Giorgio Vasari’s description of the Medici “academy”
Vasari wrote most extensively about the Medici sculpture garden—the so-called Medici Academy—in his life of Pietro Torrigiano:
Now there was more pride than art, although he was very able, to be seen in Torrigiano, a sculptor of Florence, who in his youth was maintained by the elder Lorenzo de’ Medici in the garden which that magnificent citizen possessed on the Piazza di S. Marco in Florence. This garden was in suchwise filled with the best ancient statuary, that the loggia, the walks, and all the apartments were adorned with noble ancient figures of marble, pictures, and other suchlike things, made by the hands of the best masters who ever lived in Italy or elsewhere. And all these works, in addition to the magnificence and adornment that they conferred on that garden, were as a school or academy for the young painters and sculptors, as well as for all others who were studying the arts of design, and particularly for the young nobles; since the Magnificent Lorenzo had a strong conviction that those who are born of noble blood can attain to perfection in all things more readily and more speedily than is possible, for the most part, for men of humble birth, in whom there are rarely seen those conceptions and that marvelous genius which are perceived in men of illustrious stock….
Lorenzo the Magnificent, then, always favoured men of genius…wherefore it is no marvel that from that school there should have issued some who have amazed the world. And what is more, he not only gave the means to buy food and clothing to those who, being poor, would otherwise not have been able to pursue the studies of design, but also bestowed extraordinary gifts on anyone among them who had acquitted himself in some work better than the others; so that the young students of our arts, competing thus with each other, thereby became very excellent….
Truly magnificent was the example thus given by Lorenzo, and whenever Princes and other persons of high degree choose to imitate it, they will always gain everlasting honour and glory thereby; since he who assists and favors, in their noble undertakings, men of rare and beautiful genius, from whom the world receives such beauty, honour, convenience and benefit, deserves to live forever in the minds and memories of mankind.
Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere (London: Philip Lee Warner, 1912–4), IV: 184–5.