Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Never judge a book.......

Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici by
Il Baciccio, 1670

Leopoldo de Medici (1617-1675) was the youngest brother of Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici. He is possibly one of the ugliest of the Medici family during their three hundred year long rule of Florence and Tuscany (and they were a particularly ugly bunch on the whole) but what he lacked in looks he certainly made up for in smarts, and he is one of my favourite Medici’s.
This portrait is by one of the artists of whom he was very fond, Il Baciccio, and he is shown here in his cardinal robes. He was elected cardinal at the age of fifty after the death of Giovan Carlo, his older cardinal playboy brother. It was necessary for all influential and ruling families to have a close relative in a high placing in the church and Leopold was a good candidate to fill the newly papal Medici void as he was a bachelor and extremely intelligent, a formidable diplomat, well connected and very amiable. What is so fascinating about the Medici family of Florence is that there is a long list of family members who were outstanding patrons of the arts and learning, Leopold is one of the least talked about however even though he was one of the most significant in this respect.
Through out the family history so many of them were up to date, avant-guard supporters of new discoveries, technologies and  were addicted to knowledge. Sure, the heads of the family played dirty in order to sustain power, eliminate enemies and displayed ruthless acts of merciless violence in order to carry forth their projects of expansion and political desires but Renaissance Europe was a jungle and success in the field required that any successful player played with jungle tactics. However, the Medici family weren't simple brutes but they endlessly sought knowledge and spent tirelessly for the expansion of the mind, the beautification of the Florence and the patronage of talent in all fields making changes that were felt world wide. Leopold didn’t rule the duchy of Tuscany and so could dedicate more time to philanthropy than others. Galileo was the official court mathematician and scientist during the first half of the 1600's and Leopold was one of his most promising students. After his teacher’s death he personally sanctioned and supported Europe’s very first scientific academy, the Academia del Cimento (the Academy of the Daring), which met at his home, the Ducal palace (the modern day Pitti Palace), and he was the Academy’s CEO. He used his diplomatic skill to smooth out the differences between the various different strong characters in the group thus fostering a productive environment producing, amongst other  scientific advancements, the first barometer. He was a prolific letter writer to all heads of state in Europe, royal members, philosophers, writers, artists and politicians. He supported literary movements and was an extraordinary patron of the visual arts, in particular a collector of drawings, miniatures and self portraits of the artists (currently displayed in the Vasarian corridor). Over the years he built up a network of over eighty agents predominately in Italy but also in Paris, Flanders and Holland and elsewhere, who were perminately on the look out for artistic works and collections for sale and always kept him up to speed with developments and negotiating on his behalf.
He displayed his collection in his personal apartments on the third floor of the Ducal palace and upon his death it was, for the most part, taken to the Uffizi gallery. Of the 50,000 circa drawings in the Uffizi gallery collection today, 8,000 circa are courtesy of Leopold. He was particularly sensitive to the Venetian style, their unique colour palate and free brushwork, thus beginning the city's real display of the other great artistic Italian school along with that of Florence.  The love of the Venetian school was then continued by his great nephew, Gran Prince Ferdinand, another fascinating character…. the subject for another blog…. 

1 comment:

  1. Ugly he is! Thumbs up for The Academy of the Daring! Florence & the world owe a great deal to old Leopoldo!