The Magic of the Medici

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Two recent seminars in southern Florida have put the spotlight on the Magic of the Medici.

"Without the Medici, Florence would not be as we know it today." So declared Contessa Maria Vittoria Rimbotti, an influential patron of the arts who lives in Florence. Speaking to a large gathering at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida in February 2012, the Contessa gave a wide-ranging overview of the Medici family through the centuries of their domination of the Florentine state. "The Medici were the first to realise that investing as patrons of the arts would make them the equals" of already-well-established families. 


Cosimo de Medici was "the father of the fatherland" said Dr. Marcia Hall, a professor of art at Temple University, who spoke in March at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art. As a banker, he conducted business with other states such as Milan, and made a fortune, enabling him to build the Medici Palace in Florence. The private rooms of the Palace were so opulent very few people were allowed to see them. "They did not like to be seen as spending a lot of money on themselves," said Hall. Cosimo was smart enough to spend plenty on public works. He established a major library at the convent of San Marco, not in the Palace. "The books were there so people could read them," she said.

It was his successor Lorenzo de Medici who, said the Contessa, "founded a school of sculpture attended by Michelangelo and established Florence as the capital of art and sculpture." Lorenzo (1449-1492) revelled in collecting antique marble sculpture, often coming back with major pieces from visits to Rome. By thus keeping them safe in the Uffiizi Gallery in Florence (now one of the world's greatest art museums), the "Medici saved many sculptures from destruction."

But Dr. Hall pointed out that Lorenzo's "real importance was as an arbiter of taste, not in terms of his own patronage." Image was everything, and it was the artist Giorgio Vasari (1511-1570) who re-wrote history through his art. "Cosimo would have been horrified at the image of self-importance that Vasari gave him," said Hall. The same treatment was given to Lorenzo. "He was shown by Vasari surrounded by philosophers and writers. Everyone eagerly signed on to Vasari's view."

In the following century it was Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) who shone as the brightest member of the family, becoming Queen of France in 1547. Thanks to her, said Contessa Rimbotti, "Florentine elegance spread all over Europe. Everyone was amazed by her elegance." It was at this time that intelligence, culture and taste became the Medici hallmark.

The last ruling member of the family was Anna Maria de Medici (1667-1743), who bequested the family's vast art collection to the Tuscan state. Contessa Rimbotti proudly remarked that somone in the early years of the 18th century would think of the future welfare of her town and people. By stipulatiing that none of the treasures could be removed from Florence, the city today boasts a collection of wonderful art visited by millions of people every year.

Last year alone, said Rimbotti, the city hosted four major art exhibits including 45 Roman busts that had been kept in storage for many years at the Uffizi gallery, and 75% of the output of the famous artist Bronzino (1503-1572), a collection never before assembled.

Convinced that we must do our utmost to make sure these treasures are there for the future, Rimbotti said that "we are preserving our own roof- the roof of our civilization. We must all become active in the preservation of art."

Contessa Rimbotti is president of the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery here in the United States, and it was this group who hosted her presentation. Some of the treasures of the Uffizi are currently on display at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art- see the article on this page "Offering of the Angels."

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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