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How art helped 17-year-old Cosimo Medici create the most powerful dynasty
How art helped 17-year-old Cosimo Medici create the most powerful dynasty

In 1537, at a turbulent time for Florence, Cosimo I Medici, a seventeen-year-old boy from a little-known branch of the Medici family, came to power. Everyone expected him to rule only nominally. The young duke surprised the entire Republican elite. He managed not only to seize complete control over the city, displacing the elected authorities, but also to bring Florence to a completely different level. How did such a young man manage not only to return significance to his hometown, but also to become the ancestor of one of the most powerful dynasties of all time, further in the review.

Cosimo I

Cosimo Medici came to power after the assassination of his cousin in the 1530s. At that time, Florence almost completely lost its significance and individuality. The city became a bargaining chip on the political map of Europe. The young man succeeded, it would seem, already impossible - they began to reckon with Florence again. Historians say that even if he was a tyrant, the Florentines would still be infinitely grateful to him. The memory of this ruler is still alive and respected.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art now has a new exhibition dedicated to the Medici family and Cosimo personally. Experts are investigating how members of this dynasty used the most powerful tool available in that era - art. For them, it has truly become a means of propaganda. The catalog "Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512-1570" contains nearly a hundred works of the most famous and renowned masters. In the paintings of such eminent authors as Raphael, Benvenuto Cellini and many others, you can trace all the cultural initiatives of this banking dynasty. For almost six decades, they supported art in every possible way. The paintings clearly reflected how the patronage of the powerful Medici strengthened Florence's status as the main center of the Italian Renaissance.

Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man with a Book, mid-1530s

Art in the service of politics

Cosimo I de Medici used culture with great and indescribable skill not only to create a sense of his own worth. He tried his best to make his native Florence significant and powerful. Cosimo wanted her to be the true intellectual center and cradle of Renaissance art.

Bronzino, Portrait of a Woman with a Lapdog, circa 1532-1533

The first thing that can be seen at this exhibition will be an impressive bust of Cosimo, carved in bronze by the great Cellini. The sculpture was provided for a while. It has recently undergone a thorough restoration. Only thanks to this, the experts realized that the eyes of the famous Florentine, hidden for a long time under a dark layer of paint, were actually made of silver. This was a common practice in art at the time.

Since the middle of the 16th century, this sculpture has adorned the gates of the fortress on the Elbe. A monumental figure in Roman armor, towered menacingly over the main entrance. Cosimo's piercing gaze literally burned through everyone who entered. The bust was intended to represent the Medici connection with the greatness of the ancient Roman Empire.

Benvenuto Cellini, Cosimo I Medici, 1545

Many of the paintings displayed in the exhibition demonstrate the depth of Medici's connection with classical art and culture. In Bronzino's Cosimo I Medici as Orpheus (1537–1539), for example, the duke is portrayed as the mythological musician Orpheus.This, as it were, raises him above the world of mere mortals, equating him with mythological deities. But the marble bust of the already aged Cosimo, the work of the sculptor Giovanni Bandini, depicts him as the Roman emperor, suggesting a certain timelessness of his powers.

Bronzino, Cosimo I Medici as Orpheus, 1537-1539

The exhibition features as many as six thematic sections. All of them are dedicated to the study of the history of the Medici dynasty. At the beginning of the 16th century, the family only recently returned from exile. They have struggled to maintain Florence's dominant role in the rapidly changing political landscape. It was successfully done. In 1569, Pope Pius V named Cosimo, Duke of Tuscany, Great, thus celebrating his merits.

The purpose of the exhibition is not only to showcase the fine art masterpieces of the great masters. The authors wish to show how art helped to strengthen power. The rulers, wanting to present themselves in the right light, stimulated the development of all cultural processes. The art was supported and developed. They closely communicated with artists, immersed themselves in culture. Then the style and theme, as well as the spiritual content of the image, was strictly verified in order to enhance the impression of the personality of the ruler. It was necessary to create a certain image. All this political husk is forgotten. Now all these works are not considered in such a context, they are exhibited in museums to be admired for their aesthetic and highly artistic merits.

Jacopo da Pontormo, Alessandro Medici, 1534-1535

The first two sections of the exhibition show the period from 1512 to 1534. They will introduce visitors to many of the Medici family members who have become famous over the centuries. For example, Pope Clement VII, nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent or Alessandro Medici. Then the exhibition shifts to the personality of Cosimo himself. The Duke and his wife, Eleanor di Toledo, did everything to strengthen their power. To do this, they commissioned many portraits, where the artists were tasked with demonstrating the fullness of their power, the continuity and continuity of the dynasty. All this had to be conveyed with the utmost artistic sophistication. This is what the museum said in a statement.

Bronzino, Eleanor di Toledo and Francesco Medici, circa 1550

For example, there is a whole series of portraits of Eleonora di Toledo. She is depicted on them together with her sons. Each painting symbolizes the continuation and strengthening of the dynasty. Also in the Metropolitan Museum you can see a luxurious dress made of red velvet, which was probably donated by a Spanish noblewoman to a monastery in Pisa.

Dress by Eleanor Toledskaya

The exhibition also features portraits of the great artists themselves. After all, it was their skill that was able to raise Florence to such an unimaginably high cultural level. Also, one section is devoted to comparing the works of Bronzino and Francesco Salviati. One was a mannerist painter at the court of Cosimo I, the other represented a rival Pan-Italian style.

Francesco de 'Rossi, Bindo Altoviti, circa 1545

Not only portraits

A slightly different direction is presented at the exhibition. It is dedicated to the literary culture of Florence. There are portraits of poets and writers of that time. The real gem of this section is the portrait of the poet Laura Battiferry by Bronzino. It was recently restored.

Bronzino, Laura Battiferry, circa 1560

Not all persons represented in the portraits of the exhibition are so famous. There are even historical figures who had indirect connections with the Medici family. For example, a portrait of Lodovico Capponi, whose main merit is that he had a fight in church during mass with the jealous husband of a lady with whom he was unrequitedly in love.

The plot of the picture has no particular historical significance. Lodovico did not belong to the Medici family. He was the son of a wealthy Florentine banker. This work is a true masterpiece of 16th century portrait painting. She demonstrates the full power of art. In the painting, Capponi is depicted very young. He holds a medallion with a portrait of a woman, hugging it to his chest. Everything is shown on a green background. The canvas is filled with symbols. The personality from the portrait seems to say that the young man is able to withstand any blows of fate. Even if it's unrequited love.

Bronzino, Lodovico Capponi, 1550-1555

The booklet of the exhibition "Portraits and Politics" is crowned with the words of the most famous master of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci. This is no coincidence, as the beginning of his career was shaped by Lorenzo the Magnificent. Recognizing the enduring power of great art and the earthly power of the rulers who commissioned it, the old master notes: “How many great rulers have lived and died without leaving anything significant, they only tried in vain to acquire estates and riches, imagining that their glory could be eternal ".

If you are interested in art, read our article what codes and secrets Michelangelo left in the Sistine Chapel: 7 facts about the greatest masterpiece.

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