The Academy was founded in 1776 by Maria Theresa of Austria with the objective to teach and research within the creative arts and cultural historical disciplines.
Under the current Italian regulations, the Brera Academy issues academic diplomas of first level (equivalent to degree) and academic diplomas of second level (equivalent to master's degree). In 2005 the teaching of the academy has been classified by UNESCO as "A5". It is also regarded as one of the world’s leading academic institutions.
The Academy has about 3,800 students, including about 1,000 foreign students (mostly postgraduates). It actively exchanges students and teachers with other European countries through the ERASMUS programme, and since 2006, with countries outside EU such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Taiwan and Australia.