In this article, find out who the Medici were and why there is such a large concentration of works of art in the City of Florence.
By Diana Ferreira, author of the online course The history of art through curiosities and unusual facts.
Along with other Italian families such as the Visconti and the Sforza of Milan, the Este of Ferrara, and the Gonzaga of Mantua, the patrician Florentine Medici family had central power in Florence for 300 years, with brief interruptions.
From the 14th century with Cosimo the Elder, to the 18th with Gian Gastone, The Medici were one of the best known and most prestigious families in Italian history.
Originally from Mugello, they moved to Florence in the thirteenth century, attracted by the economic potential of the city and abandoning agriculture to engage in financial activity (bankers).
They saw their fortune and the family’s influence gradually increase, reaching a peak under the government of Lorenzo the Magnificent
They did not come from the nobility and John de Bicci de Medici, considered the “founder” of Medici power, was not from a wealthy family.
Popes, Grand Dukes and Queens
From the house of Medici came four popes, Leo X (p. 1513-1521), Clement VII (p. 1523-1534), Pius IV (p. 1559-1565), and Leo XI (for 26 days in April 1605).
Seven grand dukes: Cosimo I (1519-1574), Francesco (1541-1587), Ferdinand I (1549-1609), Cosimo II (1590-1621), Ferdinand II (1610-1670), Cosimo III (1642-1723), and Gian Gastone (1671-1737).
Two queens of France: Catherine de Medici (1519–1589), consort of Henry II; Maria de Medici (1573–1642), consort of Henry IV.
The Medici Patronage
There were years of artistic fervor and great cultural development, in which no work was finished without starting another.
All the great architects, painters, and sculptors of the time had their hands full for so many commissions.
Cosimo the Elder soon realized the propagandistic importance of his donations and that his art collections increased the family’s prestige.
The Medici’s patronage in intellectual, cultural, scientific, and artistic life gave a great boost to the Renaissance era in Florence and a particular fame to the family.
Great collectors, they made important commissions to the best artists and protected them.
Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464) founded in 1444 the first public library in Europe (thirty years before the Vatican) and sponsored the translation of Plato’s texts.
Cosimo I was patron of Donatello, Filippo Lippi, and Paolo Uccello.
Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492) welcomed the young Michelangelo into his home after seeing his precocious talent as a painter.
He was treated like a son, with his own room and ate at table with the prestigious family.
The donation that transformed the history of Florence
The death of the last grand duke, Gian Gastone di Medici on July 9, 1737, left no descendants for the city of Dante Alighieri and Filippo Brunelleschi.
As established in the 1735 pact, Francesco de Lorraine inherited the duchy and went immediately to Florence to take possession of his new state and public offices, converting Tuscany into an Austrian province.
Gian Gastone’s sister, Anna Maria Ludovica (1667-1743), gets all the inheritance of the family’s property.
Including the collections of works of art (furniture, jewelry, relics, paintings, sculptures…) gathered over the centuries and prevents the dispersion of the Medici artistic heritage.
In order to attract the curiosity of outsiders, she left the estate to the Grand Duchy, on condition that they keep it and never leave it.