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The new gallery of plaster casts in the Accademia Gallery in Florence

Florence –  A true jewel, the Gipsoteca of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, which reopens to the public with a new look, after two and a half years of work, bringing to a close the major construction works that began in 2020. BEYOND THE DAVID is the title with which director Cecilie Hollberg presents the new Galleria dell’Accademia, underlining the fact that the museum is not only a treasure trove of Michelangelo’s sculpture, beloved the world over, but also witnesses important collections linked to Florentine art that now, at last, emerge stealing the show even from David.

“The Gipsoteca is the last precious piece in the renewal process of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence,” Cecilie Hollberg states with satisfaction. “A task that was entrusted to me by the Franceschini reform, namely to bring a new, modern Gallery from the 19th century into the 21st century. An enormous undertaking that we managed to accomplish thanks to the heartfelt and constant commitment of our very small staff and all those who supported us. Despite the many setbacks, due to the suspension of autonomy, the pandemic crisis, and the various critical aspects of the structure encountered during the course of the project, we managed to pull off the miracle. The layout of the Gipsoteca has been reorganised and modernised in full respect of the historical one, and I thank my friend Carlo Sisi for his precious advice. The plaster casts, restored and cleaned, are enhanced by the light powder blue of the walls, so much so that they seem alive, with their lives, their stories. The result is magnificent! We are proud and happy to be able to share it now with everyone.”

“The reopening of the Gipsoteca is an important step in the journey undertaken since 2016 to bring the Accademia Gallery in Florence, one of Italy’s most important and visited state museums, into the twenty-first century,” says Culture Minister Dario Franceschini. “The works, concerning the entire building, have allowed significant innovations in the installations, making a museum conceived in the second half of the 19th century modern, without distorting it. All this has been made possible by the passion, dedication and professionalism with which Director Hollberg and the entire staff of the Gallery have worked since the establishment of the autonomous museum in 2015, amidst a thousand difficulties and interruptions due to the pandemic. I therefore wish every success to this day of celebration for the Accademia Gallery and extend my sincerest congratulations to all those who have worked to achieve this important result.”

“That of the Gipsoteca in the Galleria dell’Accademia – underlines Carlo Sisi, President of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze – is an exemplary restitution, which in respecting the previous layout conceived by Sandra Pinto in the 1970s is configured as a true critical act, a museum operation that preserves a crucial episode of national museography, renewing its compositional structure and the grace of its details with methodological intelligence. The new colour chosen for the walls makes it possible to recover the correct reading of the works, now exhibited in their entirety, and the removal of the obsolete air conditioners makes it possible to admire the sequence of works without disturbing interruptions, but with the ‘poetic’ continuity that can finally draw the visitor into what in the 19th century was called the adventure in the atelier”.

The monumental 19th-century hall, formerly the women’s ward of the old San Matteo hospital, later incorporated into the Accademia di Belle Arti, houses the collection of plaster casts, more than 400, including busts, bas-reliefs, monumental sculptures, and original models mostly by Lorenzo Bartolini, one of the most important Italian sculptors of the 19th century. The collection was acquired by the Italian State after the artist’s death and moved to this location following the flood of ’66. A fascinating place that ideally recreates Bartolini’s studio, enriched by a collection of paintings by 19th-century masters who studied or taught at the Academy of Fine Arts.

The interventions were of a static-structural nature, relating to the air-conditioning system, lighting and the electrical system. For reasons of static and climatic stability, several windows were closed, allowing the new layout, with the walls painted in the “gipsoteca” colour, powder blue, to recover a large exhibition space, enriching the Gipsoteca also with those plaster models that were hitherto kept in the Gallery’s offices. The shelves, renovated and enlarged, house the portrait busts, which for the first time could be secured thanks to a safe and non-invasive anchoring system. The fragile plaster models underwent careful conservation and dusting during the renovation work. All works were subjected to a thorough photographic campaign.

The major construction works began in 2016, including the study and preparation phases, generating documentation and plans that were not there. It was necessary to: bring the security system up to standard; renovate the plant engineering; carry out architectural-structural restoration of the Gipsoteca; consolidate or replace the shabby 18th-century wooden trusses in the Sala del Colosso; work on the ventilation and air-conditioning systems, which were missing in some rooms or were 40 years old; and provide adequate lighting. The works covered 3000 square metres of the museum. A total of 750 metres of ventilation ducts were replaced or sanitised and 130 metres of ducts renovated. For the first time, the museum now has a functioning air conditioning system in every room with new state-of-the-art LED lights that enhance the exhibits and contribute to energy efficiency. As required, work was carried out on all works in the museum, they were moved, protected, packed, dusted, revised or otherwise. And with the occasion, in-depth photographic, conservation or digitisation campaigns were carried out on all collections. Routes and layouts were rethought.

From the Hall of the Colossus, which opens the exhibition itinerary with its Accademia blue, characterised in the centre by the imposing Rape of the Sabine Women, Giambologna’s masterpiece, around which the precious collection of 15th and early 16th century Florentine painting revolves, to the previously unseen room dedicated to the 15th century, in which masterpieces such as the so-called Cassone Adimari by Scheggia or Paolo Uccello’s Thebaid, finally legible in all their marvellous detail, find their perfect setting. From the Galleria dei Prigioni to the Tribuna del David, the fulcrum of the museum, with the largest collection of Michelangelo’s works that the new lighting enhances, making visible every detail, every sign of the “unfinished”. Works that compare with the great altarpieces of the 16th and early 17th centuries, testifying to Michelangelo’s influence on his fellow countrymen in their search for the new spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. And finally the rooms of the 13th and 14th centuries, where the gold backgrounds shine with a luminosity never before perceived on the walls painted a “Giotto” green. Today, the Accademia Gallery in Florence has changed face, has a strong new identity.

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