Quarters of Leo X - The "Terrestrial Gods" of the Medici Family

Palazzo Vecchio Museum

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.

Room of Cosimo the Elder
Cosimo the Elder (1389–1464), son of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, was the forefather of the main branch of this dynasty and led the political and economic rise of Florence in the first half of the 15th century, laying the foundations for the power of the Medicis and earning the epithet Pater Patriae (Father of the Nation).

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.

Cosimo the Elder’s fervent work as a patron of the arts served to make his city more attractive and illustrious. Among Cosimo’s most prestigious commissions was the enlargement of the church of San Lorenzo, which became the mausoleum of the Medici family.

Room of Lorenzo the Magnificent
Lorenzo (1449–1492), son of Piero the Gouty and grandson of Cosimo the Elder, was known as “the Magnificent” because of his refined taste in art and the exceptional intellectual talent with which he shaped the era, encouraging the growth and spread of the humanist movement of the Florentine Renaissance. Lorenzo continued the work of his predecessors to consolidate political and economic power over Florence, whilst retaining—at least formally—the institutions of the Republic.

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.

Room of Leo X
Giovanni de’ Medici (1475–1521), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, became a cardinal at the age of only thirteen and was elected Pope with the name Leo X in 1513. He laid the foundations for the future Medici Duchy of Tuscany and his expansionist policy allowed the Medici to gain new dominions, such as the Duchy of Urbino.

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.

Having grown up in the learned and refined circles of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Leo X brought pomp and splendor to the office of Pope. Continuing the patronage of his predecessor Julius II, he made Rome the main cultural and artistic center of the early 16th century.

Room of Clement VII
Giulio de’ Medici (1478–1534), grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was appointed cardinal by his cousin, Pope Leo X, who entrusted him with control of the government and the artistic industries of Florence. In 1523, he ascended to the papacy with the name Clement VII. His papacy coincided with a difficult period, with the dispute between the Habsburg Emperor and the King of France for control of Italy, culminating with the invasion of the Papal state by German troops, allied with France (1527). On hearing news of the sacking of Rome, Florence rose up against the Medici, proclaiming the Second Republic. The Pope and Emperor Charles V formed an alliance to restore the Medici’s control over the city. The Republic fell in 1530, after a ten month siege, and Clement VII appointed his great-grandchild Alessandro de’ Medici as head of the Florentine state.

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.

Room of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere
Son of Giovanni di Pierfrancesco of the cadet branch of the Medicis (known as the Popolani) and Caterina Sforza, Ludovico (1498–1526)—known as Giovanni after the death of his father—is remembered as one of the company of mercenaries’ most valiant captains of all time, serving Pope Leo X, and the French and Habsburg Emperors in turn. His nickname is derived from the black bands that adorned his uniform and those of his soldiers as a sign of mourning after the death of Pope Leo X. By marrying Maria Salvati, the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, he reunited the two branches of the Medici dynasty. They had a child, the future Duke of Florence, Cosimo I.
Room of Cosimo I
Son of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and Maria Salvati, granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo (1519–1574) was a descendant of the cadet branch of the Medici family on his father’s side and the main branch on his mother’s side.The room dedicated to him recounts the main stages of his rise to—and consolidation of—power, from his election as Duke of Florence after the death of Alessandro de’ Medici in 1537, to his victory at Montemurlo, and the strengthening and expansion of the borders of his lands with the annexing of the Island of Elba and the conquest of Siena. After a year of marriage to Eleanor of Toledo in 1539, he moved to the Palazzo Vecchio with the court and appointed Battista del Tasso and then Giorgio Vasari to direct its expansion and conversion.

Cosimo I promoted scientific and literary study, commissioned major works, and founded the first Academy of Art and Design (1563), helping to consolidate Florence’s cultural supremacy.

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.

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