From the maze of narrow, winding streets, witness to the old medieval town, the Gallery of the Academy appears on via Ricasoli, camouflaged among the other buildings but preannounced by a long line of visitors. Famous for hosting Michelangelo's David (the original; the one in Piazza della Signoria, is only a copy) and the famous Prigioni (Prisoners). In reality it is an enormous museum displaying a large number of splendid masterpieces and also includes the Museum of Musical Instruments, which became part of the complex in 1966.
The Gallery of the Academy came into being in 1784 when the Grand Duke Leopold of Lorraine set up the Academy of Fine Arts with the idea of gathering all the works of art owned by the art school in one museum. The statue of David was brought there only in 1873; in 1882 Emilio De Fabris made the tribune on which the imposing statue still stands today. During the 1900's numerous works were purchased, including Michelangelo's St. Matthew, Palestrina's Pity and the Prigioni (Prisoners) – the statues that Michelangelo had sculpted in 1530 for the mausoleum commissioned by Pope Julius II – which until then had been in the Boboli Gardens.
Immediately after entering, on the ground floor, we find the gallery with its splendid perspective, to be crossed under the gaze of St. Matthew, and then of the Prigioni until we find ourselves in front of David. Michelangelo sculpted this statue between 1502 and 1504; this was the most commonly portrayed Biblical character in the Renaissance, because he symbolises astuteness winning over brute force. The statue, became the symbol of the city right from the time of the Medici family.
It was created as one of the personages that were to decorate the façade of the Duomo, but in the end a commission of experts decided to place it in front of the Public Palace (which then became the Palazzo Vecchio). The iconography is revolutionary; David is not portrayed after the fight with Goliath but in the moment of greatest tension, immediately before facing his enemy.
Among the other rooms of the museum are the Orcagna Room, from the nickname of the three painter brothers Andrea, Nardo and Jacopo Di Cione, the International Gothic Room, the Late 1300s Room and the room of the Giotteschi, the artists who followed Giotto, who worked in the 14th century.