Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



The de' Medici Dynasty



History Italy

Marco Polo

Florence Art


Florencia Stationary

The family's history parallels Italy's history.  I've divided it into sections listed in the left column. This concise history is a helpful guide to read before traveling to Florence and the Vatican.  



The de' Medici Dynasty and Italian History

The Late-Middle-Ages, Early Renaissance, Giovanni:  The Founder

The Early Renaissance, Cosimo and Lorenzo:  The Elders

The High Renaissance, Piero and his son, Lorenzo the Magnificent

Florentine Independence and the End of the Florentine Renaissance, Piero II and Lorenzo II in Exile

The Roman Renaissance, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and Pope Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici)

The End of Florentine Independence, Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici), Alessandro, and Caterina de' Medici

The Late Renaissance, The Grand Duke and Duchess of Tuscany:  Cosimo de' Medici and Eleonora di Toledo

The Age of Discovery, Francesco and Ferdinando:  Two Very Different Brothers

The Age of Reason and The Enlightenment, The Decline of de' Medici Reason and Enlightened Governance


























Visit my Italian History pages



In the course of my research I came across an amazing on-line archive of de' Medici papers run by the Getty Museum called the Medici Archive Project.  Search the archive for people and places from Grand Duke Cosimo onward and you get mention of them in everything from a de' Medici shopping list to a thank-you note. 

Instead of hearing about the family from me or others, you can read their own words or words they read in their lifetime.  It brings you very close to these interesting people, offering an insight into their lives and relations. 

The site has a very interesting page that discusses the inter-linked relationship between the de' Medici and Italian Jews

And especially fascinating is a list of interesting items with analysis by the Getty historians.


The Age of Reason and The Enlightenment

The Decline of the de' Medici

Reason and Enlightened Governance

On the death of his father Ferdinando I, Cosimo II de' Medici (1590-1621) became Grand Duke of Tuscany in1609 at the age of 19

Perhaps his father didn't have time to teach him the facts of the de' Medici life, such as the family wealth coming from the family bank. 

Whatever the reason for his ignorance, Cosimo II's first act was to claim that banking and business were degrading activities for a prince, and he shut down all the de' Medici businesses, causing an economic recession in Florence, and eventually one within the family.  He also managed to alienate the Florentines in that one stroke.

Cosimo II

By this point in time, the de' Medici family had grown considerably, many were married and had children, and most lived at home, so they needed more living space. 

During his short life time, Cosimo II did manage to have Palazzo Pitti expanded.  He also maintained the fleet his father had assembled, but generally avoided foreign military adventures. 

Cosimo II was interested in science, like his uncle before him, and like his children after him.  This is not unusual, as this was dawning of the new scientific age

Cosimo II had a glass factory built in the Boboli Gardens behind the Palazzo Pitti where he and his sons played designer for the Venetian glass blowers who worked for them each summer when the Venetian factories were closed. 

He named Galileo, who was escaping from the Inquisition in Padua, as his court philosopher and mathematician

Cosimo II's father, Ferdinando, had hired Galileo to tutor his children part of the year, so he was known to Cosimo II.  You can read more about this at the Medici Archive that quotes document requesting payment for Galileo's services.  

Cosimo II's portraits have the Elizabethan foppish look about them, but this could be do to his continual poor health.  Even his battle helmet looks only for show.

Cosimo II Helmet

His home life was also very unpleasant because of continual political battles between his Austrian wife and his French mother.  Things didn't improve when Cosimo II followed his wife's advice and lost Tuscany its independence to the Spanish, Austria's ally.

Cosimo II died at the young age of 31 in 1621.

Ferdinando II de' Medici (1610-1670), became Grand Duke of Tuscany in name only, on the death of his father in 1621.  Ferdinando II was only 10 years old, so his mother and grandmother were named his Regents. 

It was a difficult time for Italy and for Florence.  The wealth and international prestige of Italy, and the de' Medici had fallen.  There were famines and illnesses that hit Florence regularly

The two foreign women made all the important decisions for 7 years, when they managed to have Ferdinando II named full Grand Duke in 1627 at the age of 17.


A young Ferdinando II de' Medici, you can see the resemblance to his father, above


Just because he was officially Grand Duke didn't mean Ferdinando II was free to make his own decisions.  The two women continued to rule from behind the scenes. 

The result was that their interests in religious institutions and luxuries for their Palaces were indulged.  But because of his father's decision to close the de' Medici bank, the family was running out of money

Ferdinando wasn't very bright, but his heart was said to be in the right place.  He worked hard under difficult circumstances, and earned the admiration of his subjects.  He had greater success after his mother died, when he was free to rely on his other family members for help without her interference. 

