This is very long so please bear with me as there is so much to impart! We spent four hours here at the weekend and could have easily used some additional time but ran out of time (heavy rain getting there delayed our arrival plus the museum was very busy so we had to park at the back of the huge parking lot). Note the museum is open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. so if you want to see all three museums and Ringling's House, you will want to allot yourself at least 4 hours, preferably 5 to do it all justice. Let me start off by saying I have been to many museums in my lifetime all over the world, but the staff here were so overly anxious to protect the exhibits that it became annoying so that is the only reason I am giving a Very Good instead of an Excellent. The museum gets an excellent rating. Our group of 8 was told over and over again, don't get too close to the paintings, mind your bag, watch your umbrellas (all of which were safely in plastic bags) etc., the problem is (we are all in our 50's and 60's) - you can't read what the painting is without getting close to the wall because the font on the description is hard to read. Then if you get close to the painting to read the description you get told off! I felt like I was back in school! We are all adults and we know to be careful - I just felt the staff were over the top. That being said, onto the museum. The Renaissance-style pink art museum is very large and full of Baroque/Renaissance paintings; the majority of them are by lesser known painters but there are some lovely Rubens paintings and tapestry paintings. We had a very enjoyable docent tour by Alba, she was terrific and held our attention with her lovely stories and sense of humor. We loved the courtyard/gardens in the middle of the museum with the replica of David. When you consider John and Mable Ringling's humble beginnings which I will write about later, it is amazing that they managed to amass this volume of paintings in their somewhat short lifetimes. There are some magnificent rooms purchased from the original Waldorf Astoria in NYC that are amazing, some lovely marble fireplaces, some great day beds with superb woodwork so something for everyone. A new center for Asian Art is currently being built which is scheduled to open in 2016. Next, the amazing Circus Museum. While I am not personally interested in the performers costumes or outfits, the cannon that shot performers into the air, the parade wagons and posters and the fantastically restored personal railroad car of the Ringling's is amazing. Also there is a terrific 35 minute film called the Life and Times of John and Mable Ringling, narrated by Hal Holbrook. which takes you from their very humble beginnings and features the amazing lives of John and Mable Ringling, the history of Ringling Bros. circus, the building of their home Ca’ d’Zan and the Museum of Art, as well as John’s influence in the development of Sarasota.There is no denying that the best thing in this museum is the 44,000 piece Howard Brothers Circus model which is absolutely amazing. The 50 years or so of work that has gone into this project by one man - Howard Tibbals with help from his wife - is completely mind blowing. We went round it three times and spent 1.5 hours just in this one exhibit because the detail and the logistics are incredible. Even if you are not the slightest bit interested in art, it is worth coming here just for this exhibit. Outstanding! The gardens are also beautiful as is the Ringling's personal home Ca' d'Zan - a gorgeous house on the water which is beautiful. You can tour the ground floor for free as part of your $25 entrance fee, but the upstairs rooms require an additional payment which we declined to pay! The house is gorgeous and the fixtures and fittings, especially the bar with it's Tiffany glass and the kitchen are fascinating. Sadly Mable enjoyed only three winters here before she died at quite a young age. Thank goodness the Ringling's bequeathed this beautiful estate to the people of Florida! Thank you!
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