As we discussed in the last article aboutdecorating your dorm room, all tapestries, traditional or a modern mandala, add an extra je ne sais quoi to a room.
According to The Tuscan Traveler, one of the most magnificent and well-preserved sets of tapestries hang in the Medici Palace in Florence. The Medici family were one of the richest in Italy. The family came from an area in Tuscany. When they were ready, they used their savings to fund the Medici Bank which, during the 15th century, was the largest bank in Europe and facilitated the family’s rise in political power in Florence.
The Palazzo Medici Riccardi was built after the defeat of the Milanese and when Cosimo de Medici had more governmental power. It was the first renaissance building to be built in Florence.
Cosimo was the great-great-grandson of Lorenzo the Elder, the son of Giovanni di Bicci and brother of Cosimo the Elder and was a member of a branch of the Medici family that had taken an active part in Medici affairs but had played no political role. Nevertheless, when he heard of the assassination of his distant cousin, Alessandro, Duke of Florence, he immediately went to Florence. There, in January 1537, Cosimo was elected head of the Republic, in the government of which he was to be assisted by the senate, the assembly and the council.
Having brought nearly all of Tuscany under his control, Cosimo used his despotic power to promote the country’s well-being, especially the arts. His passion for efficiency inspired him with the idea, extremely advanced for the times, of uniting all public services into a single building, the Uffizi, which was built for him according to Giorgio Vasari’s grandiose, yet practical design.
In 1545, Cosimo commissioned Jacopo Pontormo and Agnolo Bronzino to create 20 arazzi (tapestries) telling the story of Giuseppe Ebreo, or Joseph the Jew. The arazzi, stretching an impressive 260 feet, adorned the walls of the Sala de’ Dugento of the Palazzo Vecchio, for over 300 years. In 1882, ten of them were taken to Rome to be exhibited in the Quirinal Palace, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, where they still remain.
Why the story of Joseph? The tapestries are masterpieces of allegory, explained exhibition curator Louis Godart, whose study found in Cosimo I de’ Medici, a man who felt he had a lot in common with Joseph.
Cosimo was from the “cadet” branch of the Medici family, one that lived outside Florence. He was almost unknown in the city until he came to power in 1537, following the assassination of his cousin, Duke Alessandro de’ Medici.
After establishing his rule, Cosimo sought to affirm his family’s political, economic and cultural primacy in Florence and in Tuscany. He sought important foreign alliances. He married Eleonora of Toledo, the daughter of Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, the Spanish viceroy of Naples. He wanted to raise his profile to the level of European royalty like Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Commissioning important works of art demonstrated both culture and wealth.
Louis Godart surmises that the story of Joseph is one in which Cosimo saw many parallels to his own life. For example, Cosimo felt he and his family had been “abandoned” by Florence and its citizens, much as Joseph had been sold off and abandoned by his brothers. Cosimo came to power at 17, the same age as Joseph when he is first mentioned in the Bible. Cosimo used skill to acquire power, much as Joseph became powerful by becoming an important and trusted adviser to the Egyptian pharaoh. Cosimo also, in time, forgave many of his enemies among the Florentine nobility, in the same manner as Joseph forgave his brothers.
In the 15th and 16th centuries tapestries were a common feature in European royal courts and the palaces of wealthy nobles. Cosimo sought out two of the best-known Flemish tapestry masters of his time, Jan Rost and Nicolas Karcher. They had already worked in Italy for the courts of the Gonzaga family of Mantua and the Este Dukes of Ferrara. The preparatory drawings were entrusted to Florentine painters Agnolo Bronzino, Jacopo Pontormo and Francesco Salviati. The tapestries, woven with the finest silk and gold thread, were hung in the Sala dei Duecento, the seat of the Tuscan ducal government, in 1545.
Hidden away on the top of the Palazzo Vecchio is the tapestry restoration workshop of theOpificio delle Pietre Dure, the agency that oversees all manner of restoration for Florentine museums and the artistic contents of public buildings.In 1985, the tapestry workshop was charged with restoration of a series of exquisite Renaissance tapestries commissioned by Cosimo de Medici in the 16th century, which were brought together for the first time in 150 years in a 2015.
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