The National Archaeological Museum originated in the sixteenth century, due to donations from Venetian families, thus acquiring a collector's character.
In 1523, Cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461-1523) bequeathed to the Republic of Venice a group of ancient sculptures from his private collection. Most of these works came from a vineyard near the Quirinal in Rome, where the cardinal was building his residence.
The grandson, Giovanni Grimani (1500-1593), starting from 1563 devoted himself to the expansion and decoration of the rooms of the family palace in Santa Maria Formosa, with the aim of creating a scenic setting to house his own collection. This was housed on the first floor of the building: nearly two hundred Greek and Roman sculptures were neatly placed in the central hall. The collection included sculptures from the family's Roman possessions, a core of marble from the Venetian mainland and the Istrian coast, and ancient sculptures from Greece. In 1587 this collection was also donated to the Republic of Venice and on February 3 the college of senators, in agreement with Giovanni, established that all the Grimani marbles were housed in the antechamber of the Marciana Library.
In 1593, on the death of Giovanni Grimani without the preparation of the collection being completed, the senators of the Republic commissioned to take care of the preparation of the Federico Contarini collection. The latter, counting on the Council of Ten and reaching an agreement with some of the patriarch's nephews, decided to leave some sculptures in the Grimani palace while others were transported to the "public statuary". This setting was completed in 1596, thanks also to some donations from Federico Contarini himself.
The Museum in more recent times
Other donations of works took place in 1683 (medal table by Pietro Morosini) and in 1795 (gems and antique vases by Girolamo Zulian). In the eighteenth century Anton Maria Zanetti drew up an inventory, thanks to which we know the layout of the Statuary and its appearance.
In 1811 further donations had increased the works of the Statuary to such an extent that some of them had to be exhibited at the Doge's Palace
During the First World War the works housed in the Doge's Palace were moved to Florence, and then returned to Venice between 1919 and 1920. In those years an adequate arrangement of the works was carried out in the Procuratie Nuove, where they were organized by epoch and by artistic currents. Throughout the century the number of works continued to increase.