Must-See in Florence: The Accademia

Today on American Nomad we’re taking a tour of one of Florence’s most important museums – The Galleria dell’Accademia. In addition to being home to Michelangelo’s famed statue of David, The Gallery houses one of the most impressive collection of 13th-15th century art anywhere.

While David rightly draws most of the viewers attention, I challenge you to also take time to explore other pieces in this AMAZING collection. The Accademia is smaller than The Uffizi (we’ll tour that museum soon), and you can see a lot in only an hour or two.

Pro-Tip: I took a tour with City of Wonders and our guide (Angelo) was AWESOME – we learned so much about why Michelangelo’s David is important in art history and the other major pieces in the collection. I found them on Viator – and highly recommend (from personal experince).

You can also go the museum alone, but I do recommend getting your ‘skip the line’ tickets in advance on The Accademia website.

A bit of HISTORY:

The Accademia dates to 1784, when it was founded by Pietro Leopoldo, The Grand Duke of Tuscany as a teaching facility to the adjacent Academy of Fine Arts.

It is housed in the former spaces of the Hospital of Saint Matthew and the Convent of Saint Niccolo’ of Cafaggio.

The halls were used to display antic artworks as didactic models for the students at The Academy of Fine Arts.

The paintings housed in the Accademia came mostly from convents or monasteries who were sadly suppressed by The Grand Duke and later Napoleon (1810). By this time The Medici line had died out and Tuscany was under the influence of The Holy Roman Emperor.

*It is interesting to note that the last of The Medici rulers, Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici bequeathed her families entire art collection and palaces to Florence for eternity. This ensured the greatest masterpieces would remain in Florence.

The statue of Michelangelo’s David was outside in the elements in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria until 1873 when fear of damage from the elements and a desire to house this icon of art in a museum demanded it be moved.

After so consideration it was decided David should be moved to its current location in The Accademia, which was a feat within itself.

  • The statue of David weights 12,478 pounds and is 14 feet tall
  • It took four days and forty men to move the Statue just half a mile from the Piazza del Signoria
  • The statue was suspended by ropes on a wooden scaffold, allowing it to gently sway as it was pulled and pushed along a series of trunks that were placed atop the cobblestones.
  • The walls had to be cut open to even get David inside
  • And because he is so large, they placed him on the pedestal.

Why is David so important?

I always admired Michelangelo’s David, but in all honesty it wasn’t my favorite artwork by Michelangelo until I saw it in person. In part because you cannot truly understand the amazing skill and mastery of David as an artform until you see it in person. The pictures can only do so much justice.

The marble is so perfectly chiseled you feel as though David could come to life. Michelangelo studied the human form and mimicked that edge of tension we face before an insurmountable task. David’s veins popping out in the drama of fear, but conviction. His eyes are determined and yet there is a sense of dread. To bring that to life with stone is remarkable.

The imagery of ‘nakedness’ is innocence to me before having to face the foe – the naivete of life and God’s grace on David too (my interpretation) versus ‘nakedness’ as violation as some might say. This also goes back to the classical style that defined Greece and Rome as a ancient art form in sculpture.

The Marble he Carved…

The statue is impressive, but what spoke to me more than anything was the backstory of this statue.

  • Two other artists attempted to complete this commission of David, which was originally designed to be on The Florence Duomo
    • This is why David’s hands are so large – it was intended to be up high on the Duomo and you need that for visual appearance at a distance.
  • The marble (Carrara from Tuscany) as it was cut was found to not be the best quality and hard to work. When Michelangelo was brought on it was a final attempt to transform what had been a disaster of a statue.
  • Michelangelo was not worried though. As a sculptor he believed that every piece of marble had a sculpture in it that he needed to bring to life. He knew he could turn this into a masterpiece.
  • Michelangelo sculpted David from 1501-1504, he had previously garnered acclaim for his Pieta in The Vatican (now in St. Peter’s). By the time Michelangelo completed The David he was only 26 years old!
  • David is standing in a Contrapposto – a pose where most of the weight is on one foot. This is common to use, because that is the way we naturally stand, but that the time it was a unique way to sculpt and provided a natural realism to the work.
  • David as a Biblical hero (underdog with God’s grace) has long been a symbol of Florence and therefore when it was completed it ended up standing in front of the Palazzo Vecchio as a reminder of The Republican Ideals of Florence.
    • Originally it was supposed to go on The Duomo, but due to it’s enormous size as well as it’s value to Florence as a work of art, it was decided to shift David to the Piazza del Signoria location.
    • You can see a copy of David there today as it stood for centuries.
  • David has suffered a few attacks over the years, including a severed arm, but was masterfully fixed.

Not just DAVID…

The Accademia has a diverse collection of Italian that would be a shining star at other museums. The most interesting part of The Accademia was learning about Michelangelo’s other work on display and the drama of The Tomb of Pope Julius II.

Pope Julius II wanted Michelangelo to design his tomb, which was a dream job for Michelangelo who loved sculpture. The ability to use his creative genius to create a huge tomb filled with statues for the Pope was his dream job. It was an obsession and sadly became the bane of his career…

As Michelangelo started the statues for the tomb, Julius felt called to shift gears and ask Michelangelo to another job – paint The Sistine Chapel…Michelangelo was furious! He was a sculptor and not a painter, but eventually he surrendered and painted what is now his greates masterpiece.

Yet several of his ‘tomb’ statues and mock-ups remain and are housed at The Accademia, including a statue of St. Matthew and his four unfinished Prisoners…

You can also see the Palestrina Pieta, which my guide noted was a Michelangelo but some think it may be later and really a Bernini. That is a mystery of the museum.

The Rest of the Museum…

Wander the halls and discover Florentine and Italian masterworks by Paolo Uccello, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea del Sarto and much more.

It also houses many Florentine Gothic paintings as well as Russian icons passed into the collection from the Grand Dukes of the House of Lorraine (the family of Accademia founder Leopoldo).

Master of St. Cecilia (artist) – Mother and Child (Bambino)
Lippi –

To browse the collection click here

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