Unlike many Italian municipal museums that were created after the suppression of ecclesiastical institutions and the dispersal of aristocratic picture galleries, the Accademia Carrara has mainly been formed by the generosity of private individuals, art lovers and collectors who have left their collections, and small groups of art objects, as well as single works to the Museum. 

Towering above the long list of donors, which testifies to an uninterrupted tradition of affection and artistic patronage in the city, are Giacomo Carrara (1796), Guglielmo Lochis (1866), Giovanni Morelli (1891) and, most recently, Federico Zeri (1998).

Their bequests have formed the backbone of the Museum, helping to establish the overall nature of the Accademia Carrara collection. Even so, together with the larger donations, there has been an uninterrupted series of over 200 donations, which have greatly enriched and diversified the collection as a whole. Notable among these are those from Carlo Marenzi (1851), the owner of the Madonna and Child by Andrea Mantegna, from Francesco Baglioni (1900), who left the Carrara a rare set of fifteenth-century tarot cards, and from Cesare Pisoni (1923-24), who donated a small but important collection of paintings from the second half of the nineteenth century.