The city of Florence is famous for various reasons. However, seeing the otherworldly Statue of David on display in Accademia Gallery Florence makes the top of the list. Travelers from all walks of life visit Florence just to be able to see one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures.
Should you? The answer is, quite simply, yes. Even if art and history are not your most favorite things, there are a few artworks which power speaks to all regardless of age, nationality or interests. Michelangelo's David is one of them.
Though, before you go, let me introduce you to a few facts and tips you that will make your Accademia experience more enjoyable.
The Accademia Gallery looks rather unassuming from the outside. Yet, this building, elegant in its simplicity, is one of the most important museums in the whole of Florence. Interestingly, it wasn’t always meant to be a museum.
Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine established the institution in 1784 as a teaching facility for the Academy of Fine Arts. Furthermore, before the ancient works and didactic models for art students, the halls of the building used to house a hospital and a convent; hence, the simplicity.
As the years went by, the gallery was gradually enriched by new sculptures and paintings collected from monasteries and convents suppressed by the Grand Duke in the 18th century. By 1810, it was Napoleon himself who “worked” to extend the Accademia collection.
In 1873, the city decided to move the Statue of David from Piazza della Signorina to the Accademia for the purposes of preservation. To honor Michelangelo and his exceptional work, architect, Emilio de Fabris (known most for the west facade of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral), built a tribune (vaulted apse) within the Accademia Gallery with a large skylight to display Michelangelo’s David in all its surreal glory.
Towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the Accademia underwent a large reorganization sending some of its paintings to other museums. At the same time, a few of other Michelangelo's masterpieces joined the collection. The Hall of Colossus and Byzantine-style Rooms opened in the 1950s featuring further 1300 panel paintings. Last but not least, in the 80s, Lorenzo Bartolini’s plaster cast models joined the exposition of the 19th-century room.
Sure, Michelangelo’s David is THE reason you are visiting Accademia, however, it is not the only work within its walls worth admiring. As I made my way through the museum, each and every hall unraveled skillful and compelling works of art...
The first hall on your journey through Accademia is the Hall of the Colossus. Its grand name comes from the ancient statue, the Dioscuri di Montecavallo, which stood here in the 19th century. It was - as you’ve probably guessed - imposingly colossal. Today, this room offers the plaster model of the enthralling and emotional marble sculpture “Rape of Sabines” by Giambologna.
Giambologna’s Sabines stand surrounded by an exceptional collection of religious paintings and sculptures by Uccello, Filippino Lippi, Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Botticelli from the 15th and 16th century.
The second hall on stealing your attention is the Hall of the Prisoners. This section takes its dramatic name after the four enormous sculptures depicting slaves or prisoners in nude. They stand out from the rest not just for their compelling emotional resonance but also for the fact of being unfinished. Michelangelo didn’t die before he could finish them, no. He left them so intentionally, cleverly depicting the never-ceasing human struggle to break free from the limits and weaknesses of our existence. Most importantly, the emotional and mental fight and struggle of the prisoners look chillingly realistic.
The four prisoners stayed in the Michelangelo’s workshop until his death when his nephew discovered them and gifted them to the Grand Duke Cosimo I Medici. Before being placed in Accademia, they spend years decorating the large Grotto in the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace.
The third hall grants you the sight you’ve been waiting for since the moment you set foot in the gallery. There, in the central part of the hall, right under the flattering light of skylight, stands David in all its imposing glory.
Seeing Michelangelo's David in person is nothing like seeing its picture. The first thing that strikes you is its size. The sculpture is over 4.3m (14 ft) tall; 5.17m (17ft) counting the carved rock pedestal, sculpted from one solid block of white Carrera marble. Towering above its admirers in its purity, the statue feels larger than life.
It’s almost impossible to imagine that Michelangelo was only 26 years old when the Cathedral Works Committee commissioned him to sculpt a large scale statue of the biblical hero, David. David was supposed to be one of the grand statues to decorate the cupola of Florence’s Duomo, standing 80m (262 ft) above Florence.
Michelangelo took the job and the rather neglected piece of marble the committee gave him and worked on the statue in secret for three years. When he presented the finished piece, the committee unanimously agreed the statue was too magnificent to be hidden up high on the cathedral. Hence, it was positioned Piazza Della Signoria, city’s main square.
