Summary · Museums and Galleries in Italy:
Venice
· The Accademia Galleries:
the history of two institutions
· The Accademia Galleries:
the masterpieces exposed
Articles
Art

Museums and Galleries in Italy: Venice

Where the immortal beauties of lagoon art find a home

Wandering through cantons and campielli, across bridges and canals, Venice leads art lovers among the works exposed in the place that is the heart of Venetian painting: the Gallerie dell'Accademia.

The Accademia Galleries: the history of two institutions

Entrance to the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Venice's largest art gallery has its origins in the city's Academy of Fine Arts, which had already been active since 1765, the year of its official foundation. It was not until much later, in 1809, that the gallery space was set up in connection with it, as a result of Napoleon's reformist intervention, following Venice's entry into the French orbit of Bonaparte's Kingdom of Italy (which occurred with the fall of the Serenissima in 1797 and the Treaty of Presburg in 1805), This led to the closure of palaces, churches and convents and the confiscation of their assets, a large part of which went to considerably expand the original nucleus collected by the Accademia in previous years for restoration or teaching purposes reserved for students.

Initially located in the Fonteghetto della Farina, near St. Mark's Square (originally a warehouse for the city's cereal supplies, now home to the Port Authority), the collection formerly assembled by the Accademia and the Accademia itself were transferred, in 1807 on the occasion of its reformation into a 'royal' academy, to a complex of Gothic and Renaissance buildings overlooking the Grand Canal, comprising the church, the monastery and the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità. Dating from the 12th century, the church and monastery underwent continuous restoration and extension, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, but the fire of 1630 and the collapse of the bell tower in 1744 led to their gradual decline until their closure in 1806. The Scuola Grande, founded in 1260 to provide charity and mutual aid to the poor, thanks to the conspicuous donations received by the managing confraternity of the Battuti, was able to embellish its architecture and house prestigious masterpieces such as Titian's Presentation of Mary in the Temple.

Titian, Presentation of Mary at the Temple, 1534-1538. Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia (Sala dell'Albergo).

💡 Did you know? The term 'Scuola' (Grande) refers to the institutions of ancient formation, typically Venetian, of an associative-corporative and lay nature. Divided into Scuole (for members of the middle class) and Scuole Grandi (for patricians), each of them chose a patron saint to whom they would consecrate themselves and to whom they would pay homage on their feast day.

After the closure of the School in 1806, following the suppression of the Lateran order in 1768, the whole building was subjected by the Napoleonic government to a wide-ranging and costly transformation project entrusted to the architect Giovanni Antonio Selva, who decided to maintain the characteristics of the old buildings and preserve their most important elements (for example, the wall built to house the Titian Presentation remained untouched), limiting himself to dividing the rooms between those dedicated to academic teaching and those used for exhibitions.

💡 Did you know? Giovanni Antonio Selva (or Giannatonio, 1751-1819) was an important Venetian architect linked to Neoclassicism. A teacher at the city's Academy of Art, he soon became well known, especially in the region, for some significant achievements, such as the construction of the "La Fenice" Theatre.

In 2015, however, the paths of the two institutions diverged: due to practical necessities, such as the extension of the museum's premises and the need to guarantee adequate space for the ever-increasing number of students, the Accademia's courses were relocated to the restored buildings of the 16th-century Ospedale degli Incurabili, thus physically realising a separation that had already taken place in bureaucratic terms in 1878.

Accademia delle Belle Arti (ex Ospedale degli Incurabili), Venice.

The Accademia Galleries: the masterpieces exposed

Today, the Accademia Gallery offers the world's richest collection of Venetian painting, leaving little room for works by other schools.

A sample is given of the work of the Bottega Vivarini, whose members (the brothers Bartolomeo and Antonio, and the latter's son Alvise) were very active in the province, in the minor centres of the hinterland and with less cultured patrons. Worthy of note are the Ca' Morosini Polyptych by Bartolomeo and the Sacred Conversation by his nephew Alvise.

Alvise Vivarini, Sacra conversazione (1480). Venice, The Accademia Galleries

Alvise Vivarini, Sacra conversazione (1480). Venice, The Accademia Galleries

Among the great names are Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio with their well-known canvases of local tradition: the former's Procession in St Mark's Square; the latter's famous Stories of St Ursula, painted on commission by the school devoted to the saint. There is also Giovanni Bellini, whose numerous preserved triptychs include the famous Pietà Martinengo.

Giovanni Bellini, Pietà Martinengo (1505 ca.). Venezia, Gallerie dell'Accademia

Giovanni Bellini, Pietà Martinengo (1505 ca.). Venezia, Gallerie dell'Accademia

Finally, the exhibition closes with the masters of the 16th century: along with Titian (and his aforementioned Presentation) there is Giorgione, whose enigmatic Tempest and equally remarkable Portrait of an Old Woman are exposed; Tintoretto with two canvases dedicated to St. Mark (St. Mark Freeing a Slave and Stealing the Saint's Body); and Paolo Veronese with the much-discussed Dinner in the Levi House.

Paolo Veronese, Dinner in the Levi House (1573). Venice, Academy Galleries

Paolo Veronese, Dinner in the Levi House (1573). Venice, Academy Galleries

There are also examples of 18th-century Vedutism with Canaletto and some of his splendid perspectives. However, Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, which is only exhibited on special occasions, remains the pride of the museum.

By Vincenzo Canto
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