Cosimo I de’ Medici
Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1519 -1574) was
the nephew of Ottaviano de’ Medici.
His mother, Maria Salviati, was a granddaughter of
Magnificent; his father, the professional soldier Giovanni delle
Bande Nere (1498–1526), was killed when Cosimo was seven. When, in 1537,
Lorenzino de’ Medici murdered Alessandro de’
Medici, the tyrannical Duke of Florence, Cosimo was the only
Initially his power was limited, but he became Duke of
Florence in 1537, after his victory at the Battle of Montemurlo, and Grand Duke
of Tuscany in 1569.
Cosimo, more powerful than any earlier Medici, strove to create a court whose splendor should
rival the proudest European courts and to express the triumphs and ambitions of his dynasty through the
architectural magnificence of his palazzi and public works. He cultivated the myth of the great tradition of Medici
art patronage, restoring the plundered Palazzo Medici, and reassembling and enriching the Biblioteca Laurenziana,
founded by Cosimo il vecchio.
He commissioned from Giorgio Vasari a portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent, as an act of homage
to his ancestors, and the desire for a noble lineage led to his claiming descent from the first Etruscan settlers
in Tuscany and the title Ducatus Etruriae. Cosimo supported archaeological excavations at Etruscan sites, where the
Chimaera of Arezzo was found in 1553 and the Arringatore in 1566. Humanists and poets, such as Vincenzo Borghini,
and artists, such as Agnolo Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini, Pierino da Vinci and Giorgio Vasari, gathered around him
and enhanced his glory and power. In 1554 he established the Arazzeria Medicea, and he was joint head, with
Michelangelo, of the Accademia del Disegno (founded in 1563). Florence again became an important centre for gems
Agnolo Bronzino was court artist from 1539, and his many state portraits of Cosimo and his
family are propagandistic images of power and authority. In 1545 a bust of Cosimo I was commissioned from
Benvenuto Cellini, but this dramatic work was replaced by a more conservative image by Baccio Bandinelli.
Medici Family, Bronzino atelier
The first Medici residence to receive embellishment was the Villa di Castello, where in 1538
Cosimo commissioned Niccolò Tribolo to realize a grandiose garden, adorned with allegorical sculptures glorifying
the Medici, that contrasted with the relative modesty of earlier Medici villa gardens. In 1540 the Duke moved from
the Palazzo Medici to the Palazzo della Signoria (which from this time began to be known as the Palazzo Vecchio)
and began extending the latter, having the Salone del Cinquecento (photo bellow) remodelled by Bandinelli. The Sala
dell’Udienza was frescoed by Francesco Salviati (photo bellow). In 1549 he moved to the former Palazzo Pitti on the
other side of the River Arno, which had been bought by his wife, Eleonora of Toledo.
Francesco Salviati, Sala dell Udienza - fresco
Cosimo had this new family palace enlarged and altered by
Bartolomeo Ammanati from 1560 to 1568 (although according to Vasari it was
Eleonora who made the arrangements for this).
Especially noteworthy is the Mannerist treatment of the
courtyard, which opens on to the Boboli Gardens, laid out by Tribolo in
The Palazzo Vecchio was now used exclusively for government
business. In 1554 Giorgio Vasari replaced Bronzino as the favoured court
artist, and he became artistic superintendent of an ambitious project to
transform its interior.
A series of rooms, with frescoes designed by Vasari, was
dedicated to the glorification of the Medici.
The sequence opened with a room extolling Cosimo il vecchio and culminated in the Sala dei
Cinquecento (photo bellow), where the ceiling decoration, whose program was devised by Borghini, glorifies Cosimo’s
rule; Cosimo is shown dominating the artists of his court. In several rooms frescoed decorations were accompanied
by sets of tapestries, most of which were designed for the Arazzeria Medicea by Joannes Stradanus.
Salone del Cinquecento
Cosimo also kept his magnificent collection of bronzes, marble statuettes, curios, medals and
miniatures in a small room in the palace, called the Scrittoio di Calliope, which was the first Medici museum of
Ancient works were added to Lorenzo the Magnificent’s 15th-century collection of small bronzes
and medals, and Cosimo searched for rare Roman, Greek and Egyptian works. In 1562 a show-case of medals was
presented to him by Conte Orsini di Pitigliano.
Cosimo also had medals made with his own image, a series by Domenico Poggini from and one by
Pietro Paolo Galeotti from around 1569. Cosimo was also concerned that Florence itself should reflect the
triumph of his dynasty, and he enriched the city with buildings and with sculpture.
The building of the Uffizi, begun in 1559 by Vasari’s, expressed order and harmony. It was an
administrative structure, in the ground-floor of which Cosimo housed the offices of the Florentine state; on the
first floor he accommodated the art treasures assembled by the Medici, laying the foundation of one of the most
important art collections in Italy.
In 1564, to secure a safe passage from the palace of government to his private palace at all
times, the Duke commissioned Vasari to construct a long corridor, running from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the
Uffizi, to the Ponte Vecchio and thence to the Palazzo Pitti. Cellini’s bronze Perseus with the Head of Medusa,
perhaps symbolizing Cosimo’s leadership, and Ammanati’s Fountain of Neptune were commissioned for the Piazza della
Signoria; columns commemorating the Medici were erected in the piazzas of San Marco, Santa Trìnita and Santa
Fountain of Neptune
Cosimo had a special relationship with Pisa, reinforcing its naval power and founding the Order
of the Knights of San Stefano in 1526; he also supported the reopening of the University of Pisa. In place of the
earlier republican city centre, he commissioned Vasari to build the church of San Stefano and the Palazzo dei
Cavalieri. His interest is commemorated in Pierino da Vinci’s marble relief Pisa Restored. In 1564 Cosimo, in poor
health, decided to withdraw from political life in favour of his so Francesco I de’ Medici.