There are three museums on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (5401 Bay Shore Rd., 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily, $19 adults, $16 seniors, $6 children, children 5 and under free), and they couldn’t be more different. The primary attraction, of course, is John Ringling’s impressive collection of masterworks in the massive pink-tinted Museum of Art itself.
Originals by El Greco, Velázquez, Titian, Rubens, and many more are displayed in a gorgeous if overwhelming environment meant to evoke Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. There are several recreations of classic sculptures in the courtyard, including Michelangelo’s David, as well as recreations of classic Italian fountains. It’s a fantastic art museum, and on its own it would be well worth a day’s visit.
Accompanied by the Circus Museums and the stunningly over-the-top Ringling mansion, a visit to the grounds is an absolute must-do when you are in Sarasota . Ringling was the Circus King, so not surprisingly the collection of memorabilia is authentic. Everything from Ringling’s private rail car to costumes, sketches, and clown masks is on display; oddly, the presentations are somewhat Spartan.
Exactly the opposite is true at the Cà d’Zan Mansion. Built in 1926, John and Mable Ringling’s Venetian Gothic mansion is a Gilded Age monstrosity, with 56 rooms spread across 36,000 square feet, all adorned in marble, gold, dark woods, and crystal. While Ringling might have hoped that adding acres of filigree and antiques by the ton would somehow endear him to the upper class, looking at the mansion today you can only be struck by just how little of that particularly upper-class trait—restraint—went into it.
A mishmash of global styles that include Morocco, belle epoque Paris, Singapore sitting room, and baroque filigree are jammed into the decor in a thoroughly over-the-top way. By no means should you miss walking through this house.