How many times have you walked right by the Academy of Saint Luke (Accademia di San Luca) on your way to visit the nearby Fontana di Trevi and never even noticed it? My guess is many. The next time you’re in the area add the Academy of Saint Luke to your itinerary. It’s an often overlooked jewel and an important part of Rome’s art history.
The Academy was founded in 1592 by the church under the tutelage of Federico Zuccari. It takes its name from San Luca, the patron saint of painters’ guilds. The scope of this association of artists was (and still is) to help artists elevate their works to the highest artistic level. It also served to support the educational, social and professional needs of the painters, sculptors, and architects of Rome. Eventually it also became a social meeting point for artists of all kinds including authors.
The Academy of Saint Luke initially received financial support from the church (which in the past gave the church a large degree of power within the academy) and from the member artists. Presently the academy is a not for profit organization that supports itself through membership quotas and donations from public and private entities.
Originally the organization was located on the Capitol Hill and when that location was destroyed during the war in 1934, the organization was moved to its current location. The palazzo itself originally belonged to the Carpegna family.
As you enter the building the first thing you see is a gorgeous Borromini frieze, which unfortunately is currently under renovation.
The symbol of the organization pictured below embodies the three branches of the organization: painting, sculpture and architecture. The left hand side of the equilateral triangle depicts a paint brush, the right hand side a scalpel and the base a compass.
In order to join the organization each artist was required to donate a work of his/her art, following a concorso, or artistic competition. The work of art had to meet the artistic objectives established by Federico Zuccari, in other words to depict an aspect of life, yet elevated to its highest level. Consequently Caravaggio was excluded from the artists association as his paintings depicted the most brutal and realistic aspects of life and humanity.
The other prerequisite for joining the artists association included the submission of a portrait, painted either by the artist him/herself or by another artist. These portraits, in excess of 500, are all on display within the Palazzo Carpegna.
Although few in number, the organization allowed women members, including Artemisia Gentileschi.
Access to the gallery rooms, library, meeting and conference rooms is via a spiral staircase that features various works of art on display, on a revolving basis. The current exhibition, which will close February 28, 2017, is Roma Parigi: Accademie a Confronto, the Academy of Saint Luke & French Artists.
The hallway at the top of the staircase that leads to the permanent collection rooms contains a number of Canova sculptures.
In addition to the portrait room, another room within the permanent collection features landscape paintings, including some by Brill and Salvator Rosa.
The Academy of Saint Luke’s library is full of wonderful art books well worth taking a look at.
The conference room walls are covered in elaborate red brocade. A lovely Raffaello painting is located in this room: San Luca Che Dipinge la Vergine (San Luca Painting the Virgin).
Directly beneath this painting is a small lion sculpture by Bernini.
To this day, the Academy of Saint Luke remains an important support mechanism for emerging artists from Italy and Europe. The Academy is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and every last Sunday of the month from 10.00 to 13.00.
Where to find the academy:
Piazza dell’Accademia di San Luca 77
Tel. 06 679 8850