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A is for Florence's Accademia delle Arti del Disegno

Throughout its multi-century history, there have been a considerable number of women painters at the AADFI, the first of whom was Artemisia Gentileschi in 1616. She was admitted just three years after scientist Galileo, and the two corresponded frequently. This prestigious centre of aggregation for artists active in Florence would often focus on the relationship between science and art.

Inside the Accademia della Arti del Disegno Series, ph. Valeria Raniolo, 2021

Forging the artist ideal

“The Accademia delle Arti del Disegno di Firenze (AADFI) was the first academy for artists in the Western world, and although it has undergone change and transformation, it has never lost sight of its mission. It has never stopped working for the arts and artists,” the organisation’s President Dr. Cristina Acidini, notes during the first of 2020’s Restoration Conversations’, organized by AWA and The Florentine. “Its doors have been open for more than 450 years, with virtually no interruption and that is something of which we are very proud. I am the first woman to be at the head of this institution and it is a true honor.” Here are a few of the things we learned, on-site or from afar, during the broadcast at Palazzo dell’Arte dei Beccai, a fourteenth-century palazzo in central Florence.

Inside the Accademia della Arti del Disegno Series, ph. Valeria Raniolo, 2021

Moving up in the world

The AADFI was founded in 1563, spearheaded by artist and writer Giorgio Vasari who gained the support of the first Medici Grand Duke Cosimo I. The challenge was to elevate the status of artists in Florence by giving them the same visibility and reputable standing that men of law or letters enjoyed. Vasari sought to overturn the commonly held idea that artists were craftsmen of talent, but that they lacked learning and lofty ideals. Humanist author and architect Leon Battista Alberti is worthy of mention in this context, however, because, in 1436, he was the first to suggest than an artist should become an avid reader and gain knowledge about the history and myths of the ancient world, in order to be well versed in sophisticated themes. In the mid-1500s, painters were still enrolled in the ‘Guild for Physicians and Spice Makers’, because, like apothecaries, they were involved in the grinding and preparation of colors. In Vasari’s view, the only way to improve the status of artists was to have them form part of a prestigious academy, organised like those belonging to other fields of literature and the sciences.

Inside the Accademia della Arti del Disegno Series, ph. Valeria Raniolo, 2021

The mark of Michelangelo

The AADFI’s symbol is an ancient one, inspired by the three rings Michelangelo used to carve on his blocks of marble. The rings denoted three crowns honoring the great poets of Tuscany: Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Traditionally, the oak tree represented architects, the olive tree painters, whilst the laurel was reserved for sculptors. “The AADFI’s crowns are intertwined. The three arts are like allegorical sisters, all daughters to their great father ‘Disegno’,” Dr. Acidini explains. “In English, you have two words, ‘design’ and ‘drawing’. The first denotes the project in one’s mind, the second refers to marks made on paper. In Italy, it is a single concept – these two ideas in one. The Accademia delle Arti del Disegno was founded by men, in the name of great man Michelangelo Buonarroti, who was the ideal father of all the Arts, and as such, the father of this institution.”

Outside the Accademia della Arti del Disegno Series, ph. Valeria Raniolo, 2021

Vignettes of Artemisia

Historically, the AADFI was a tribunal of sorts, where artists would go to resolve quarrels and settle controversies. Famously, Artemisia Gentileschi – matriculated in 1616 – was summoned there to settle a debt incurred towards a supplier. Magnanimously, the Grand Duke Cosimo II would pardon the guilty verdict. During a second hearing, however, Artemisia would be sentenced to pay her creditors – and indebtedness would continue to plague the artist, until she finally left Florence in 1620, with characteristic drama. According to Patrizia Cavazzini’s essay “Orazio and Artemisia: From ‘such an ugly deed ’to ‘honours and favours’ at the English court” in Artemisia, the National Gallery of London’s 2020 exhibition catalog: “Overcome by debts, [Artemisia] fled the city, pursued by Grand Duke Cosimo II’s fury. She had failed to complete paintings for him for which she had received an advance, a behaviour akin to theft. Among the many skills she had acquired in Florence, she had learned to ride and, in her frantic escape, she did so at lightning speed. She avoided a dangerous fall from her horse only because ‘she fears nothing’.”

A word to the Accademia-wise

The Accademia delle Arti del Disegno is not to be confused with the Accademia delle Belle Arti, Florence’s Fine Arts Academy, founded in 1784, under the patronage of Medici Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, who decided to separate the AADFI’s teaching section from its college of academicians. At the same time, Pietro Leopoldo conceived the Accademia Gallery, on via dei Ricasoli, best known as home to Michelangelo’s David – which stood outdoors, in Piazza della Signoria until 1870. Interestingly, the bulk of the venue’s art collection passed into the Grand Duke’s hands, after his suppression of Tuscany’s convents and monasteries in the 1780s. He believed these ancient religious works would suitably serve young art students, as they sought to learn through copying.


An interview with Cristina Acidini

From 2000 to 2014, Florentine art historian, author and museum executive Cristina Acidini was superintendent in Florence, first at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure – one of the world’s foremost art conservation centers – and, then, for the Polo Museale Fiorentino museum circuit which comprised twenty-seven State art museums including the Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens, etc. She is currently president of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno of Florence (the oldest artistic academy in the world, founded in 1563 by Giorgio Vasari in honor of Michelangelo) and the Casa Buonarroti Foundation, which houses that master’s sculptures, documents and drawings. Dr. Acidini is also vice-president of the Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell'Arte ‘Roberto Longhi’ in Florence. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, she has spent decades promoting, planning and directing restoration campaigns, exhibitions and projects for museum expansion and renovation in Italy and abroad. Her research and publications are often linked to these endeavours and include works on Botticelli, Michelangelo, the Medici, gardens and other Renaissance themes. She is the author of two novels.

This article, by Linda Falcone, was originally published

in Inside AWA magazine, Summer edition, 2021.


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