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Art History: Medicis Patrons Of The Arts

Wedding Speeches For The Father Of The BrideThe Medicis were huge patrons of the arts. They are responsible for virtually all of the Italian Renaissance art in a way. Their money supported many famous artists and they were not afraid to show it off.

It all began with Pope John the XXIII who chose the small Medici bank to handle the papal finances. This brought the family, specifically Giovanni di Bicci, who ran the bank, into the center of politics and made them very wealthy.

They became involved with the arts when the pope died and Donatello and Michelangelo worked on his tomb.

People complained that the sculpture looked nothing like the pope, but it stayed that way and the Medici family stayed the papal bank .

Giovanni's son Cosimo set standards and recorded everything he supported in his book from 1434-1471. He contributed about 300 million in today's terms to artistic works, charities, and taxes.

Brunellescelli built the Duomo, and cupola of it without scaffolding. Brunelleschi also designed and made mechanisms know as "ingegni" for use of dramas performed in honor of important members of churches who came to Florence. A Russian bishop writes about the dramas of the Annunciation of Our Lady and The Ascension of Christ that he saw. Cosimo also supported Masaccio whose frescoes are in the church of Santa Maria Novella. This is his famous one of Christ on the cross which changed the style of a lot of art because of the new linear perspective he used that made it more realistic. Donatello also worked for Cosimo. Each artist would seek out his own vision and ideas and receive the money from Cosimo. Cosimo also had a huge library, was a politician and is known as the "Father of Florence."

Cosimo's grandson Lorenzo was nicknamed Il Magnifico and ruled Florence. He was selfish and would exile any competitor until the pope was really the only one controlling finances and politics. Since the Medici controlled the pope's finances... Lorenzo did support Machiavelli and Michelangelo, but made them work in the country or Rome. This is why much of Michelangelo's work is Rome today. Although his statue, the David, is a heroic symbol of Florence. He also supported Botticelli another artist known for his paintings the Birth of Venus and Primavera. Those paintings connect the ancients with Catholicism. Even Amerigo Vespucci whom America is named after was a Florentine who worked for the Medici bank and lived in Lorenzo's hunting castle. Lorenzo wrote plays about saints that were chanted in public places and like medieval theatre there was a specific heaven and hell.

Lorenzo's son however was too arrogant and got expelled from Florence. That would not let the family down. They decided to involve themselves in the church even more. Lorenzo's sons Giovanni and Giulio became Popes Leo X and Clement VII respectively because they wanted to get their family's power back. Spain conquered the city for them eventually. These are the two who employed Michelangelo to do St Peter's in the Vatican; the church with the Sistine Chapel, in case you didn't know. They also employed Raphael to work on it.

Art changed during this time because people were less concerned with the truth, but more of how things were said. This is referred to sometimes as the mannerist time period. Leo X not only helped the Italian Renaissance, but nurtured the Reformation because he gave them more of a reason to go against the Catholic Church. He also nurtured theatre. After giving his brothers Roman citizenship he built them a wooden theatre on the Campidoglio. They ruled and had plays, rituals and parades to glorify the family. Leo X wanted a revival of the old Roman Empire. If you'll notice much of the work he supported is very Roman in style. It is not easy to always tell the difference between an old Roman statue and a Renaissance one, except for maybe from the wear and tear. The Roman ruins are everywhere in Rome now and even then they reminded Leo X of how great Rome had been and he wanted that again. His patronage also contributed to new structures of vernacular theatre.

Leo had been tutored by Poliziano editor of Terence's Ardria, a precursor of Italian Renaissance tragedy and pastoral plays. He was also friends with Ariosto who had been in Plautus and Terence's plays and wrote La Cassaria (The Coffer Comedy) and I Suppositi (The Pretender) establishing commedia erudita which modernizes Latin stock comedy. It puts the comedy in the vernacular making the stories very truthful and real. Machiavelli was another writer who was more avant garde and wrote the Mandrake which welded Terence's Andria with the Decameron. It was a political satire about adultery. He also wrote the Masks which was an imitation of Aristophanes.

Grand Duke Cosimo I was the cousin of Pope Clement who ruled Florence from 1537-74. He extended his home adding the Palazzo Pitti and would have theatrical evenings in the Baboli Garden behind the palace in the courtyard called the Naumachia. A stone amphitheatre was also built in the courtyard. A small theatre on the side entrance of the gardens was called the Rondo of Bacchus. In these gardens were often full-fledged operas like Euridice. More often at first were straight forward plays with intermezzi, short pieces depicting mythological tales between acts of full length plays, thematically related. There were other events similar to the theatrical ones such as pageant jousts, mock duals enacted by courtiers, oriental allegories, tournaments, court ballets. There was basically anything the Medici could come up with to show off their domination and importance to rival courts.

