The Accademia Carrara is the only Italian museum made up of bequests from important private collectors. It was established in Bergamo in 1794, as a combined Pinacoteca and School of Painting, at the initiative of the Bergamo aristocrat Giacomo Carrara (1714–1796), who began the construction of the building to house his rich collection of paintings. Count Carrara also made provision for the future support of the Accademia, leaving his whole estate to it in his will. After his death, the running of the Accademia Carrara passed into the hands of a Commissarìa consisting of members of local aristocratic families.
Over time the number and quality of works in the Accademia grew to an extraordinary degree. The Carrara Collection was added to in subsequent years by donations from Count Guglielmo Lochis (1789–1859), administrator, politician and collector; Giovanni Morelli (1816–1891), connoisseur, senator of the Kingdom of Italy and one of the founding fathers of modern art history; and Federico Zeri (1921–1998), a supreme expert in Italian art, who donated his collection of sculptures.
Besides the major donations, a galaxy of over two hundred other precious bequests were received by the Accademia over the years. These gradually enriched the museum’s collections, which now total some 1,800 paintings, extending its chronological range and thematic scope.
From being a museum dedicated to Renaissance painting – with the great masterpieces of Pisanello, Mantegna, Bellini, Botticelli, Raphael, Lotto and Moroni – the Accademia Carrara grew into an art museum tout court, with a broad representation of pictorial genres from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a substantial collection of prints and drawings, and fine decorative art objects including fans, porcelain, small bronzes and medals.
The palazzo housing the collection was completed in 1810 to a design by the architect Simone Elia; the new construction incorporated the small building that had housed the School of Painting since the time of Giacomo Carrara. Throughout the nineteenth century the museum and school complex remained united. Only at the beginning of the twentieth century was a new wing built in the rear garden to house the School of Painting. From an architectural point of view, the whole main part of the historic building has remained substantially unchanged through to the present.
The Pinacoteca has had a number of layouts over the years. Amongst the most significant is that of 1881 (by Carlo Lochis and Francesco Baglioni), those of 1912 and 1930 (both by Corrado Ricci), and the one of 1955, curated by Gian Alberto Dell’Acqua, Fernanda Wittgens and Franco Russoli.
In the meantime, due to the unquestionable importance of the collections, and, at the same time, to guarantee the institution a continuity that respected its identity and history, the Municipality of Bergamo took over the Accademia Carrara in 1958, and the Pinacoteca became a fully fledged municipal museum.
In 2008 the museum closed for restoration and the replacement of electrical systems and other plant. The work on the building was accompanied by a new arrangement of the paintings. The newly refurbished museum was inaugurated on 23 April 2015. [source]