The Museum Complex
AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE GALLERIE DELL’ACCADEMIA COMPLEX
THE CHURCH AND SCUOLA GRANDE OF SANTA MARIA DELLA CARITÀ
Today, the collection of the Gallerie dell’Accademia is housed in the historic complex of Santa Maria della Carità, which comprises the church, its monastery, and the Scuola Grande.
The first buildings on this site date back to the early twelfth century. This was the place where, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, religious orders (first the canons of Santa Maria in Porto fuori Ravenna, and then the Santa Maria di Frigionaia canons under the Rule of Saint Augustine) shared space with the oldest confraternity of lay people in Venice, the Battuti, or flagellants.
The church and the monastery underwent several waves of renovation after the Augustinians arrived in the course of the fifteenth century. The eastern wing of the monastery was then modified once again by Andrea Palladio in the 1560s.
The buildings housing the Scuola Grande were renovated in the second half of the eighteenth century based on designs by Giorgio Massari and his student Bernardino Macaruzzi.
After the fall of the Republic, the Santa Maria della Carità complex became the property of the state and then, in 1807, was designated as the site of the Accademia di belle arti, or Academy of fine arts, and its gallery following an edict by Napoleon.
THE ACCADEMIA DI BELLE ARTI OF VENICE (1750-2010)
The first Accademia of Venice was established by the Serenissima’s Senate on 24 September 1750, adopting its statutes in 1756. The Accademia council was comprised of 36 professors, and every year 4 of them were chosen to lecture on the following subjects: figure painting, portrait painting, landscape painting, and sculpture. Gianbattista Piazzetta was appointed the first president of the Accademia and both he himself and the first council members, Gianbattista Pittoni and Gianmaria Morlaiter, were entrusted with the task of choosing the academics from among whom the first lecturers were selected: Gasparo Diziani, Francesco Zanchi, Francesco Fontebasso, and Bortolomeo Nazzari. Perspective and architecture classes were first introduced in 1768 with a course taught, and later renewed on a yearly basis, by Francesco Costa. Venice’s Accademia was committed to the conservation and restoration of public artwork since its inception. In 1777, the academic Pietro Edwards authored a remarkable document, a contract containing technical and critical guidelines for conservation work, which can be considered an actual charter for historic heritage conservation avant la lettre. In 1819, Edwards also drafted a project aimed at the establishment of a formal public school dedicated to the restoration of damaged paintings (Instituzione di una Formale Pubblica Scuola pel Ristauro delle danneggiate Pitture, or Institution of a formal public school for the restoration of damaged paintings). In 1807, the Veneta Accademia di Pittura, Scultura e Architettura (Veneto academy of painting, sculpture, and architecture) was reformed to become the Accademia Reale di Belle Arti (Royal academy of fine arts). In the same year, the institute moved to the Santa Maria della Carità complex, which had already been deconsecrated. The professor of architecture Giannantonio Selva, an eminent representative of Classicism, adapted the complex to its new function by merging, in an unprecedented, unconventional manner, the Gothic, Palladian, and Neoclassical elements which already co-existed in the previous projects of the annexed buildings.
After the reform, the Accademia’s president was appointed by the king and held office for life, as did the maestri. In the meantime, starting from 1798 the Accademia started receiving numerous masterpieces previously held in monasteries and churches across the Veneto region. With the restoration of Austrian rule, more artwork was returned to Venice by the French. The museum first opened to the public on 10 August 1817 and later continued to grow thanks to donations by the painters themselves and from private collectors. The Gallerie dell’Accademia was separated from the Academy of Fine Arts only in 1879; until then, the academics had also been in charge of the paintings’ management and conservation.
The Accademia is well represented by the figures who contributed to the growth of new generations of artists, such as Piazzetta, Tiepolo, Zanchi, Diziani, Morlaiter, Selva, Canova, Hayez, Lipparini, Matteini, Grigoletti, Politi, Molmenti, Favretto, Nono, Ciardi, Milesi, Tito, Cadorin, Cesetti, Saetti, Giuliani, Arturo Martini, Alberto Viani, Mario de Luigi, Carlo Scarpa, Afro, Santomaso, and Emilio Vedova. Their names are emblematic of what Venice’s Accademia has always been able to offer, eventually becoming one of the world’s most prestigious art schools.
More than 250 years after its establishment, the Accademia di Belle Arti of Venice left the historic Santa Maria della Carità complex, now occupied entirely by the Gallerie collection, and moved to the recently restored complex of the former Ospedale degli Incurabili (Hospital for the incurable). Today, the Accademia’s role is to provide education and training at the highest level in the field of culture and art production. To better achieve its objectives, the Accademia has overhauled its courses and introduced new, experimental classes in order to provide appropriate theoretical tools and practical skills to broaden the definition of professional profiles and employment opportunities, while at the same time meeting and promoting the personal interests and aspirations of its students. Due to the shortage of space at the Accademia’s main location, in 2008 a new site was established on the island of San Servolo to accommodate all teaching activities, partly still experimental, dedicated to new media and digital image processing (design, special graphic techniques, photography, mass media, and so on).
Venice’s Accademia di Belle Arti is a higher learning institution which promotes tertiary education in the field of the fine arts.