The National Academy of Saint Luca has its origin in the institution established between the late 1500s and early 1600s, as well as in the older University of Art and Painting of Rome. The first statutes of the Universitas picturae [ac] miniaturae date back to 1478 and are to this day held in the Academy’s archive: on the frontispiece Saint Luca is represented in the act of receiving the new rules of the Art from four members of the University. In the small church of San Luca on the Esquilino hill, first seat of the University, there was an altar piece, traditionally attributed to Raphael and dedicated to the Evangelist Luca, patron of painters. The altar piece was later moved to the church of Santi Luca e Martina at the Foro Romano, and finally to Palazzo Carpegna, where it can still be found today.
Although the nominal transformation from Universitas to Academia of the Art of Painting, Sculpture, and Drawing was officially determined in a Breve made by Gregory XIII in 1577, the effective transition into a new institution occurred slowly and gradually, and included the change in location from the demolished church of San Luca (1585) to the existing church of Santa Martina at the Foro Romano, given to the university of painters in 1588 by Sistus V. Girolamo Muziano is responsible for the attempted institutional re-organization; followed by symbolic establishment of the “fondazione” in 1593 by Federico Zuccari, the first Prince of the Academy, and by the approval of the first recognized statutes of the Accademia de i Pittori e Scultori di Roma. After 1634, while Pietro da Cortona was Prince of the Academy, architects entered the Academy with rights equal to those of painters and sculptors. The statutes were updated repeatedly over the centuries leading up to the most recent review in 2005.
Throughout the 1700s the Academy’s prestige reached its apex and obtained international recognition, as underscored by various requests of aggregation made by Italian and foreign academies. In the XIX century the Academy maintained its international importance in the fine arts, thanks to its fundamental role in the teaching of drawing and for a series of annual competitions. The Academy lost part of its influence after the abolition of teaching in 1873.
Among the merit based Academy memberships one can find the most famous artists—painters, sculptors, and architects—such as, Algardi, Baciccio, Balla, Bernini, Borromini, Canova, Caravaggio, Carracci, David, De Chirico, Fontana, Guercino, Juvarra, Nervi, Piranesi, Poussin, Reni, Valadier, Velasquez, Vespignani. Popes, princes, rulers and important figures in the field of historical and artistic studies were and are still found in the Academy as honorary members.