Medici explores Politics, Patronage, and Power in Medicean Florence at the Met
By: Anjali Sharma
NEW YORK – The Medici – Portraits and Politics (1512-1570), a new dazzling exhibition opened at The Metropolitan Museum through October 11 offered a stimulating balance of remarkable art and behind-the-scenes plot that played equal parts in defining one of the most famous and tumultuous years in history. An exciting new exhibition is the trove of Italian history and art history in spectacular portraits from the Medici dynasty on view in a sumptuous exhibition at the Met.
The greatest portraits of Western art were painted in Florence during the uproarious years from 1512 to 1570, when the city was transformed from a republic with elected officials into a duchy ruled by the Medici family.
The key figure in this transformation was Cosimo I de’ Medici, who became Duke of Florence in 1537, following the assassination of his predecessor, Alessandro de’ Medici. Cosimo shrewdly employed culture as a political tool in order to convert the mercantile city into the capital of a dynastic Medicean state, enlisting the leading intellectuals and artists of his time and promoting grand architectural, engineering, and artistic projects. Through Giorgio Vasari's famous written work Lives of the Artists, which was dedicated to the duke, Florence was promoted as the cradle of the Renaissance.
Through an outstanding group of portraits, this major loan exhibition introduces visitors to the various new and complex ways that artists portrayed the elite of Medicean Florence, representing the sitters’ political and cultural ambitions and conveying the changing sense of what it meant to be a Florentine at this defining moment in the city’s history.
The exhibition featured over 90 works in a wide range of mediums, from paintings, sculptural busts, medals, and carved gemstones to drawings, etchings, manuscripts, and armor. Included are works by the period’s most celebrated artists, from Raphael, Jacoto po Pontormo, and Rosso Fiorentino to Benvenuto Cellini, Agnolo Bronzino, and Francesco Salviati.
It also introduced visitors to the various new and complex ways that artists portrayed the elite of Medicean Florence, representing the sitters’ political and cultural ambitions and conveying the changing sense of what it meant to be a Florentine at this defining moment in the city’s history..
The major supporter of Medici exhibition is David S. Winter. The exhibition's additional funding is provided by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, Laura and John Arnold, the Diane Carol Brandt Fund, the Hata International Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill, Denise and Andrew Saul, and The International Council of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met said that "Throughout history, art and imagery have been used to promote cultural and political agendas—a strategy that continues to be prevalent in our world today.”
He added that "This exhibition celebrates the achievements of the painters and sculptors responsible for these memorable masterpieces from Renaissance Italy, as it also explores the historical, social, and political context of these works, inviting us to more fully appreciate their artistic relevance and their role in culture and society. To be able to present extraordinary works by Raphael, Bronzino, Pontormo, Salviati, Cellini, and others from collections all around the world is not only a dream come true, but it is also especially remarkable given the various pandemic-related challenges we faced while organizing this international loan show." The exhibition mark the most ambitious presentation of this material ever mounted in the United States. by bringing together works from The Met’s holdings and collections throughout Europe, and Australia,
The overview of the Medici unfold in six sections, each devoted to a defining moment or theme that will help illustrate the impact of Cosimo’s autocratic rule and cultural initiatives on Florentine artists and the sitters they portrayed. Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will be greeted by Benvenuto Cellini’s commanding, larger-than-life-size bust of Cosimo—among the greatest works of the Renaissance—from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence. Cleaning of the bust for the exhibition has recovered its silvered eyes, which emulate a practice found in ancient bronze sculpture. This masterwork will be shown with a marble version from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco—the first time that these two sculptures will be exhibited together. The first section, “From Republic to Duchy, 1512–32,” is looking at the years leading up to Alessandro de’ Medici becoming the First Duke of Florence. Most Florentine artists during this period practiced an austere style that reflected the traditional moral values of the republic. Portraits feature a somber color palette and absence of decorative embellishments, and details of objects serve to indicate a sitter’s profession. Following the traumatic siege of Florence by Spanish troops and the installment of Alessandro as duke in 1532, a shift in artistic style becomes evident, as will be seen in an extraordinary portrait of a woman by Agnolo Bronzino from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. The next section “The Medici and Florence, 1513–37,” introduce some of the key figures of the Medici dynasty—protagonists in a political game played from Rome, where members of the family held positions of power in the Catholic Church. Among the works here will be Raphael’s sumptuous portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici, from a private collection, and Jacopo Pontormo’s intriguing portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici, lent by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A subsection titled “The Last Republic and the Siege of Florence, 1527–30” will include Pontormo’s portrait (from the J. Paul Getty Museum) of a young halberdier ready to defend the Florentine Republic against the Imperial troops, along with several 16th-century weapons from The Met’s collection of arms and armor. At just 17 years of age, Cosimo succeeded Alessandro (who was assassinated by his cousin in 1537) as Duke of Florence and began consolidating power and laying the foundations for transforming the city into a Medicean court.
Third section, “Cosimo I de’ Medici: Lineage and Dynasty,” explore how the duke cultivated his image as the inheritor and preserver of the glory of the entire Medici line, weaving a connection to his illustrious relatives in various ways. Portraits of the ducal family were intended to project power, assert the continuity of the dynasty, and convey cultural refinement. Depictions of Cosimo will be joined by Bronzino’s compelling portraits of his children from the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence and the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and his wife, Eleonora di Toledo, whose red velvet dress will be on loan from the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale in Pisa. Cosimo harnessed the artistic and literary legacy of Florence to enhance the prestige of his court throughout Europe and, in 1542, he established an important literary institution called the Accademia Fiorentina.
