Florence and the Medici – dynastic palaces, basilicas, villas and monuments
Talking about Renaissance Florence, any tour guide will mention the Medici name more than once. A noble dynasty that came from below; the mighty lords of Florence, who saw many victories and defeats in their lifetime; lovers of innovation and patrons of the arts. In 2016, the Italian-British series “Medici: Lords of Florence” was released. Although it is full of anachronisms and the interpretation of the events of the fifteenth century generates controversy, the film arouses interest in the personalities who left their mark on the era.
And we will look at the history of the clan not from the point of view of professionals, but as tourists. Those who enjoy guided travel can sign up for a tour of Florence, with an emphasis on the famous ruling dynasty.
History of the Medici Dynasty.
The Medici clan in Florence was very numerous. They came from the common people, were grasping and tenacious, struggling to get to the top, but not always in good standing. Some Medici were wealthy shopkeepers or money-changers, some went into medicine (Medici are physicians!), and others became criminals sentenced to death.
The rise of the Medici on the political scene of Florence began in the fourteenth century, when a representative of the family, the banker Giovanni di Bicci, amassed a solid fortune and was able to rally prominent townspeople around him. His son Cosimo (later nicknamed the Elder) increased his father’s influence and Lorenzo’s reign was the peak of Medici domination. The brilliant Lorenzo the Magnificent was respected even after his death.
Then power and fortune declined and democracy prevailed in Florence. But the Medicis got away with it too. Lorenzo’s son Giovanni became a cardinal and then Pope Leo X. By obtaining the cherished ministry, he gained the support of Rome and returned power to the dynasty in Florence.
From then on, the period of the duchy began. The Medici Dukes of Tuscany handed down power by inheritance for 200 years. They intermarried with their neighbors in Italy, married two future queens to France, and united the lands around Florence into a strong Tuscan state.
The great family did not die out until the eighteenth century, accidentally left without an heir.
The Medici and Florence
Over a reign of more than three hundred years, many palaces and temples were built at the behest of profligate patrons, and great sculptors and painters created their masterpieces for them. Walking around modern Florence, we will come across the coat of arms of the Medici – a golden shield, topped with balls. Five of them are blackened, pill-like: it is believed that their shape is reminiscent of the profession of the ancient family. The sixth ball, azure with three royal lilies, was bestowed by King Louis XI of France.
Let’s take a walk and see what iconic places in Florence were marked with this coat of arms. If you love adventure and understand English fluently, download for a nominal price the Medici Conspiracy online quest app on your smartphone.
The oldest museum collection in Europe came into being thanks to the great dukes of Tuscany. Cosimo I commissioned his favorite Vasari to build an administrative building on the banks of the Arno that would be connected by air to the ducal residences. This is how the legendary Vasari Corridor (Corridoio Vasariano) was created, a closed passage in the upper tier of the Ponte Vecchio, through which the dukes used to walk from the Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi unguarded.
The collection of paintings, sculptures and arms began to be housed in the Uffizi Gallery under Francesco I. At first a private gallery, it first opened to the public in 1769. It is the gallery that houses an incredible number of world famous Italian masterpieces. For example, here we can see great paintings by Titian, Leonardo da Vinci and the most famous paintings by Botticelli – “Birth of Venus” and “Springtime”. There is also a portrait of the gallery’s founder by Bronzino, the imperious and proud Cosimo I de’ Medici in armor, “as he was when he was young.
To avoid wasting time in lines, you can buy a ticket to the Uffizi Gallery in advance with a Russian audioguide on this website. In the high season the gallery is very popular, so you can lose a couple of hours in line.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
This palace is not so popular among tourists – and in vain. The first Medici residence, home to Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo the Magnificent and their offspring, was designed by architect Michelozzo in the elegant early Renaissance style.
People come here to see the Chapel of the Magi with its picturesque ceiling by Benozzo Gozzoli, depicting the adoration of the Magi by Christ. The artist skillfully wove into the subject paintings of members of the Medici family. The living quarters, the courtyard and the sumptuous ballroom with mirrored walls and frescoes by Luca Giordano are open for viewing.
