The Academíe was the school where student artists studied masterworks of history like the plaster molds of statues by Bartolini and Pampolini, and legendary musical instruments by Stradivari and Cristofari found sanctuary

This is a series of posts following my wife and me on a tour of Italy.  


By Seth Singleton

Why the Academie?

We had already seen the statue of David. It was gorgeous and stunning. Our guide Sylvie had explained that David had been viewed in a public square for decades. That love had brought it indoors. But, why here? We were told that it had been a center of learning since 1784. What was this place before?


Before it was the Acedemíe

It was a hospital. The Friary Hospital of San Matthew. The adjoining building was the Convent of Saint Niccolo of Cafaggio. Little is recorded about the hospital before this time. Peter Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany chose the building because it adjoined the Accademia di Belle Arti or the Fine Arts Academy. The collection was regularly updated with paintings gathered from other convents and monasteries by Grand Duke Peter Leopold and then Napoleon.


Why it Mattered

It was a place of learning.

Students went there to learn perspective and proportion from the statues in the “Gipsoteca Bartolini.” The statues were plaster casts made by legendary sculptor and academy professor Lorenzo Bartolini. The molds were pierced with steel pins or rods. Students could use these pins for reference when they compared limbs and fingers with the head and torso.


A key value of the Rennaisance was the return to realistic art that portrayed life with fullness and authenticity. One aspect that arose from this pursuit was the concern given to perspective. The pins allowed them to scale fingers, toes, eyes, lips, nose, and chin. It brought life to statues and paintings by making them appear more human.


The Gipsoteca meant “the hall of models” creates a visual timeline from Neoclassicism and Romanticism.  Bartolini’s busts and medallions were in high demand from Russian, Polish, and English families.


The large collection of infant statues were the specialty of Luigi Pampolini. Pampolini’s ability to match Bartolini in grace and beauty rose the two sculptors to equal fame in the eyes of Florentine’s art patrons. The details they capture are so clear they provide insights into hair and clothing fashions and popular ideologies of the time.


A Sanctuary for Musical Instruments

The same passion that brought to life painting and sculpture during the Rennaissance can be seen in the exhibits housed at the Museum of Musical Instruments.  The 50 original pieces of the Grand Ducal collection include the roots of the piano invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori and the tenor viola made by Antonio Stradivari.




Cristofori and the Pianoforte

Cristofori was born in 1655 and worked for the son of the Duke of Tuscany making harpsichords and clavichords. It is believed his work on the first piano began during the 1690s. The first version was completed in 1709.


The pianoforte was the first name of the device Cristofori invented. By connecting each key to little hammers that strike the strings, the instrument that would become the piano produced a louder sound than the clavichord. The complication of dampening the sound from the string was avoided with an escapement. This allowed each hammer to fall away from the string immediately after it was struck.

Numerous innovations produced tones that reflected the force used by a player striking the keys. This new instrument did not catch on for a very long time. Cristofori was among at least 100 other artisans He was considered a mere tinkerer.


The piano he created was modified many times over the three centuries that bring us to the modern piano. The changes replaced Cristofari’s name with words like Steinway, grand, and upright.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form…

Stradivari crafted over 1,100 musical instruments before his death. Over 650 still exist today, but there are also thousands of replicas that were inspired by the different changes and styles of violins he produced. To many collectors, this has led to confusion about what is an authentic Stradivari instrument. Adding to the problem is the addition of the phrase Antonio Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno followed by the numeric year.


A travel blog is much like the destination it describes. The academy was a place where we went to see the statue of David by Michelangelo.

What we found was more than the home for a brilliant sculpture by a legendary artist. This was a home where students worked and strived. The evidence of the artists they aspired to emulate line the floors and walls.

Now it is the home for paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments that offer a timeline in three dimensions.


Click the link to contract blog content from Seth.

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