“A Poetics of Portraiture” highlight the ways in which this literary culture, reaching back to Dante and Petrarch, shaped the conventions of portraiture in which sitters are often shown holding small volumes of poetry. Two such paintings from The Met’s collection—Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man with a Book and Salviati’s portrait of Carlo Rimbotti—served as this exhibition’s catalyst. Beyond indicating a sitter’s literacy, these small volumes signified the sitter’s patriotism, social affiliation, and partisan allegiance or dissent. A refined sense of allegory and metaphor also resulted in some of the most fascinating portraits in the Western canon—works in which the sitter is portrayed as a mythological or Biblical figure. Outstanding examples are Bronzino’s allegorical portraits of Cosimo as Orpheus, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and of his son Giovanni as Saint John the Baptist, which is from the Galleria Borghese in Rome and cross the Atlantic for the first time.
Bronzino’s extraordinary portrait of the accomplished female poet Laura Battiferri displayed in a small gallery dedicated to “Cosimo and the Politics of Culture.” Lent from the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the work has been cleaned for the exhibition and will be exhibited together with a manuscript of the verses she exchanged with Bronzino, who was celebrated as both a painter and poet. Cosimo’s transformation of the city is commemorated in a series of medals, while his relentless efforts to assert Florence as the epicenter of the visual arts and the capital of the Italian Renaissance is evidenced in Giorgio Vasari’s famous Lives of the Artists, which was dedicated to Cosimo and for centuries imposed a Florence-centered narrative of Renaissance art. This astute propaganda campaign ensured that the reputation of Florence and the Medici would live on long after Cosimo’s death in 1574. The sixth and final section, “Florence and Rome: Bronzino and Salviati,” offer a comparison between the two competing styles at Cosimo’s court: Bronzino’s insistently Florentine-based art and the pan-Italian style of Salviati. At Cosimo’s behest, the two artists worked concurrently in the Palazzo Vecchio—the seat of the old republic that the duke transformed into his residence—but his preference for a distinctively Florentine literary and artistic language led to Bronzino’s portraits becoming the official style of the ruling elite. This gallery will provide a unique opportunity to compare the qualities of these artists, both as painters and as draftsmen; to gauge their responses to each other’s work; and to sort out some long-debated attributions. The exhibition will conclude with the juxtaposition of two masterpieces, both portraits—a bronze by Cellini (from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston) and a painting by Salviati—of the Florentine banker Bindo Altoviti, who remained one of the most significant opponents to Cosimo’s rule.
The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570 is organized by Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, and guest curator Carlo Falciani, Professor of Art History at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue featuring contributions from leading scholars. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, is available to purchase from The Met Store. The catalogue is made possible by the Drue E. Heinz Fund. Additional support is provided by Jon and Barbara Landau, Trinity Fine Art, Filippo Benappi, the Colnaghi Foundation, Marco Voena, the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The exhibition's Audio Guide is presented as a podcast divided into four “chapters.
” It will feature a range of experts looking closely at the Medici’s 16th-century branding campaign, including commentary from Alessandro Lai, costume designer for the Netflix series, Medici; Jenny Tiramani, head of the School of Historical Dress; contemporary portraitist Bisa Butler; and Renaissance scholars, Linda Wolk-Simon and Victoria Kirkham. It’s available on The Met’s website and free on Spotify. The Audio Guide is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Other outstanding exhibition at the Met on display is The New Women Behind the camera on the view through October 3 with generous support by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
It is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The New Woman of the 1920s was a powerful expression of modernity, a global phenomenon that embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art.
It featured over 120 photographers from 20 countries. This groundbreaking exhibition explores the work of the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and artistic expression from the 1920s through the 1950s.
During this tumultuous period shaped by two world wars, women stood at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era. This is the first time the exhibition took an international approach to the subject, highlighting female photographers’ innovative work in studio portraiture, fashion and advertising, artistic experimentation, street photography, ethnography, and photojournalism.
Among the photographers featured are Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Florestine Perrault Collins, Imogen Cunningham, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Consuelo Kanaga, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla of Mumbai.
Inspired by the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.
The Roof Garden Commission: Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts through October 31 is supported by Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky and the catalogue is made possible by the Mary and Louis S. Myers Foundation Endowment Fund.
Alex Da Corte (American, born 1980) has been commissioned to create a site-specific installation for The Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. The Roof Garden Commission: Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts It is the ninth in a series of site-specific commissions for the outdoor space.
Alex Da Corte was born in Camden, New Jersey, and lives and works in Philadelphia.
After training as an animator at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he received a BFA in Printmaking/Fine Arts from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an MFA from Yale University. Working across a range of media including film, performance, painting, installation, and sculpture,
Da Corte’s practice is invested in deconstructing and reinventing those objects and cultural icons that are not only familiar and beloved, but also contested.
His work was included in the 2019 Venice Biennale and the 2018 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. Museums that have mounted solo exhibitions include the Prada Rong Zhai (2020), Kölnischer Kunstverein in Cologne (2018), Secession in Vienna (2017), MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts (2016), and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2015). In March 2020, Da Corte reinvented Allan Kaprow’s performance Chicken (1962) as part of Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-Garde.