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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice

What is the Gallerie dell’Accademia?

The Gallerie dell’Accademia is an art gallery that was founded in the mid-18th century for the training of young artists at Venice’s Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. It holds a comprehensive collection of Venetian masterpieces.


Presentaion of Mary at the Gallerie dell’Accademia

Titian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Gallerie dell’Accademia History

The Accademia Gallery is a must-see for anyone curious about the history of Venetian art. Home to the world’s largest collection, the Accademia houses over 800 paintings and frescoes, chronicling the city’s artistic tradition from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. The gallery is made up of 37 rooms arranged around two courtyards, the largest of which was designed by Andrea Palladio, the Renaissance architect famous for his elegant, classically inspired buildings. This stunning collection includes work by Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Andrea Mantegna, as well as showcasing work by other Italian and European masters. Don’t miss Giorgione’s enigmatic The Tempest. Conflicting theories on the painting’s subject matter make it one of the most mysterious works of the Italian Renaissance. Paolo Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi is another highlight; an enormous and complex architectural panorama filled with witty detail. But possibly the collection’s most treasured object is Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. This instantly recognisable study depicts the perfect proportions of the human body. Those in search of something darker should look out for Hieronymus Bosch’s unsettling Hermit Saints.


The birth of the museum as we know it today is closely connected to Venice’s dramatic political history. The Venetian Republic lost its thousand-year independence in 1797 when it was conquered by Napoleon. After the conquest, he plundered art from churches and other public spaces in and around Venice, sending masterpieces back to Paris to be displayed in the Louvre. Innumerable works were lost in this way, or sold to private collectors. But thankfully, many of the paintings of the highest quality, especially those of the Venetian School, found a new home in the Accademia.


The collection had originally been created in 1750 for the training of young artists at Venice’s Accademia di Pittura, Scultura e Architettura (or Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture). Its new acquisitions transformed it from a solely educational resource into a museum of pivotal art-historical importance. In 1807, Napoleon renamed the school the Accademia Reale di Belle Arti (or Royal Academy of Fine Arts). He also had it moved from its original home at the Fonteghetto della Farina, in San Marco, to the Santa Maria della Carità complex, here on the south bank of the Grand Canal – disused monastic buildings dating back to the mid-14th century. For the next few years, the buildings underwent substantial renovation under the supervision of architect Giannantonio Selva, opening to the public in 1817.


In order to ensure Academy students received a comprehensive art education, attempts were initially made to acquire works representative of all major Italian and international painting traditions. But when the gallery became an independent entity in 1879 and was no longer associated with the school, the collection evolved away from its original educational purposes. From the end of the 19th century, the choice was made to focus on Venetian painting alone. This development, coupled with generous donations by illustrious Venetian collectors, has led to the impressive collection on show today, an unsurpassed display of work by the very finest of this city and region’s talent.


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