His brothers were of great help to him, especially Cardinal Leopoldo, considered the genius in the family, if a bit wild.  They were all great collectors of art, expanding the family's artistic inheritance.

But Ferdinando II's wife, Vittoria della Rovere, influenced him greatly.  Many blame her for unnecessary spending of money they didn't have.  Whether this was true or not, the result was that taxes were repeatedly raised in the Grand Duchy to pay for everything.  

Vittoria della Rovere had lost her inheritance of the land linked to the Duke of Urbino.  However she did manage to keep all the artwork belonging to the Dukedom.  Many of these works are now to be seen in Gli Uffizi Galleries in Florence. 

Ferdinando II resorted to purchasing territory to expand his estates.  He added some to the decorations of Palazzo Pitti with stucco work, frescos and paintings.  But his great passion was science

Ferdinand II

Ferdinando II's tutors had been Galileo and Torricelli and Viviani.  He founded an experimental science academy, and supported the one set up by his brother Leopoldo, the first of it's kind in Europe.  He personally did work with thermometers, and encouraged advances in meteorology, agronomy and botany. 

In 1654 Ferdinando II created what he called the Florentine Network.  It was a meteorological service throughout Europe, the first of it's kind anywhere.  He distributed meteorological instruments throughout Europe and had people take regular readings, entering them into registers.  Data was collected for 13 years in Florence, Vallombrosa, Cutigliano, Bologna, Parma, Milan, Paris, Innsbruck, Osnabruck and Warsaw.

But Ferdinando II wasn't influential enough to save Galileo from the Inquisition, although he did testify in Galileo's defense at the trial, and took care to make Galileo comfortable during his house arrest that ended in the great scientist's death in 1642.

The Palazzo Medici had returned to the family through marriage to the Hapsburgs.  It was expanded over the years by the de' Medici family, but for financial reasons, Ferdinand II sold it to the Riccardi family in 1659, hence it's current name:  The Medici-Riccardi Palace.  Today it's owned by the Florentine government and used for exhibitions.

Palazzo medici-Riccardi

Cosimo III de' Medici (1642-1723), became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1670 on the death of his father at the age of 60. 

Cosimo III, an over-fed, spoiled, indulged child, was unusually dependent on his mother, Vittoria della Rovere, who encouraged his religious interests to the point of fanaticism

The results were moral laws throughout the Grand Duchy that made it the laughing-stock of Europe.  One edict had all naked statues removed from public view, including Michelangelo's David, the symbol of Florence.  Some said the time of Fra' Savonarola had returned.  Together with morality laws, he instituted bigoted laws aimed at non-believers and those of non-Catholic faiths. 

His mother helped ensured the demise of his marriage to beautiful, extraverted Marie Louise d'Orleans, a cousin of France's sun-king Louis XIV, by turning Cosimo against his wife in all things, and encouraging his odd beliefs such as sleeping with his wife no more than once a week under a doctor's supervision!

His wife was in love with her cousin, and hated her dour husband.  She eventually fled back to France, leaving her children in a decidedly bad environment.  The boys especially did not fair well, and ended badly. 

Florentines say the worst thing about Cosimo III's reign was that it lasted 53 years

The best thing about his reign, according to other courts in Europe, was his secret recipe for a chocolate paste used to make hot chocolate. 

Cosimo III had the recipe developed by his court scientists to rival the Spanish chocolate paste flavored with vanilla, musk and amber.  Cosimo III's concoction was preferred everywhere and sent to the European courts as gifts.  On the death of Cosimo III's son, the recipe became public.  It was flavored with jasmine, vanilla, cinnamon and ambergris.  The jasmine flavor came from the jasmine flower itself, not an extract.

Cosimo III neglected the sciences and quality art, leading to an exodus of scientists and artists from Florence

He did expand the collections in Gli Uffizi with objects trendy with wealthy families at the time, antiquities and curious objects. 

He also had decorations added depicting religious celebrations in Florence and honoring the high morals of the Grand Dukes.  This is ironic, since it is the low morals of himself and his sons that brought the de' Medici control of the Grand Duchy to an end.

Cosimo III de' Medici

Hopes for the renewal of the de' Medici family rested on Cosimo III's son, Ferdinando III, who had the intelligence and artistic tastes to continue running the Grand Duchy, filling the estate at Poggio a Caiano with artwork.

