The Florence Academy of Fine Arts has its headquarters in the ancient San Matteo hospital, well restored, originally built between 1388 and 1410.
Its origins date back to when the city guilds were first established.
The first nucleus, from which the Vasarian Academy of Arts and Drawing developed, was the Company of San Luca or the Company of Painters, established in 1339 under the patronage of Cosimo I de’ Medici and universally recognised as one of the first European institutions for teaching arts and sciences, thus marking the start of the modern concept of an Academy. At the head of the Academy, Cosimo I and the “divine” Michelangelo were appointed as the first “rectors”. The latter, however, lived in Rome and died a year after the appointment. The Academy dedicated memorable funeral rites to him, and he was buried in the Santa Croce church.
This was the beginning of a cultural institute of great historical-artistic value, which has numbered among its members important people such as Vasari, Ammannati, Sansovino, Giambologna and Cellini, and among its students, the great Galileo Galilei.
In 1784, the Great Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo I di Lorena, reorganised the Academy according to a European modernisation criterion, which was neo-classically renamed the Academy of Fine Arts.
The subjects taught were established as Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Ornamentation and Copper Engraving. Apart from teaching, an art gallery and a collection of statues and original plaster casts were organised inside the Institute; the plaster casts included, for example, that of the “Rape of the Sabine Women” by Giambologna, now in the Academy Museum, and that of the “Partendone Divinities” which Canova arranged to be moved to Florence; as well as a rich library with a huge collection of rare editions and prints.
Awards, exhibitions and scholarships were instituted, to allow young students to study in Rome or other Italian cities. Under the Napoleonic Statute of 1811, the Academy was enriched with a School of Music and Recital, and a Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. These two “classes” were respectively the origin of the Music Conservatory and the Technical Institute.
In the nineteen hundreds, the educational reform, known as the “Riforma Gentile”, took place in 1923, and the Architecture department was moved to Florence University, and in 1970 Specialisation Courses were created.
At present, with the Specialisation Courses and the consequent distinction between the I and II level Diplomas, the Academy is organised as a university type of institute.