John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – Sarasota, Florida - Atlas Obscura

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

A Circus legend leaves an unexpected endowment. 


The artist Rubens and the elephant Dumbo may not have much in common on the surface, but John Ringling, the entrepreneur and circus magnate, unites them.

During his lifetime, John Ringling, along with his wife Mabel, used their fortune to build a beautiful Venetian mansion and art collection in Sarasota, Florida. Their estate was bequeathed to the State of Florida, in hopes that Sarasota would become a cultural travel destination.

The State neglected the property, but in 2000 it was turned over to Florida State University and has been restored. With funds raised by the University, a new Visitor’s Center, featuring a museum about the circus, was added to the large estate, which already offered the art museum, the Ringling’s lavish home, and the grounds with a rose garden.

As with any personal collection, the assorted pieces of art and artifacts are an idiosyncratic mixture, from notable pieces by the Old Masters to Cypriot antiques. The mansion, or Ca d’Zan (House of John), is something out of the Great Gatsby. The house has been restored to the elegance it held during the Ringling’s era.

The attached circus museum features the largest circus miniature in the world!

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