The Medici family
The Medici dynasty was the political, economic and artistic protagonists in Florence, Italy from the 15th to the early 18th century. The Medici family built a fortune in the banking industry and began their rise to prominence under Cosimo de’ Medici in the Republic of Florence during the first half of the 15th century. This Medici Bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century,
Portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent. 1555-1565 in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery
The family originated in the Mugello region of Tuscany and they officially remained citizens rather than monarchs until the 16th century. Around 1444, Cosimo the Eldest, the patriarch of the Medici family, commissioned The design of the majestic palace was entrusted to the architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, who completed it in about 10 years. Michelozzo di Bartolomeo built the palace on via Larga (now via Cavour), close to the church of San Lorenzo. This palace is the first Renaissance building erected in Florence. The chapel in the Palazzo Medici is an absolutely fascinating little gem; one of the most charming settings of Florence’s Renaissance.. Given the chapel’s small small size, entrance to the chapel is limited to groups of up to 10 people at a time.
The stone palace was completed in 1484 with architectural elements of rustication and ashlar. It is characteriz1zed by a huge cornice crowning the roof line, the palace has arched windows arranged along its front and a partially closed loggia on the corner of the building. Two asymmetrical doors led to the typical 15th century courtyard that originally opened on to a Renaissance garden. In 1517 the original building was altered by closing the loggia and adding the two “kneeling” windows according to Michelangelo’s project. Originally designed as a sort of cube with ten windows for each ground and three big doors in the facade.
In the Medici family tree, there were countless Cardinals, two Popes, two Queens of France, and seven Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Medici produced three Popes: Pope Leo X (1513–1521), Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), and Pope Leo XI (1605). There were also two queens regent of France—Catherine de’ Medici (1547–1559) and Marie de’ Medici (1600–1610).
In 1532, the family acquired the hereditary title Duke of Florence. In 1569, the duchy was elevated to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany after territorial expansion. The Medici Family ruled the Grand Duchy from its inception until 1737, with the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici.
Look for Cosimo di Medici (Bronzino) at the Uffizi
Here’s a link to the Family Tree:
Cosimo III in Grand Ducal regalia pictured above.
Medici: Masters of Florence is an Italian-British television drama series about the Medici dynasty set in 15th-century Florence, starring Dustin Hoffman as Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, Richard Madden as Cosimo de’ Medici, and Stuart Martin as Lorenzo de’ Medici (The Elder).
The series is set in the 15th-century Florence, and the protagonist is Cosimo the Elder, who was elected head of the Florentine Republic in 1434. Cosimo has inherited the Bank of Medici from his father Giovanni, who has been mysteriously poisoned. Through various flashbacks (20 years prior), we are introduced to Florence at the time of Giovanni, and to his relationship with his sons Cosimo and Lorenzo.
The Medici are remembered as the greatest art collectors in history and helped ignite the Florentine Renaissance. Some of the amazing artists who worked for the family include: Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giorgio Vasari, and Benvenuto Cellini.
After the transfer of Cosimo de’ Medici to Palazzo Vecchio in 1540 as Grand Duke, the original palace continued to be inhabited by the lesser members of the family until 1659, when Ferdinando II sold it to the Riccardi marquises.
It was at this time that the palace layout was enlarged and significantly altered. The most important works consisted in the large hall decorated with the frescoes of Luca Giordano that is one of the most significant examples of Baroque architecture in Florence, and in the new entrance staircase built by the architect Foggini. Baroque decorations were added also to the courtyard through the addition of old marbles belonging to the Riccardi collection.
The Artwork in the Chapel of the Magi
The real jewel of the building is on the first floor of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the Chapel of the Magi frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli in the fifteenth century. It was the private chapel for the Medici family. In the Magi Chapel, Gozzoli adorned the frescos with a wealth of anecdotal detail and portraits of members of the Medici family and their allies, along with Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg parading through Tuscany in the guise of the Three Wise Men. Many of the biblical depictions allude to the Council of Florence (1438-1439), an event that brought prestige to both Florence and the Medici. Among the many faces in the frescoe, you will find Benozzo Gozzoli, whose head is turned and his eye looks out toward the observer.
Benozzo Gozzoli (pictured above as a self portrait in the fresco) was a pupil of the famous Fra Angelico He created a beautiful series of frescoes depicting the Cavalcade of the Magi to Bethlehem. The procession of the Magi frescoes explicitly referred to the train of the Concilium that met in Florence in 1439. Many of the personalities portrayed are wealthy residents of Florence and of the time and members of the Medici family. Benozzo Gozzoli painted characters with sumptuous regal robes and blended art, history and public celebration.
In the procession of knights, among the followers of the Magi, on horseback is Cosimo Il Vecchio, “the Elder”, who commissioned the work as well as his son Piero the Gouty and his grandchildren Lorenzo and Giuliano. The young man on horseback leading the procession is Lorenzo, who later will be known as ” the Magnificent“.
The fresco also includes collaborators and allies of the family (bankers as well as political supporters) according to the custom of the time, such as Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini and Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan.
The fresco’s colors and atmosphere bring to mind Flemish paintings and tapestries and are without a doubt the artist’s most famous work of art. The theme of the Cavalcade of the Magi occupies three of the four chapel walls, those on the eastern, southern and western sides. “The Journey of the Magi” is on the largest wall, while the “Vigil of the Shepherds awaiting the Announcement” is on the wall above the doors to the sacristies.
and the Annunciation shown below.
Both frescoes are at the National Gallery, London.
The building is one of the first examples of what later became known as Renaissance architecture in Florence, even though it still has many traditional elements such as the use of “pietra forte”, the lower “rustic” hewn stones and mullioned windows.
The tripartite elevation used here expresses the Renaissance spirit of rationality, order, and classicism on human scale. This tripartite division is emphasized by horizontal string courses that divide the building into stories of decreasing height. The transition from the rusticated masonry of the ground floor to the more delicately refined stonework of the third floor makes the building seem lighter and taller as the eye moves upward to the massive cornice that caps and clearly defines the building’s outline.
Michelozzo was influenced in his design of the palace by both classical Roman and Brunelleschian principles. During the Renaissance revival of classical culture, ancient Roman elements were often replicated in architecture. In the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the rusticated masonry and the cornice had precedents in Roman practice, yet in totality it looks distinctly Florentine, unlike any known Roman building.
VIsit the Medici Chapels
The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They’re a great stop if you’re short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. To truly understand the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo this is a must see treasure in Florence. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person.
- When the Medici family returned to Florence after their short exile in the early 15th century, they kept a low profile and exercised their power behind the scenes. This is reflected in the plain exterior of this building, and is said to be the reason why Cosimo de’ Medici rejected Brunelleschi’s earlier proposal.
- The palace was the site of the wedding reception between Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany and Violante Beatrice of Bavaria in 1689.
- In 1938 a dinner between heads of state Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler was held in the palace.
Planning your Visit
Address: Via Cavour, 3
Tickets: Full price: € 7,00
Reduced price: € 4,00
Opening times: From Monday to Sunday, 9am to 6pm
Ticket office closes at 5pm
Closed on Wednesdays
Visits: Entrance to the chapel is reserved to a maximum of 10 visitors every 7 minutes
You can make reservations by phone at 055 2760340 or just wait in line
The Palace hosts temporary exhibitions, included in the entrance ticket to the museum and the Chapel of the Magi.
The main and most famous part of the chapel is the scene of the “Journey of the Magi”
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