The Legacy of John and Mable Ringling
SARASOTA, Fla. – May 14, 2002 – The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the remarkable legacy of a circus entrepreneur, collector of art and financier who endowed the State of Florida with a rich cultural future. As a part of Florida State University, the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and Cà d’Zan Mansion located on a 66-acre estate overlooking Sarasota Bay, is the state art museum of Florida.
In the spirit of America's wealthiest industrialists of the Gilded Age, John left his art collection, including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Velàzquez, Poussin, van Dyck and other Baroque masters, to the people of the State of Florida in 1936. Curators of art and generous donors expanded the European collection and added American art, rare antiquities from Cypress, Asian ceramics, drawings, photographs, sculpture, and contemporary art. To honor John Ringling’s career as the circus tycoon who united the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses in 1907, the Circus Museum was added in 1948, twelve years after his death. Today continually changing art exhibitions from around the world enhance the cultural experiences at the Ringling Museum.
The Ringling’s first venture in Sarasota was the splendid Venetian Gothic mansion Cà d’Zan, built between 1924 and 1926 for a total of $1.5 million. The Venetian styled palazzo reflects their European tastes and passion for opulence. Mable had developed an affection for Venetian buildings on their travels and personally collected sketches and photos to incorporate into the design of the house. She supervised the construction of the house with New York architect Dwight James Baum, builder of several New York mansions. Restored to its original splendor in 2002, their winter home and personal possessions reflect the flamboyant lifestyle they enjoyed while entertaining friends.
When the mansion was finished, John built the Museum of Art in the style of an Italian villa to house his growing collection of European paintings and objects of art. He had accumulated a treasure house of items, the result of many trips to Europe while searching for new acts for his circus. For years he stored columns, architectural details and many fine art objects. The result is a museum with a courtyard filled with bronze replicas of Greek and Roman sculptures, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.
What began as John Ringling’s personal vision in 1911, evolved into a world-renowned cultural legacy.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Florida State University, is the State Art Museum of Florida. It preserves, develops, and enhances the legacy of John and Mable Ringling and engages and educates a large and diverse audience in a world-renowned collection of art, Cà d'Zan (the Ringling mansion) and its historic contents, collections documenting the circus and its history, the historic Asolo Theater, and the architecture, courtyard, gardens, and grounds overlooking Sarasota Bay.
Exhibitions and related programs are made possible through support from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Comcast. Additional funding was provided by the Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax through the Board of County Commissioners, the Tourist Development Council and the Sarasota County Arts Council; the State of Florida, Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Florida Arts Council; and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that fosters innovation, leadership, and a lifetime of learning.