Ferdinando, looking oddly like David Niven in a Hollywood costume movie

But Ferdinando III led a licentious life.  He married a child of 16 but fathered no children.  He preferred whoring his way around Italy.  His infertility could have been due to the syphilis he got from the prostitutes.  He went mad from the disease, and died before his father.  Ferdinando lived from 1663 to 1713, dying at the age of 50.

Even before Cosimo III died at the old age of 80, he tried to make is only surviving son suitable to take his title

Gian Gastone had been neglected up to this point, being a second son of a wacko father and with no mother.  He had been left much on his own.  He suffered what seemed to be a bi-polar character, and he nurtured his natural interests in botany and boys

His homosexuality was obvious from a young age, but this didn't stop his sister and father from arranging his marriage to an Austrian princess and encouraging them to conceive a child to save the dynasty.  It never worked, and neither did the marriage. 

His depressions became worse, he increased his drinking, gambling and sexual encounters with boys.  Eventually he left his wife in Austria and went back to Florence. 

Gian Gastone de' Medici (1671-1737), became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1723.  He took over the Grand Duchy as a confirmed, gay bachelor.

Gian Gastone de' Medici 

Gian Gastone immediately set up a committee to decide on who would take the Grand Duchy after his demise.  This process lasted decades, and wasn't really decided until several years after his death. 

Gian Gastone removed many of the oppressive laws his father had instituted in the Grand Duchy, and lowered taxes and prices on staple goods.  This won him popular support, which is probably why they let him remain in his office until his death.  Because very soon his worst instincts took over

Gian Gastone spent much of his life indulging in all his illicit whims, neglecting his duties as Grand Duke, and neglecting his estates and the artwork under his protection.  He was, to say the least, an embarrassment to Italy, Tuscany, Florence and the de' Medici. 

Gian Gastone turned into an obese glutton, and gay pedophile who had his courtiers procure him young boys with which to amuse himself.  He also indulged in voyeurism of his purchased boys with prostitute, courtier women. 

The last years of his life were spent ill, in a fetid bed that was cleaned only when his sister-in-law could manage to get him removed from it, which wasn't very often. 

One of the few honorable things that happened under his Dukedom was the financing of a tomb and monument for Galileo in the Church of Santa Croce. 

When Gian Gastone died in 1737 at the age of 56, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was offered to Francesco Stefano di Lorena, related by marriage to the de' Medici, and taken up by his son, Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena

Oddly, Gian Gastone's body is missing from his tomb.  It was moved a century after his death for some unknown reason to the secret crypt under the Medici chapel. 

The de' Medici reputation was saved at the end of the day, as was the de' Medici art, by the Grand Duke's sister, Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, below, who was the very last de' Medici.  She lived an exemplary life, if we ignore her part in marrying her gay brother off to an unwilling young woman. 

Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici

She returned to her beloved Florence after the death of her German husband (who had given her syphilis), and was welcomed home by her pampering father.  After her religiously fanatical father's death, she lived a separate life from her wayward brother, Gian Gastone, in the Palazzo Pitti. 

She outlived Gian Gastone, and before the end of her life, negotiated with the di Lorena family a contract called the 'Convention of the Family'.  With this contract she entailed all the de' Medici art to the city of Florence as long as the artistic objects never left the Grand Duchy

Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici died in 1743 of breast cancer, the last de' Medici.

In 1769, Pietro Leopoldo opened up Gli Uffizi collections to the public, and supervised their organization into a world class collection

The di Lorena family left only in 1859 when it realized that the Grand Duchy was to be taken over by the new Kingdom of Italy (1861) under the House of Savoy

Palazzo Pitti became the royal seat for the Savoy until their definitive more to Rome

After WWII, Italians voted in a referendum to end the monarchy, and members of the House of Savoy were banned from Italy until very recently.  The vote also ended all royal claims in Italy, and the use of royal titles.

Cosimo the Elder was correct in his assessment of his family's lasting effect on Florence and Tuscany

The buildings and art are what represent for us today the de' Medici dynasty.  Forgotten are:

  • the political maneuvering,
  • the banks,
  • the battles,
  • the sieges,
  • the assassinations,
  • the arranged marriages and
  • the illegitimate children. 

What remains are the churches, the palaces, the country villas, the frescos, the sculptures and the paintings. 

The de' Medici financed and fuelled the Italian Renaissance

They were patrons to generations of Italian artists and architects

So the next time you're in Florence and Rome enjoying the art and architecture, spare a thought for the people who made all that possible. 

Decadent, violent, despotic, crafty, cunning, bullying, clever, indulgent:  the de' Medici Princes of Italy


Visit the Wikipedia Medici page for more on the family, the art, buildings, history...