Art lovers cannot go to Florence without visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia where the famous sculpture of David lives. The museum is located in via Ricasoli 58/60, a short 6 minute walk from the Florence Cathedral.

The Accademia’s rooms are organised in different collections, mostly divided by medium (painting, sculpture, music) and period. Here is a quick overview, separated by room, of some of the masterpieces you shouldn’t miss at the Accademia.

The Hall of Colossus

Admire two completely different art pieces in this room: The Rape of the Sabines and The Cassone Adimari.

The rape of the Sabine Women, original at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Florence
Rape of the Sabines showcases its creator’s ability to portray difficult poses. Photo by Avital Pinnick licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Rape of the Sabines, right in the center of the Hall of Colossus, is a plaster copy of Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne’s masterpiece. The original marble sculpture lives under the Lanzi Loggia in Piazza della Signoria.

According to the Ancient Roman myth, Roman soldiers who were refused the hand in marriage of Sabine women decided to abduct them and marry them by force. When the Sabine men attacked Rome in reprisal, the stolen women convinced them to stop fighting since they couldn’t accept the loss of their fathers or husbands.

The Rape of the Sabines was a popular theme during the Renaissance because it stressed the importance of marriage as a way to perpetuate both families and cultures. It also gave artists a great opportunity to paint both male and female subjects in extreme poses!

Giambologna (as he is known in Italy) carved the three complex figures out of one solid block of marble. The plaster cast of this incredible sculpture gives visitors the possibility to circle the whole piece and admire it from every angle, which isn’t as easy to do in Piazza della Signoria.

The Cassone Adimari is a painted panel which was part of a wedding chest. It depicts the prestigious wedding of a member of the Adimari family. It was painted by the artist Giovanni Ser Giovanni nicknamed Lo Scheggia (the splinter).

Cassone Adimari detail at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence
A detail of the Cassone Adimari: this painting on wood shows a detailed scene of Renaissance life. Photo by Jean Louis Mazieres, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The wedding festivities take place in the Cathedral square (as hinted by the baptistery famous white and green stripes in the background). Take a few seconds to admire the ornate clothes and incredible headpieces of the 1450s fashion. The intricate fabric with golden and silver embroideries show the level of mastery reached by the craftsmen of the time and the opulence of the upper classes in Florence during the Renaissance.

The Hall of Prisoners

This hall hosts four unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo called The Slaves (Young Slave, Bearded Slave, Awakening Slave and Atlas). They are an allegory of the soul imprisoned in the flesh, slaves to human weakness. Some have argued that Michelangelo himself chose not to complete these art pieces to better represent the struggle between man and matter.

The Slaves were destined for the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome but money for the project ran out and the sculptures never left Florence. At the artists death they were passed on to Cosimo I and housed in the Boboli Gardens until 1909 when they were moved to the Accademia.

Michelangelo's slaves at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence
One of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures: Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his back. Photo by Avital Pinnick licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

These masterpieces are extremely interesting from a technical standpoint. Not only can visitors see the little chip marks left by Michelangelo’s tools but also better understand his work process. Unlike most artists of the time who built a life size model and measured it to reproduce it in stone, Michelangelo worked free hand. He apparently said that the marble already carried its final shape within. He was just freeing it with the help of God.

The Tribune

The sculpture of David by Michelangelo has become one of the symbols of Florence and Italy. The art piece is inspired by the biblical story of David and Goliath, in which a shepherd boy faced a giant to free his people with a sling and a few river stones as his only weapon. Unlike most renditions of David standing over Goliath’s severed head, Michelangelo chose to portray him before the battle, his body taut and ready to spring into action. He worked day and night for two years to complete the masterpiece.

Michelangelo's David, original at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Florence, front view
By comparing the height of the people to the height of the statue, one can get a sense of the dimensions of this artwork. Photo by Avital Pinnick, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

David was the perfect symbol of the ‘thinking man’ of the Renaissance who uses his intellect rather than brute force to get his will. The statue was placed in the political center of the city: Piazza della Signoria where visitors can still see its reproduction today.

In order to protect David from the damage of time and the elements, he was moved to the Accademia Museum in 1873. The Tribune was designed and built especially for him.

Other things to see

There are many other interesting rooms and works of art at the Accademia. If f you are interested in the techniques used by artists to make plaster casts as well as 19th century art, don’t miss The Gipsoteca Bartolini. Music lovers might want to save some time for The Music Room which hosts musical instruments that date as far back as 1650 and even a famous Stradivari violin.

Useful Info

  • The museum opens from 8.15 to 6.50 pm Tuesday through Sunday.
  • From June to September, the opening hours extend to 10.00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • A standard ticket costs € 12
  • In order to skip the long queues you must either be a Firenze Card holder or pay an extra € 4. In both cases, you must book a specific visiting time at this number: +39 055294883 to be let in

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