The Florence Academy of Art continues a tradition of artistic training that descends from Renaissance ateliers, such as our namesake, the Florentine, Accademia del Disgeno, founded by Vasari in 1563. The atelier method can be traced through the lineages of the greatest masters of Western European art: Leonardo studied in the atelier (or bottega) of Verrocchio, Van Dyck with Rubens, and Sargent with Carlos-Duran.
The atelier method was based on a clear progression of art training under the supervision of the master artist. In the 16th century, the young students began by copying master drawings, grinding pigments and preparing canvas. They progressed to drawing antique sculptures then to portraiture, still life, and drapery studies. Finally, they arrived at the core of the training: study of the human figure from life in north daylight, either painted in oil or modeled with clay. Advanced students continued to assist the master with his works until they set up their own ateliers.
The great national Academies of the 17th, 18th and 19th century in Europe evolved from this tradition. In addition to important practical training, the academies added anatomy, perspective, composition, art history, and humanities. The name “academy” was chosen because of its association with Plato’s philosophy. As Leonardo’s Notebooks show, Renaissance artists aspired to be seen as intellectuals as well as craftsmen; they wanted painting and sculpture to take their rightful place within the liberal arts next to poetry, music, mathematics and philosophy. Alberti and Vasari in Florence, the Caracci brothers in Bologna, Zuccaro in Rome, and later the founders of the renowned L’Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris all shared a belief in this humanistic art training. The definitive theory and practice is presented in Joshua Reynold’s Discourses on Art before the Royal Academy, London, in 1769.
However, in the 20th century this tradition very nearly died out. Modernism, two world wars, and massive changes in technology and communication changed the landscape of art education. The formulaic passage of artistic knowledge from generation to generation that had previously formed the foundation of Western art was abandoned, leaving few artists to teach these principles in their private studios. As we begin the 21st century, The Florence Academy of Art is at the center of the recovery of this classical artistic training. Our students follow a curriculum similar to the ateliers and academies described above.
While the curriculum of the The Florence Academy of Art is rooted in classical tradition, we make art for the contemporary world. In this globalized and fast-paced time, many people are returning to the authenticity of fine craftsmanship: slow food, handmade furniture, bespoke clothing, traditional dance and martial arts, and of course, music, where academies like Julliard and Curtis Institute continue the classical tradition. Similarly, The Florence Academy of Art seeks to carry forward the best of the Western art tradition with an emphasis on craftsmanship and a humanist perspective.
– Sean Forester, Graduate and former Director of Art History, March 26, 2012