What to see in Accademia Gallery in Florence

The Accademia Gallery is one of the most important museums in Florence, with art and sculptural masterpieces by leading Renaissance artists, including the fantastic David by Michelangelo.

History of the Accademia Gallery in Florence

The Accademia Gallery was started by Grand Duke Leopold of Lorraine in 1784 in what was formerly the San Matteo hospital and the San Niccolò di Cafaggio convent. He wanted to promote the Academy of Fine Arts ( The Accademia di Belle Arti ) like Cosimo de’ Medici did in the 1500s. It was intended to be a place where fine arts students could be inspired by the masterpieces of the great Renaissance artists, as well as an exhibition of artistic casts and models.

In the 19th century, following the closure of many convents and monasteries by Napoleon, other paintings and sculptures were brought to this Museum. These were mainly religious works, often characterized by a bright gold background.

The Accademia Gallery in Florence Gallery is one of the most important museums of Florentine Renaissance painting, covering the period from the 13th century to the end of the 16th century.

Visit the Accademia Gallery in Florence

Accademia Gallery in Florence
A line of people is waiting to enter the Accademia Gallery in Florence via Ricasoli.

Also known simply as the Accademia, the Gallery is near the Piazza San Marco. The main entrance is located on Via Ricasoli, only a few blocks from the Florence Cathedral.

Passing by, it’s hard not to notice the long lines of visitors waiting to enter and admire the magnificent artistic masterpieces preserved on the two floors of this Museum.

Hall of the Colossus of the Accademia

The first room you will enter in the Museum is the Colossus room. The name comes from a plaster reproduction of part of the Dioscuri sculpture from Montevallo. The sculptural group is located in the middle of the fountain in Piazza del Quirinale in Rome. It represents the sons of Zeus, Castor, and Pollux, and there is also an obelisk in the middle. The copy remained in the Accademia until the beginning of the twentieth century before being transferred to the plaster cast Gallery of the Liceo Artistico di Porta Romana in Florence.

In the center of the room, instead, the copy of “The Rape of the Sabine Women” by Giambologna, considered the official sculptor of the Medici family, stands. Despite the Italianized name, he was a Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne. The original sculpture, in this case, is located under the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria.

The walls of the Colossus room exhibit paintings from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including works by Paolo Uccello, Sandro Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, and Filippo Lippi.

Hall of the Prisoners

The Sala dei Prigioni (or Hall of the Prisoners) is another important room in the Accademia Gallery. Its name comes from the four unfinished sculptures of prisoners (or slaves), which were intended to be part of the glorious tomb of Pope Julius II, but were never completed by Michelangelo.

The Sala dei Prigioni (Hall of Prisoners), long and narrow, owes its name to the unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo, initially intended for the tomb of Julius II della Rovere in the Basilica of San Pietro. The project was interrupted due to the costs and the massive work involved. The mausoleum was supposed to include over 40 figures on different levels.

Michelangelo initially considered reusing the Prigioni (Prisoners) sculptures to adorn the Moses of the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, intending to symbolize trapped souls in the bodies. Once again, however, the idea did not work out. After the artist’s death, the sculptures were donated to the Medici family. Their architect Buontalenti finally arranged them in the Grotta Grande of the Boboli Gardens. Over time, the Prigioni sculptures deteriorated, so in 1908 they were permanently placed in the Accademia Gallery in Florence

Prisons or Slaves of Accademia Gallery in Florence

Accademia Gallery in Florence
The Hall of the Prisoners – Accademia Gallery in Florence

Initially, there were supposed to be twenty Prigioni (Prisoners), with the features of prisoners chained and leaning against the base of the pillars. Perhaps their purpose was to allude to the provinces governed by Pope Julius II, or they constituted an allegory of all the Arts.

The executed Prigioni do not all have the same finish or even the same stage of artistry, which is why Michelangelo‘s working technique can be inferred. He preferred to start from the front of the work and then continue laterally.

In the Accademia Gallery in Florence, four of the existing six Prigioni (Prisoners) are positioned. The first two that Michelangelo sculpted represent the Dying Slave and the Rebel Slave, and they are practically finished, but to see them, one must go to the Louvre in Paris.

The Prigioni (Prisoners), therefore, are also called Slaves because they appear as powerful male bodies imprisoned in rock. In the hall of the Accademia Gallery in Florence, these sculptures are arranged in pairs along the side walls, alternating with other similar works.

The Accademia Gallery in Florence is the Museum that preserves many of Michelangelo‘s masterpieces. Here, one can admire the Young Slave, the Bearded Slave, the Awakening Slave, and the Atlas.

