L’Accademia Museum, Florence

THE ACCADEMIA GALLERY

The Galleria dell’Accademia has housed the original David by Michelangelo since 1873. The sculpture was allegedly brought to the Accademia for reasons of conservation, although other factors were involved in its move from its previous outdoor location on Piazza della Signoria. The original intention was to create a ‘Michelangelo museum’, with original sculptures and drawings, to celebrate the fourth centenary of the artist’s birth. Today, the gallery’s small collection of Michelangelo’s work includes his four unfinished Prisoners, intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, and a statue of Saint Matthew, also unfinished. In 1939, these were joined by a Pietà discovered in the Barberini chapel in Palestrina, though experts now consider its attribution to Michelangelo to be dubious. The “David” in the Accademia is the original. There is a replica in the Piazza della Signoria.

Other works on display are Florentine paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries, including works by Paolo Uccello, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto; and, from the High Renaissance, Giambologna’s original plaster for the Rape of the Sabine Women. As well as a number of Florentine Gothic paintings, the gallery houses the idiosyncratic collection of Russian icons assembled by the Grand Dukes of the House of Lorraine, of which Leopoldo was one.

The Accademia Gallery was established in the eighteenth century as a teaching facility for students of the adjacent Academy of Fine Arts and was founded in 1784 by Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine. It is located in the ancient buildings of the Hospital of Saint Matthew and the Convent of Saint Niccolò of Cafaggio, the halls of which were used to display ancient artworks as didactic models for students of the Academy of Fine Arts.

The Accademia Gallery was progressively enriched by paintings gathered from convents/monasteries that were suppressed by Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine at the end of the eighteenth century and by Napoleon in 1810.

The statue of Michelangelo’s David, located in Piazza della Signoria, was transferred to the Accademia Gallery in 1873 for reasons of conservation, although the original intention was to create a museum dedicated to Michelangelo, with original sculptures and drawings, to celebrate the fourth centenary of the artist’s birth.

For this occasion, the architect Emilio de Fabris paid Michelangelo a special tribune with a large, projecting skylight to shelter David, eventually completed in 1882.

Between the end of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, the Gallery, which was by this time administratively separate from the Accademia di Belle Arti, was reorganised, with some of the ancient paintings having been transferred to other city museums.

At the same time, the Accademia Gallery was enhanced by the addition of other masterpieces by Michelangelo, such as the statue of St. Matthew, purchased in 1906, and in 1909 by the four large statues of the Slaves/Prisoners, originating from Grotta del Buontalenti in the Boboli Gardens.

Around the 1950s, the Hall of the Colossus was opened along with the so-called Byzantine-style Rooms, featuring 1300 panel paintings. In the 1980s, the collection of plaster casts models by Lorenzo Bartolini was added to the Museum and housed inside the Nineteenth Century Room, originally used as the women’s ward in the ancient Hospital of Saint Matthew.

ACCADEMIA’S MAIN HALLS

The first hall to the Accademia Gallery is the Hall of the Colossus, recently restyled in December of 2013. This room acquired its name during the nineteenth century when it housed the plaster cast model of the ancient statue called the Dioscuri di Montecavallo, which is no longer displayed in the Gallery.

Today it hosts in the center the plaster model of Giambolgona’s stunning marble sculpture entitled “Rape of the Sabines.” The original sculpture, completed in 1582, can now be admired under the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria.

Giambologna’s plaster is surrounded by an extremely valuable collection of artworks on religious subjects painted by Paolo Uccello, Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Botticelli from the fifteenth to the early sixteenth centuries.

The second hall you meet visiting the Accademia Gallery is the Hall of the Prisoners, which takes its name from the four large sculptures depicting the male nudes known as the Slaves/Prisoners/Captives.

They were begun by Michelangelo as part of a grandiose project for the tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere in 1505; however, due to a mounting shortage of funds, the pope ordered him in 1506 to put the project aside.

After the artist’s death, four of the Prisoners were found in his studio, and his nephew Leonardo Buonarroti donated them to Duke Cosimo I de Medici. In 1586, Bernardo Buontalenti placed the Slaves at the corners of the large grotto in the Boboli Gardens of Palazzo Pitti, where they remained until 1908 before being transferred to the Accademia Gallery in 1909.

The third hall at the end of the Hall of the Prisoners is the Tribune that houses Michelangelo’s David. The David should have been placed in 1873 in the center of the square Tribune under a bright skylight, a halo-like dome, but was not moved to the Accademia until 1882, when the Tribune was completed and opened to the public.

The Tribune, created by the architect Emilio De Fabris, is composed of a central part housing the David and two side wings. At first, the side wings of the Tribune were used to exhibit copies of Michelangelo’s works. Today, we can admire David ideally framed by artworks by sixteenth century artists including Bronzino, Cecchino Salviati, and Allori along these two wings of the Tribune.

MICHELANGELO’S DAVID

At the Accademia Gallery you can admire from a short distance the perfection of the most famous statue in Florence, and perhaps in all the world, Michelangelo’s David.

This astonishing Renaissance sculpture was created between 1501 and 1504, and is a 14 ft (4.27 mt) marble statue depicting the Biblical hero David, represented as a standing male nude.

Originally commissioned by the Opera del Duomo for the Cathedral of Florence, it was meant to be one of a series of large statues to be positioned in the niches of the cathedral’s tribunes at about 80 mt from the ground.

Michelangelo was asked by the consuls of the Board to complete an unfinished project begun in 1464 by Agostino di Duccio and later carried on by Antonio Rossellino in 1475. Both sculptors rejected this enormous block of marble due to the presence of too many taroli, or imperfections, which may have threatened the stability of such a huge statue.

Michelangelo was only 26 years old in 1501 but enthusiastically accepted the challenge to sculpt a large-scale David and worked constantly for over two years to create one of his most breathtaking masterpieces out of gleaming white marble.

The Vestry Board had established the religious subject for the statue, the account of the battle between David and Goliath from the first book of Samuel, but nobody expected such a revolutionary interpretation of the biblical hero.

Traditionally, David had been portrayed after his victory as triumphing over the slain Goliath. For the first time ever, Michelangelo instead chose to depict David before the battle. David is tense: Michelangelo captures him at the apex of his concentration. He stands relaxed, but alert, resting in a classical pose known as contrapposto.

The figure stands with one leg holding its full weight, with the other leg forward, causing the figure’s hips and shoulders to rest at opposing angles, giving the entire torso a slight s-curve.

The slingshot he carries over his shoulder is almost invisible, emphasizing that David’s victory was one of cleverness rather than sheer force. He transmits exceptional self-confidence and concentration, both values of the “thinking man”, considered perfection during the Renaissance.

The Accademia Gallery houses the largest number of sculptures by Michelangelo in the world (seven) and is the second Italian museum, after the Uffizi Gallery, and the fourth state site ever.

Notes by the Author: If you plan to visit l’Accademia buy your ticket online and in advanced. As shown in my first pictures there was a considerable long line when we got there. Luckily we’d purchase the tickets prior. That will put you in front of the line.

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