Medici Chapels: A New Exhibition - Pope Leo X and Florence

Medici Chapels: A New Exhibition - Pope Leo X and Florence

Until October 6th 2013 the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee celebrates the figure of Giovanni, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s second son, the first Medici pope, five hundred years after his election to the Holy See.

Until October 6th 2013 the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee celebrates the figure of Giovanni, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s second son, the first Medici pope, five hundred years after his election to the Holy See.

The Museo delle Cappelle Medicee is celebrating this year the figure of Giovanni, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s second son, the first Medici pope, five hundred years after his election to the Holy See.

Giovanni, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Clarice Orsini, was born in Florence on 1475, in the first section we have a rare and beautiful terracotta vase with the family coat of arms of the spouses on loan from Detroit, commemorating their wedding ceremony.

The second son in a noble family was traditionally destined for an ecclesiastical career from his early childhood which he spent frequenting "The Garden of S. Marco" where his father had gathered the youth and talented artists of Florence, among them the young Michelangelo, engaging them in the study of the classical antiquities, part of the family collections, at the time on exhibit in the garden itself.

The origin of the Family of Pope Leo X can be traced to the Villa of Cafaggiolo in the Mugello region near Florence that Cosimo the Elder, Giovanni’s great-grandfather and creator of family fortune, had renovated by Michelozzo who, at Cosimo’s request, also designed and built the Family Palace where the future pope received his sophisticated education.

Growing up in the rarefied environment of his father’s humanist entourage, Giovanni was educated by the leading scholars and philosophers. Among Giovanni’s mentor was Agnolo Poliziano, Demetrio Calcondila, Marsilio Ficino and great masters in the service of Lorenzo such as Ghirlandaio and Botticelli. In the introductory section of the exhibit we have the portraits of the Pope’s relatives, a magnificent double portrait by Andrea del Castagno, probable representation of the sons of Cosimo, Piero and Giovanni de’Medici and a bust Giuliano, brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent who was killed in the Cathedral in the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478.
The astute politics of Lorenzo brought about nomination of Giovanni as a cardinal deacon at just over 13 years of age.

The pontifical bull of Innocent VIII is dated 1489, but was meant to be kept secret for at least three years , given that the neo-cardinal was still an adolescent. The news, however, spread rapidly and became so diffused that Lorenzo was forced to ask for the Pope’s pardon. Following the nomination, Giovanni was sent to Pisa to study canon law, together with his brother Giulian and his cousin Giulio, later Pope Clement VII he was accompanied by his learned mentors, represented in the exhibit by engravings, books and documents. Lorenzo assiduously sought after divers ecclesiastical benefices for the son in Tuscany and other regions in Italy and France. One of Cardinal’s favorite benefices was the Badia Passignano where he readily spent the summer season, resting and hunting. This monastic complex represented here by the splendid sculptures by B. Rovezzano . The death of Lorenzo, in 1492, marked a traumatic change not only for Giovanni and his brothers but above all for the city of Florence whose history was marked, from that day forward, by a series of dramatic events, briefly recapitulated in the exhibit. The unwise government of Lorenzo’s first born son, Piero was opposed by the Florentine Oligarchy and led to the exile of the Medici in 1494. In subsequent years, the government of the Florentine Republic was under the strong influence of the moral and politic directives of Fra Girolamo Savonarola.
Important artists of the time were involved in this anti-Medici movement participating to the bonfires of vanity, choosing a clear and didactic language of art represented in the exhibit by the paintings by Perugino.
Following the burning at the stake of Savonarola in 1498, during the years of Giovanni’s exile, Florence was ruled by a new republican government led by Pier Soderini who promoted great artistic projects: the creation of David by Michelangelo and its placement in Signoria Sq. as well as the commission of the famed Battles for the Hall of the Great Council in Signoria Palace, commissioned to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in competition on the same subject.

An extraordinary bust in painted terracotta from London portrays Giovanni as an adult with striking physiognomic resemblance and a singular introspective intensity opens the section dedicated to the life and passion of a Cardinal of the time. On display are vestments of a high prelate of the Cinquecento, hat, gloves and objects related to the Cardinal’s favorites pastimes like hunt and music. An evocation of the Cardinal’s chamber in the Medici Palace includes sculptures and paintings by Pollaiolo, Lippi and Della Robbia.

On March 11 1513, at 38 years of age, Giovanni de’ Medici was elected to the papacy with the name of Leo X. The name he chose not only recalled Pope Leo the Great but also the “Marzocco” the lion that had been the totemic animal of Florence since the 14th Century. A monumental emblem of the pope in glazed terracotta by Della Robbia from the Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo combines the head of a lion with Medicean device of the diamond ring in a spectacular symbolic fusion that honors the Pope through the celebration of the city of origin and of his family.

The Pope’s entrance into Florence in 1513 was celebrated by a notable decorative apparatus adorning the processional route through the street of Florence, this creations of the most important artists of the time is documented in the exhibition by a spectacular virtual reconstruction, very popular with the kids!

The section dedicated to Leo X centers on the artistic commissions promoted by the Pope in Rome, notably the famous portrait by Raphael in papal vestments, on the studies of antiquity that flourished in the years of his pontificate finally leading to the first law of conservation and the recovery of the Family Book Collection, confiscated by the Signoria, repurchased by Cardinal Giovanni and brought back to Florence by his cousin and now preserved in the Medicean Library by Michelangelo, designed for the conservation of these invaluable texts.

Luther thesis were aimed against the practice of indulgences put on the market following the enormously costly works of the building of the New St. Peter’s.
In 1520, the excommunication of Martin Luther split the Christianity in a terrible spiritual and doctrinal crisis.
You can visit with us the Exhibition ‘Pope Leo X and Florence’ during Medici District tour.

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