San Matteo by Michelangelo at the Accademia

In the Sala dei Prigioni (Hall of the Prisoners ), there is also the San Matteo, another work by Michelangelo. The project, in this case, was to sculpt all 12 apostles for the Florence Cathedral. However, the artist had to abandon the commission again to go to Rome and follow other assignments. The only partially finished statue, therefore, is that of San Matteo.

Pietà of Palestrina at the Accademia

Accademia Gallery in Florence
Accademia Gallery in Florence

Before devoting all attention to Michelangelo‘s great David, one must not forget the Pietà of Palestrina. Unlike the artist’s other Pietàs, the lifeless body of Jesus Christ is supported by both the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist.

However, many things could be improved about the attribution of this sculpture to Michelangelo. Some scholars argue that it is the work of one of his students. On the back, the presence of earlier decorations is noticeable. This leads one to think that the block of marble had already been used for other architectural purposes.

Before becoming part of the Accademia‘s collection, the Pietà adorned the Barberini family chapel in Palestrina, a town near Rome.


David by – Michaelangelo

What mainly drives visitors to go to the Accademia Gallery in Florence is the desire to see Michelangelo‘s original David. The one in front of Palazzo Vecchio is a copy made in the 20th century.

Yes, that’s correct! The David is one of the most famous statues in the world, and when it was sculpted, it represented the ideal of male beauty, becoming a symbol of the Renaissance and the Florentine Republic.

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History of Michelangelo’s David

The story of this sculpture began in 1501 when Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue to be placed on a buttress outside the apse of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The block of marble, coming from Carrara‘s quarries, presented some imperfections and was full of holes, which made it easily crumble. Despite everything, the artist decided to use it anyway and began sculpting it in the current Museum of the Opera del Duomo courtyard.

The artist depicted David, the young Jewish shepherd, the future king of Israel, about to fight against the giant Goliath of the Philistine people. According to the story, David struck the giant with a stone thrown from his sling and then beheaded him.

The symbolism of Michelangelo‘s David is complex and multifaceted. The statue has been interpreted in many different ways, depending on the historical and cultural context in which it is viewed.

At its creation, the David was seen as a symbol of the Florentine Republic‘s defiance against Italy’s more extensive and powerful city-states. It represented the ideal of the firm and virtuous citizen-soldier, willing to defend his home and his people against any threat.

The statue’s nudity was also significant, as it reflected the classical ideal of physical beauty and perfection, which was seen as a sign of moral purity and intellectual refinement. David’s nudity also emphasized his vulnerability and exposed him to the viewer’s gaze, making him a symbol of the vulnerability and fragility of the Florentine Republic.

Today, David is seen as a universal symbol of human beauty, strength, and resilience, as well as a testament to the artistic and cultural achievements of the Renaissance. It continues to inspire and captivate viewers from all over the world and remains one of the most beloved and iconic works of art in human history.

Copies of Michelangelo’s David

There are copies of Michelangelo‘s David worldwide, but they differ from the original. The most famous reproduced statue is located in Piazza della Signoria. It was created in 1910 by Luigi Arrighetti, who won the public competition organized for this purpose.

Another colossal replica can be found on the scenic Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, on the hills beyond the Arno River. In the United States, those at the Los Angeles cemetery, the Caesar’s Palace casino in Las Vegas, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia are top-rated.

One must remember the so-called censored David, displayed at the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai. However, this case is a sculpture made with a 3D printer and covered with marble dust.

Plaster Cast Gallery of Accademia Gallery

Accademia Gallery in Florence
Plaster Cast Gallery of Accademia Gallery in Florence

On either side of the central tribune of the David, the two wings of the Gipsoteca (plaster cast Gallery) of the Gallery extend. It is a series of busts and total figures that Lorenzo Bartolini, a professor at the Academy, created for Tuscan artists and wealthy aristocrats, not just Florentines. On these clay models, he then placed nails, of which the holes can still be seen, which served as a reference for sculpting marble works.

Admiring these models, one can discover the clothing and hairstyles of the time, often inspired by classical styles.

One of the paintings on the walls of the Gipsoteca depicted these rooms when they were used as wards for the women’s section of the San Matteo hospital.

Musical Instruments of the Accademia Gallery

The section dedicated to ancient musical instruments boasts several rare pieces, once belonging to the Medici, Lorraine, and Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Among them, one can admire the viola and cello of Antonio Stradivari and a Stradivari violin from 1716.

Other Rooms Of the Accademia Gallery

The Accademia Gallery in Florence also exhibits collections of Byzantine icons, paintings from the late 14th century, and Florentine Gothic. Works of important artists of the time are displayed, such as Giovanni del Biondo, Lorenzo Bicci, Mariotto di Nardo, and Orcagna.

With the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia is undoubtedly one of the most popular and beloved museums in Florence by visitors… and being in the presence of many Renaissance masterpieces is a great emotion…

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