When you see David, make sure you watch out for a few peculiarities. For instance, since he was intended to be displayed high up and seen from below, Michelangelo scaled some of his body parts disproportionately. David’s head, arms, and his right hand (the one with which he killed the giant) are much larger. It’s hard to notice this in the pictures but it’s quite obvious when seen with your own eyes. Also, be sure to notice the incredible details that make David so realistic like protruding veins and naturally tensed muscles.
After seeing the David sculpture, don’t hurry out just yet. Heat to the Hall of Models (Gipsoteca Bartolini) containing a collection of multiple plaster-cast models by sculptor Bartolini and Pampaloni from the 19th century. Sculptures used to use these plaster cast models to help give their ideas a shape before carving into the marble blocks.
In general, all the works in the room depict the evolution of Florentine art from Neoclassical to Romanticism. The most popular sculptures include statuesque models of great artists such as Machiavelli or Brunelleschi. Personally, I found it to a good way to explore the standards of beauty, style, values of the Florentine society at the time.
The last part of the ground floor spreads over three rooms and displays the Florentine Gothic paintings. One presents you paintings from the 13th and early 14th century, the second one Giottesque painters and the third one features works by Orcagna and his brothers. Most of the works are gold-decorated altarpieces from important Florentine churches and convents. You can be sure be greeted by glittering mosaics and vibrant colors.
For those in love with opera, theater or classical music, Accademia’s collection of musical instruments is a real treat. The former Grand Ducal collections consist of about fifty antique musical instruments; Many of them shaped the history of music. As you make your way through the collection, the instruments will reveal the crucial role music played in everyday life as well as a celebration of the Medici court.
The piece you shouldn’t miss is the unique tenor viola by Antonio Stradivari in 1690. The viola is of exceptional quality. It's made of red spruce and maple wood and decorated with the Medici crest in mother-of-pearl, ivory, and ebony inlays. This tenor viola formed part of the five-string instruments used by the “Medici quintet,” a unique group of elements built exclusively for the Grand Prince Ferdinand. It’s the only tenor viola that managed to survive in its absolute original splendor.
But the musical perks don’t stop here! You are welcome to explore the elegant string and wind instruments, harpsichords, and even follow the birth of pianoforte. The experience is all the more immersive because of the audiovisual tools that accompany the expositions. You can hear the sounds of the instruments as you learn their story.
Although the works on the first floor of the Accademia Gallery Florence are not as famous, they are impressive works of art. What's better, they can be appreciated in a less crowded atmosphere. The gallery direction completely reorganized this floor in 2013. Nowadays, it features Florentine paintings created between 1370 and 1420 (late Gothic period).
One of the most touching work in this section of the Accademia is the “Massacre of the Innocents” by Jacopo di Cione. It expressively captures the horror of this event through terrified expressions of the mothers who try to protect their children. Other work that stands out is the notably more peaceful and gentle “Madonna of Humility” by Don Silvestro Gherarducci.
Accademia Gallery is, along Uffizi, one of the two most popular Florence tourist attractions. If you want your visit to go smoothly, it’s best you keep a few things in mind:
The in front of the gallery is ever present, especially so in summer. If you don’t want to spend an hour or two standing in a line exposed the whims of nature, you would do best to buy your skip-the-line Accademia tickets in advance.
If you didn’t book your Accademia ticket in advance but still want to visit, don’t buy the tickets with the official Accademia ticket office but rather from a third-party provider online. When the official office doesn't have any more tickets for the day, agencies are likely to still have some. Check online!
If you are really interested in the stories surrounding the gallery and the works inside it, I wholeheartedly recommend a guided Accademia tour. Even if the gallery is small, there is much to see and relying on a guidebook is a bit tedious. Plus, the guides are far more entertaining and give you more up-to-date information.
The gallery opens at 08:15 am and closes 06:50 pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Don’t make the mistake of planning your visit for Monday.
On your own, the best time to visit Accademia is early in the morning or after 5 pm - before and after the biggest crowds pass through.
Keep a water bottle on you, just to be safe. You never know how your body will react to crowded space. Plus, in summer, the gallery can get pretty warm inside.
It’s almost unbelievable how many people leave the Accademia after seeing the Statue of David. It’s such a waste as there is so much more to see. Plus, you have paid the price to get in so, try to make the most of it.
One hour is usually enough to explore all halls of the gallery, hour and a half or two is best if you want to be very thorough. Generally, the guided tours last about an hour. once the tours are over, you are free to explore a bit more on your own.