Aside from all of that he had a court architect build the Uffizi for him. Uffizi means "offices" and basically what he did was concentrate all the Medici offices with a corridor attaching it to the Palazzo Vecchio, a square in Florence. The top floor of the Uffizi had his collection of art. (the waay top floor, you walk up these huge flights of stairs to get up to the top. There is a long hallway with windows and you can look out over the river and see all of Florence along the river. It is a beautiful view.) That is where today all the Boticellis, Durers, some da Vincis, 150 years worth of art at Cosimo's time was put up there. A few years later in 1565 he had a corridor built right across the Ponte Vecchio, or old bridge in Florence so the family could walk across with out using the street. The bridge which once had fish on it now had shops selling gold. Cosimo was extremely powerful and although previous Medici had said they were men of Florence Cosimo became more like a dictator in charge of a lot that even Spain and the Vatican gave him some control.

In France around this time other Medici had married into the royal family. Catherine de Medici married Henry II Louis XIII son of Marie de Medici. While Marie had some street festivals, Catherine went on a two year tour of France and in each city there was a celebration, festival, spectacle of some kind. Out of her tour came various types of court entertainment similar to the intermezzi in Italy and masques in England.

Francesco I was married in a temporary theatre in the Palazzo Vecchio to Joanna of Austria who his mistress later poisoned. For their marriage there was a play La Confonaria and its intermezzi. After each production the stage and parts were dismantled for political things the next day. Francesco decided to build a permanent theatre after that. He hired Buontalenti to build it in 1586 in the Uffizi. It became the official Medici court theatre. It was called the Teatro Mediceo and could hold 3-4, 000 people. The Grand Duke and guests would sit on chairs in the center, ladies on one side and men on the raked floor, and people would look through the gallery windows. It was very expensive but a way for the family to be flattered even more. The ceiling was 20m high.

The wedding of Francesco's sister Virginia to the Duke of Ferrara was the occasion of the first performance there. It was L'Amico Fido by de Bardi and had six intermezzi. Another play that day was Bargali's La Pellegrina (the Pilgrim) which was five acts of deception, prose, love speeches that complimented the bride. The earliest complete scenic change was made there for Il Fabii at the baptism of Francesco and Joanna's daughter, Lenora. The Medici brought in lighting, machinery, gardens, demons, flying sorceresses and had songs, music and dance. These were very large spectacles. The set was reused by the commedia dell'arte troupe with Isabella Andreini and they sometimes appeared in weddings. Later Lenora was married there-that being the last performance there. It was a five act opera, there was a turning rotating set for that as well. These spectacles were not just entertainment, but an accessory of political power. Foreign guests were expected to come and be in awe of them. The family was very into displaying their money, power and people. Eventually the theatre was used less and it became a meeting room for the senate. Today it is now 14 rooms and only parts of it remain. I did find out that at the top of the huge flight of stairs in the Uffizi is the main portal of the theatre.

After Francesco there were some more Medici who contributed to Italian culture. Ferdinando I brought sculptures from Rome to Florence. Ferdinando II married Vittoria Dell Rovere and she brought with her dowry paintings by Titian and Raphael which can be seen in the Uffizi today. Cosimo III arranged the Uffizi the way it is now. Anna Maria Luis de Medici willed the collections to never leave Florence but belong to the people. Today the Uffizi is the greatest collection of Renaissance and Italian post-Renaissance paintings. The Medici family greatly influenced the Italian Renaissance by the money and power it distributed. Although they often did it to glorify themselves the Renaissance we know today would be nonexistent. The Medici were simple bankers and merchants but rose above that and were able to become extremely influential.

Helpful Sources

Acton, Harold. The Last Medici. London: Thames & Hudson, 1980.

Brown, John Russel. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Theatre. New York: Oxford

UP. 1995.

Fermantle, Richard. Florence and the Medici in the Renaissance. Firenze: Leo S.

Oschki, 2001.

Hibbert, Christopher. The House of Medici and Its Rise and Fall. New York: William

Morrow. 1975.

Mee, Charles L. Lorenzo De'Medici and the Renaissance. New York: American

Heritage, 1969.

Mohler, Frank. wwwl.appastate.edu/orgs/spectacle/sepcatclemediciwings.html

Theatre Festivals of the Medici.

Wilson, Edwin. Living Theatre. 3rd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000.

www.uffizi.firenze.it/ambienti/teatroE.html

Young, George, Col. The Medici. New York: Modern Library, 1933..www.crazedfanboy.com/grailmaiden/theatre.html.

By Charis Snow - BA in English and Theatre. Published book reviews, articles, plays and short stories in various places. Good at: getting kids to like ballet, handing out balloons in Times Square, chauffering choreographers...  


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