A full tour of the palace, the permanent exhibition and the temporary exhibitions will cost you 10€ but you can save and see much more of Florence if you buy the Florence Card.
Basilica di San Lorenzo and Medici Chapel
San Lorenzo (Basilica di San Lorenzo) is the Medici family church and had its heyday during the life of Giovanni di Bicci, under whom the basilica was rebuilt and enlarged. Although the façade remains unfinished, inside there are real treasures by Donatello, Bronzino, Lippi and Verrocchio.
The Cappelle Medicee is another matter. It is a tomb attached to the basilica, but is in fact an independent work of architecture, built and decorated by Michelangelo himself.
He executed the monumental tombstones, investing the figures with allegorical meaning and filling them with life. For example, Morning and Evening, Day and Night symbolize the cyclicity and transience of life, the image of the Virgin reads anxiety for her child, and the young Duke of Urbino is as beautiful as an ancient Roman warrior.
A ticket to the Medici Family Chapel can be purchased online at this link.
Monument to Giovanni de’ Medici
Florence has several statues of the Medici. One of them is located near the basilica of San Lorenzo – Cosimo I de’ Medici commanded to sculpt his father Giovanni in the image of an ancient Roman warrior. The composition of the monument is amazing – the last Italian condottieri is depicted sitting with a broken spear, as if he sat down to rest after a long campaign. For a long time there was only a pedestal with the coat of arms of the Medici, and the monument itself was located in the palazzo Vecchio. They were reunited only in the nineteenth century.
By the way, Cosimo I de’ Medici himself is also immortalized in the streets of Florence in the form of a monument – he is riding in Piazza della Signoria.
The story of Palazzo Pitti tells how easy it was for the dukes of Medici to keep priority in Florence and always come out on top. The palace’s founder, the banker Luca Pitti, sought to surpass the patrons in the scale of his new residence. Soon, however, financial difficulties caught up with him, and after only a couple of generations the palace ended up in the hands of the Medici, who increased the palazzo in size and added luxury.
Today, the Pitti palace houses several museums and is surrounded by the Boboli Gardens. Both are a must visit in Florence. Pre-booking will help avoid waiting at the ticket office.
Medici Villa di Careggi
The Medici had many country residences around Florence – the rulers did not mind relaxing in nature. One of the most famous was the Villa Careggi, built at the time of Giovanni di Bicci. It first resembled a castle and was later rebuilt on the basis of antiquity. It was built with natural proportions and simplicity, with columns, loggias, arches and arcades as architectural elements.
Cosimo the Elder then gave the building to philosophers: for more than 30 years meetings of the Platonic Academy were held in the villa. The luxurious garden has never been neglected and has been renewed in line with the latest trends in landscape art.
The mansion of the nobility is now a World Heritage Site and is due to be restored by 2020.
Traces of the great Dukes of Tuscany can be found in every street of ancient Florence and even beyond. Much of the influence of the Medici made this city what it is today. We hope, during your visit to Florence, our article helps you get a feel for it!
Florence. Michelozzo. Palazzo Medici. Villa Medici in Caredgi. Maria Magdalene’s Asylum in Pian di Muñone – Architectural History
Florence. Michelozzo. Palazzo Medici. Villa Medici in Caredgi. Maria Magdalene’s Asylum in Pian di Muñone.
Архитектура Западной Европы XV-XVI веков. Эпоха Возрождения > Архитектура эпохи Возрождения в Италии > Архитектура Италии 1420-1520 гг. > Architecture of Tuscany, Umbria, Marche
The Palazzo Medici retains some of the medieval features of earlier Florentine palazzos such as the first floor strongly faced with huge stone squares with small window apertures raised high above the ground and the arched windows of the upper floors with imposts.
