Artists including Michelangelo Buonarroti, Lazzaro Donati, Francesco da Sangallo, Agnolo Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini, Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo Ammannati, and Giambologna were members. Most members of the Accademia were male; Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman to be admitted.
Its declared purposes are the promotion and diffusion of the arts, and the protection and conservation of cultural heritage worldwide. It organises conferences, concerts, book presentations and exhibitions, and elects noted artists from all over the world to honorary membership. The president is Luigi Zangheri.
The first Accademia delle Arti del Disegno was founded by Cosimo I de' Medici on 13 January 1563, under the influence of Giorgio Vasari. It was initially named the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno, or "academy and company of the arts of drawing", and was made up of two parts: the Company was a kind of guild for all working artists, while the Academy was for more eminent artistic personalities of Cosimo’s court, and supervised artistic production in Tuscany. It was later called the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno. At first, the Academy met in the cloisters of the Santissima Annunziata.
In 1784 Pietro Leopoldo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, combined all the schools of drawing in Florence into one institution, the new Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, or academy of fine arts. The Accademia delle Arti del Disegno was thus suppressed and transformed in the collegio dei professori dell'Accademia.
In the re-organisation following the Unification of Italy, the Collegio dei Professori dell'Accademia delle Arti del Disegno was again separated from the Regia Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze in 1873; it became fully independent of it in 1937, and was at the same time divided into three schools or classes, of architecture, of painting and of sculpture and engraving. Sculpture and painting became separate classes under a new statute of 1953. Since 1971 the Accademia has occupied Palazzo dell'Arte dei Beccai, in via Orsanmichele. The current statute of the organisation was published by decree of the President of the Republic of Italy, and is dated 17 May 1978.