On the eastern side of the Palazzo Vecchio, next to the Hall of the Five Hundred, are the apartments that were once devoted to the offices of court and guests of the principality: the Quarters of Leo X on the lower floor and the Quarters of the Elements upstairs. These were constructed as part of the works ordered by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici to extend the palace, and were therefore known as the new quarters. The works were begun by Battista del Tasso in the mid-1500s and were continued between 1555 and 1563 by Giorgio Vasari and a number of associates, including the painters Marco da Faenza, Cristofano Gherardi, and Giovanni Stradano. The distinctive feature of the two quarters is the perfectly matched shape and size of the rooms on the first and second floors. This symmetry is part of an iconographic scheme for decorating the rooms devised by the scholar Cosimo Bartoli. Each of the rooms in the Quarters of Leo X is dedicated to an illustrious figure from the Medici family and depicts their most significant feats. Each of these rooms is matched on the floor above by a room dedicated to one of the main pagan deities, the idea being to compare the “terrestrial gods” of the reigning dynasty with the lineage of the “heavenly deities.” The first room of the quarters is dedicated to Cosimo the Elder, to whom the Medici family was indebted for securing the family’s prestige in the 15th century.
Among the scenes from the life of Cosimo the Elder that are frescoed on the roof of the room dedicated to him, is one showing his departure for exile. This was the sentence laid down in 1433 by his enemies, who accused him of plotting against the Republic. The central fresco depicts is his triumphant return to Florence after only a year.
Cosimo the Elder was also a renowned patron and protector of famous artists and scholars. In one scene depicted in the decoration of the room, he appears surrounded by some of them. From left to right: the sculptor Luca della Robbia, Ghiberti, Andrea del Castagno, Fra’ Giovanni da Fiesole, Pesello, Donatello, Paolo Uccello, Fra’ Filippo Lippi, Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli, Brunelleschi, John Argyropoulos, and Marsilio Ficino.
In the room’s frescoes, Lorenzo the Magnificent is largely celebrated for his skills in fostering agreements and alliances between the Italian states. In the scene depicted in the center of the ceiling, he is shown receiving tributes from Italian and foreign ambassadors, with many precious and exotic gifts.
Lorenzo loved surrounding himself with scholars and philosophers, as can be seen in a lunette that decorates the room, depicting (from left to right): Marullo Tracagnotto, Giovanni Lascari, Leonardo Bruni, Leon Battista Alberti, Cristofano Landino, Marsilio Ficino, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Gentile da Urbino, Demetrio Calcondila, Francesco Accolti, Pico della Mirandola, Agnolo Poliziano, and Luigi Pulci.
The frescoes on the walls and the panels painted on the ceiling of the room tell the story of Giovanni’s rise to power and the successes of his expansionist policy. Among the main scenes to note is one, on one wall, that depicts him in Piazza della Signoria in 1515, during his first triumphal entrance to Florence after his election to the papacy.
As part of the allegorical scheme celebrating the main members of the House of Medici, the Room of Clement VII—like that of Leo X—occupies an important position. Its magnificent decoration focuses on the events that helped strengthen the Medici’s control of the Tuscan capital: the solemn coronation of Charles V in Bologna, as shown in the central panel of the ceiling, the siege of Florence, and the return of Alessandro de’ Medici to Florence with his investiture as emperor.
Between the Room of Cosimo I and the Room of Clement VII is a chapel dedicated to the Medici saints, Cosma and Damiano, who were chosen as patron saints by the forefathers of the Medici dynasty, perhaps in reference to their profession. Cosimo the Elder and Cosimo I de’ Medici are depicted wearing the robes of the two saints, Cosma and Damiano, in the side panels of a triptych set into the wall of the altar. In the center of this once stood the original version of the Madonna dell’Impannata by Raphael, today in Palazzo Pitti and replaced in situ by a late 16th century copy.