Since 1859 it had been decided that the ancient Palazzo del Podestà, once restored, should house a museum documenting the history and the arts of Tuscany. After various projects, during the years in which Florence was capital of Italy the idea of a National Museum emerged; it was inaugurated in 1865 with the celebrations in honour of Dante Alighieri. Participating in the two exhibitions set up for the occasion, devoted to Dante and to mediaeval art, there were also private collectors who, following the example of the Museum of Cluny in Paris and the Victoria & Albert (then known as the South Kensington Museum), offered a variety of different objects to contribute to the formation of the museum.
In this initial phase two rooms were set up on the ground floor displaying the arms and armour that remained of the Medici armoury (largely dispersed) and other arms from the Guardaroba of Palazzo Vecchio, and a room of fifteenth and sixteenth century sculpture. The sculptures from the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio were set up in the Salone on the first floor.
Later came the bronze and marble sculptures, originally displayed in the corridor and several rooms of the Uffizi, the collections of applied arts (majolica, waxworks, amber, ivory, gold and silverware, enamels and small bronzes) previously belonging to the Medici and later housed in the Uffizi and in Palazzo Pitti, as well as donations and loans from private citizens. Other material arrived from public institutions (the seals from the State Archive, coins from the Mint) while after the suppression of the monastic orders which followed the unification of Italy, the museum was further enriched by Della Robbias and other sculptures and liturgical gold and silverware.
For the centenary of Donatello in 1887, numerous sculptures by the artist were arranged in the first floor Salone, starting with the St. George from the tabernacle of the Armourers' guild in Orsanmichele. Since then, despite various changes, the room has been used to display the works of Donatello and other Florentine sculptors of the early fifteenth century
In the last decade of the nineteenth century the museum received several important donations from private citizens. Particularly significant among these, in terms of the number (3,236 pieces), the quality and the exceptional variety of the objects, is the collection which the Lyons antique collector Louis Carrand bequeathed to the city of Florence , on the condition that it should be kept at the Bargello.
Following this and other bequests (Conti in 1886, Ressman in 1899 and Franchetti in 1906) the museum gradually became specialised in the sector of the applied arts, no less important than that of Renaissance sculpture.
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This is one of the most famous museums of paintings and sculpture in the world containing Renaissance masterpieces.
The Galileo Museum is heir to a tradition of 500 years of scientific collecting originating with the Medici and Lorraine families.
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