The complex and dramatic story of the Medici family is inextricably linked to the history of Florence, itself. Rising to power in the late 14th century, the Medici dominated the political, social and religious scenes for the following 400 years. The visual confirmation of their importance is everywhere- their imposing family palaces, ornate churches and their unmistakable family symbol, the Medici palle, or balls. During this three and a half hour seminar, we will focus on the political and social history of Florence, as it was directly influenced by the Medici family and their impact on the Renaissance. Along with our guide, either an art or social historian, we will visit three major sites that richly illustrate various periods and family members, crafting a detailed story which encapsulates the power and influence of the family.
We begin chronologically with the church of San Marco, which was the family church of the Medici during their early history. This quiet space, a bit off the tourist track, will provide a pleasant backdrop for laying the groundwork of the Medici family history, especially their massive patronage to the arts. We'll step into the convent attached, where in the 1430s Cosimo Medici I founded one of the first public libraries in the world, but which is now a museum that hosts the greatest works of Fra Angelico, who was once a friar here. We will visit the monks' former private cells, all of which house a sacred image intended for meditation, including Cosimo's private cell.
We will then move on to the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, designed by Michelozzo (who also redesigned the convent of San Marco for the Dominicans), and the seat of Medici power in Florence for over a century. In doing so, we will trace the family from the era of the Republic to the era of the duchy, and their rise from rich merchants to rulers of a kingdom. We will make a special visit to the Chapel of the Magi, decorated by Benozzo Gozzoli, which is a masterpiece of Renaissance fresco.
Finally, we will visit the unfinished church of San Lorenzo, which was intended to be sole dominion of the Medici family at the end of their power. We will examine the work of Michelangelo (his Laurentian staircase is located off the cloister of San Lorenzo), in the family chapel he created, which includes the tombs of Lorenzo il Magnifico and brother Giuliano, and discuss the Medici's art patronage, most notably personified in the figure of the great sculptor.
Throughout the walk, we will revert to common, recurring themes: the relationship between power and art, the political upheavals and revolutions that undergirded the artistic upheavals and revolutions of the Renaissance, and the humanistic impulse of one of the most interesting families in history.