Renaissance Florence and the Medicis

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By Luci Lizares

Saturday, July 12, 2014

THE history of Florence will not be accurate without mentioning the extensive influence of the Medici family. They were a political dynasty, a banking family and later a royal house. The Medicis produced four popes, two regent queens, and became hereditary dukes.

The Medici family started as wool merchants. Giovanni de Medici, the leader of the Florence merchants brought the family to prominence by starting the Medici bank. The Medici owed much of their wealth and power to the Medici Bank. It made them one of the richest families in all of Europe. It was the largest bank in Europe at its peak.

Lorenzo, the Magnificent, was the most famous Medici. He was an able, autocratic ruler, who made Florence the most powerful state in Italy and led it to its highest flowering. Macchiavelli called Lorenzo Medici “the greatest patron of literature and art that any prince has ever been.”


Due to the significant amount of the art and architecture that was produced in Florence at the beginning of the Renaissance, the Medicis are called the Grandfathers of Renaissance Art. The Medicis supported a brother, Ferdinando de Medici, who was a patron of music. The family helped him fund for the invention of the piano.

The Medicis didn't just support the arts and architecture. They also supported science, especially the famous scientist Galileo Galilei in his scientific efforts. Galileo also worked as a tutor for the Medici children. A trivia goes that Galileo initially named four of the moons of Jupiter he discovered after the children of the Medici family. In the Galileo Museum in Florence are the Medici’s collections of refined instruments by many scientists including Galileo.

The square bordering the Palazzo Vecchio is the Piazza della Signori. We were awed by the countless magnificent statues depicting political themes of the 14th century in the open air museum.

The Statue of Neptune symbolizes the dominion of the Florentines over the sea. This statue is very imposing considering that it is only a copy. The entrance to the Museo Palazzo de Vecchio is flanked by statues of David and Hercules and Caco. These are replicas as well. While on top of the door is an ornamental marble frontispiece. In the middle, flanked by two gilded lions, is the Monogram of Christ, text in Latin: "Rex Regum et Dominus Dominantium (Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords).”

We headed for the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, an arch bridge over the Arno River. Today, the present tenants in the Ponte Vecchio Bridge are jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers. Originally, butchers and merchants displayed their goods on tables in the bridge. They say that the word “bankruptcy” must have originated here. When an entrepreneur could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his wares (the "banco") was physically broken ("rotto") by soldiers, thereby the merchant was not able to sell anything leading to his bankruptcy. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge is the only bridge to have survived WWII intact-having been considered too beautiful to destroy.

Just proximal to where we viewed the Ponte Vecchio Bridge is this amazing row of arches, which is so pretty and photogenic. This is part of the Vasari Corridor which starts at the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. This corridor was built for the wedding of Francesco de Medici and Giovanna of Austria to establish a connection between the Palazzo Pitti, where the Medici family lived, and the Uffizi where they worked. The enclosed passageway was for the security of the monarchs. The meat market of Ponte Vecchio Bridge was moved to avoid its smell and in its place are the goldsmith shops. Forbes Magazine rates Florence as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I totally agree.

Following the Vasari Corridor, we came upon a U-shaped building with two long galleries creating a long courtyard, the Piazza Degli Uffizi. The façades of the Uffizi bordering the courtyard are decorated with niches containing statues of important historical figures. This was still summer and the courtyard was crowded. There were street performers entertaining the many visitors and plenty of aspiring artists willing to paint your portrait. The courtyard gives access to the Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence's most famous museum.

Entrance to the Uffizi Gallery was extravagantly imposing. The Uffizi Gallery, Galleria degli Uffizi boasts of the world's largest collection of Renaissance art, largely collected by members of the Medici family during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Medici often employed local artists so all the important Tuscan artists are represented here including Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. But other masters such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt are also found.

Some of the most famous works in the gallery are the 'Birth of Venus' by Botticelli. In 1737, the last scion of the Medici family, Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, donated the works of art to the citizens of Florence.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 12, 2014.


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