Do you know who I am?

Francesco I de’ Medici (Florence 1541 – Poggio a Caiano, 1587) was one of the finest patrons in the history of Italian art. He was the first child of Cosimo I de’ Medici and Eleonora of Toledo and besides being the second Grand Duke of Tuscany (from 1564 until his death), he was particularly fond of arts, science and alchemy. Like his father and his ancestors, he also supported many artists, amongst others, the architect Bernardo Buontalenti (Firenze 1536-1608) to whom Francesco commissioned the building of a villa in Pratolino, which doesn’t exist any more but was regarded as the most opulent of the Medici’s villas. To the same architect, he also entrusted the task of designing the fortress-city of Livorno. Francesco I was also a fan of Chinese porcelain, to the extent that he asked chemists to find the formula for the mixture of porcelain. This resulted, around 1575, in the first works of vitreous paste porcelain ever produced in the West (the so-called Medici porcelain).


The role of the Duke as patron, scholar and collector of art is perfectly epitomised by his “studiolo”, that can be found nowadays in the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence.
The studiolo, one of the highest and most original creations of Florentine Mannerism, was made possible thanks to the collaboration between the intellectual Vincenzo Borghini and a group of artists led by Giorgio Vasari. The work was completed in 1575. The studiolo was dismantled shortly after the death of Francesco I, the paintings were scattered among the various art collections in the city, but in 1920 it was decided to reconstruct the entire environment, as close to the original as possible.


Centered around the theory of the elements – water, air, earth and fire –, the decorative program of the small studiolo appears perfectly suitable for a conceptual approach. Each side of the studiolo was in fact addressed to one of the four elements, and every collected item, being a work of art or a precious stone for that matter, was linked to each category. The charming decoration was realised by 31 different artists, most of them were members of the Florentince Accademia e Compagnia dell’Arte del Disegno, including painters, sculptors and wood carvers. The vault, for instance, was frescoed by Francesco Morandini said Poppi and Jacopo Zucchi. The walls, instead, are lined with wood panelling and doors painted by some of the most prominent artists of that time, such as Alessandro Allori, Mirabello Cavalori, Giovanni Battista Naldini, Gerolamo Macchietti, Santi di Tito, Maso da San Friano, the Poppi, Giovanni Stradano (or Jan Van der Straet ) and Jean de Boulogne, known as Giambologna. The themes of the illustrations were chosen on the basis of the objects that were collected inside the closets, hidden behind the walls, bearing in mind the close link between Nature and Art, topic deeply explored by the Duke throughout his life.

July 26, 2015