At the same time the Medici palace manifested the desire to overcome the serf enclosure of the feudal dwelling: a corner loggia of the first floor, which served as a hall for solemn meetings and festivities, opened onto the streets with wide arches, reminiscent of the porticoes typical of the ordinary urban building of XIII-XIV centuries. The composition of the facades is dominated by a clear regularity and logic. It is characteristic that the architect makes significant compromises just not to violate the regular arrangement of windows: some of them are made “blind”, i.e. fictitious, as they get inside walls or partitions.
Significantly new in the architecture of the palazzo Medici is a peculiar tectonic treatment of the facade walls, based on the principles of the order, but without the use of its vertical parts. This is expressed in the gradual easing of the wall upwards, in the change of the width and nature of the profiling of window cills, as well as the form, size and texture of the rustication, and finally, in the orderly cornice, correlated with the entire height of the building.
In the interiors, especially in the chapel, decorated (in 1459) with famous frescoes by Benozzo Gozzo, Brunelleschi used a variety of means of architectural and pictorial decoration. In the interiors, especially in the chapel decorated (1459) with Benozzo Gozzoli’s famous frescoes, he used a variety of means of architectural and pictorial decoration, which Brunelleschi had usually been more austere and restrained, such as the complex profiling of caissons and cornices decorated with molded and painted ionics, beads, rosettes and various geometric and floral designs, the extensive use of colored marble for walls and floors, the general richness of stucco details and the use of polychromy.
The brilliant talent of Michelozzo was evident in the Palazzo Vecchio, where the complexity and variety of the ceiling decoration can rival the splendid decoration of late Roman structures. The Palazzo Strozzino in Florence, attributed to Michelozzo, is similar in many details to the Medici palazzo. Michelozzo also worked on the formation of a new type of country residence, the villa.
The Villa Medici in Caredgi near Florence (14th-century villa was extensively rebuilt (1430-circa 1459) by Michelozzo at the request of Cosimo de Medici. The layout and the composition of the rooms differ considerably from that of the town palazzo: a group of main state rooms was placed on the first floor near the garden, while the living rooms were on the most isolated and quiet second floor.
On the ground floor, in addition to the hall and adjoining large vaulted rooms, there was a dining room, a guest room (with a separate staircase), a number of utility rooms and a chapel with a sacristy. The group of state rooms on the first floor also included north and south loggias with arcades (now partially covered) open to the garden that surrounded the villa. On the second floor, besides the upper hall, the living quarters of the owner, his family and guests were located in isolated groups. The third floor was occupied by service rooms and storerooms.
Preserving the general medieval image of the villa, Michelozzo introduced many new elements in the layout of the rooms, their composition and decoration. For example, the garden loggias, which are light and open to the sun and air, are in perfect harmony with the garden, linking the building with nature. Here Michelozzo applied – for the first time in Renaissance architecture – a peculiar in pattern and slender in proportions Ionic order. Despite the brokenness of the loggias and their insignificant size, they stand out sharply against the background of the medieval parts of the villa, emphasizing the contrast of eras.
A new in spirit, human and cozy appearance was given to the monastery shelter of Mary Magdalene in Pian di Muñone (1464-1471), built by Michelozzo. The clear and tranquil architecture of this building is organically linked to the surrounding nature.
In the Villa Giovanni Medici near Fiesole (built 1458-1461; considerably remodeled), Michelozzo, unbound by previous buildings, created a new type of villa located on the slopes of a steep hill. The main buildings, as well as the garden adjoining the villa, are placed on two elevated terraces united by stairs. The lower structure with an entrance lobby and grand staircase on the second terrace was intended for farming, and the upper main building contained reception and living rooms. The outlined here picturesque terraced layout of the villa and the park was widely developed in the Italian architecture of the XVI and XVII centuries.
Michelozzo used folk traditions of building rural estates of Tuscany and other regions of Italy and introduced into their villas open loggias and terraces, staircases, etc.
Working in many places and for different clients, Michelozzo was one of the most active promoters and distributors of the new architectural direction not only in Tuscany, but also in many cities in Lombardy, Dalmatia and Venice.