This summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented The Medici: Portraits & Politics, 1512-1570. With an exhibition catalogue supported by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the exhibition brought the splendor and opulence of Florence’s Medici Family to New York City. The Medici focuses on portraits of the Florentine elite from 1512 to 1570, when the city was transformed from a republic to a duchy ruled by the Medici family. During this time, the city was posited as an artistic hub of the Renaissance by the Medici because of their attention to and patronage of the arts. This exhibition highlights the ways in which portraiture relays its subjects’ political and cultural ambitions and conveys a sense of what it meant to be an elite Florentine at this moment in history. The exhibition is divided into six sections, each dedicated to a defining moment in time or theme during the Medici rule, starting with vital historical context.
When Cosimo I de’ Medici became Duke of Florence at the age of 17, he immediately turned towards the arts to amplify his influence. He forged alliances with Florence’s cultural elite and surrounded himself with the leading intellectuals and artists of the time. In order to secure his legacy, he employed these artists to monumentalize his family via portraiture. These portraits were intended to convey power, longevity, and cultural refinement. Other indicators of refinement and cultural literacy included painting portrait sitters holding books of poetry as prop, or portraying individuals as mythological or Biblical figures.
Cosimo’s success in making Florence a cultural center is evidenced by more than just the portraiture produced. The exhibition also calls attention to his achievements via medals celebrating his architectural endeavors, a first edition copy of Giorgio Vasari’s famous Lives of the Artists, which was dedicated to Cosimo, and a bust of Cosimo dressed in Roman emperor’s clothing – all suggestive of the longevity and timelessness of his rule.
The Medici features over 90 works ranging in medium, including works from historically celebrated artists like Raphael, Agnolo Bronzino, and Rosso Fiorentino. Praised as the most ambitious exhibition of this material to date, The Medici combines both the museum’s holdings as well as loans from all over the world. The Medici will close to the public on October 11th. For more information about the exhibition, please visit: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2021/medici-portraits-and-politics.