota Bay you can also see the Circus Museum recapturing the heady days of the traveling circus. You can also tour the magnificent Ca’ d’Zan Mansion and the extensive gardens, making this a great value-for-money attraction.
Ringling Museum of Art
The attractive pink colonnaded building you will see as you start your tour of the museum grounds was purpose-built in 1929 to accommodate John Ringling’s considerable collection of art works. Built in Renaissance-style around a sunken garden of fountains and statues, the building itself is well worth a second look.
Docent-led tours take your through the galleries or you can opt for a self-guided tour. Either way, it’s worth watching the 30-minute film about the lives of John and Mable Ringling. The museum is home to a creditable collection of masterpieces from names such as Rubens, Titian, Gainsborough and Velazquez. John Ringling was able to buy many artworks from European estates that were being sold off due to death taxes or to maintain the estate during this tough economic era.
As well as displays of circus memorabilia, the collection also has the interior of the salon from the Astor mansion prior to it being demolished in 1926. Statues, silverware, photographs and busts complement the world-class paintings on display.
The Ringling Ca’ d’Zan Mansion
When you arrive at the museum, you will be given a timed ticket to tour the beautiful mansion which is named an abbreviated form of “Casa de Zan” which means “House of John.”
The Venetian Gothic Sarasota Bay mansion is truly eye-catching with its decorative pink sandstone exterior and beautiful multi-colored marble terrace. It is lavishly decorated with wrought-iron balconies, tile decoration and ornate Moorish-style windows.
Tours of the lower part of the house include the grand ballroom, solarium, the central “court” or living room, dining room, Tap room and kitchen, all furnished just as in the days of the Ringlings’ residence. Special tours are available to view the upper floors by arrangement.
A walk through the Rose Garden, the Secret Garden and the Millennium Tree Trail show the wonderful location of this museum. Sit and watch the sailboats on Sarasota Bay or enjoy the shade of the banyan trees and palmettos.
The days of the circus are never far away and the Circus Museum includes colorful historic wagons, costumes, videos, posters and exhibits.
There is a huge model recreated village showing the extent of this traveling circus which was transported by railcar. In it’s heyday the circus had around 800 animals, tents, wagons, sideshows and 1300 staff to make it all run smoothly. The Ringlings had their own plush railcar which is now restored and on display.
More Family-Friendly Attractions at Ringling
With three different dining options, a museum gift shop and the 18th century Asolo Theater, there’s certainly plenty to keep you busy during your visit to the Ringling Museum complex. There museum frequently hosts special events including guided walking tours of the Bayfront Gardens, live music evenings, dancing and wine tasting events – all details can be found on the Ringling.org website.
Those who live nearby can take advantage of the free admission to the Ringling Grounds, Gardens and Bolger Playspace. In addition, admission to the Ringling Museum of Art is free on Mondays all year round. The fun children’s play area, named after the benefactor David F. Bolger, has basket swings, a climbing tower, slide, water play and more to make the Ringling a very family-friendly place to visit.