Ferdinando I de’ Medici
Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1548-1609)
was the son of Cosimo I de’
Medici and Eleanora de’
His future career seemed uncertain until, in 1562, two of
his brothers and his mother suddenly died (he was the fourth son).
The older of the two, Giovanni, had been a cardinal; Cosimo
arranged with Pius IV that Ferdinando should inherit Giovanni’s title and
benefices in 1563.
The investiture took place in Rome the following year.
For the next decade Ferdinando spent increasingly long periods in Rome, lodging frequently with
the Tuscan cardinal Giovanni Ricci, and made numerous influential contacts and alliances. He also began, from
1569, to collect antique sculptures, housing them in a small villa outside the Porta del Popolo.
In 1572 Cosimo commissioned Bartolomeo Ammannati to remodel and enlarge considerably the Palazzo
di Firenze in Campo Marzio, Rome, as Ferdinando’s main residence, but little work was done before Cosimo’s death
(1574) put paid to the scheme. Nevertheless Ferdinando was determined to move permanently to Rome because his
relations with his elder brothe Francesco I de’ Medici were strained.
In 1576 he completed the purchase of Cardinal Ricci’s magnificent villa on the Pincio, which is
still known as the Villa Medici. Over the next decade it was rendered even more splendid, with the approaches and
entrances regularized and embellished, the gardens enlarged and transformed, and the main building remodeled and
redecorated. Two of the new architectural features were especially influential on subsequent Roman villas and
palazzi: the crowning of the doubled turrets with decorative belvederes, and the encrustation of the garden front,
above a deep loggia, with antique fragments framed in rich stuccowork. The other main new feature was an immense
gallery below a raised terrace, built to house Ferdinando’s superb collection of Classical sculpture, which
eventually included the Venus de’ Medici, the Wrestlers, the Niobids and the Spinario.
Ferdinando’s fine physical presence, good humor and liberality made him popular both in Florence
and Rome; but it was clear from the decisive influence of his intervention in the papal conclaves of 1572 and 1585
that his fellow cardinals recognized more solid qualities beneath his affable exterior. The Florentines too were to
discover that he could be both decisive and ruthless. In 1582 Francesco’s only legitimate son had died; the son of
Francesco’s second wife, Bianca Capello, was then legitimized. When both Francesco and Bianca died suddenly in
1587, Ferdinando quickly found witnesses to swear that the boy was not, in fact, Francesco’s son and soon entered
him, for good measure, in the celibate Order of the Knights of San Stefano. Ferdinando himself had never taken
priestly vows and was thus able, with Pope Sixtus V’s permission, to discard his cardinalate (which was conferred
on Francesco Maria del Monte) and become Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Ferdinando’s coup was popular with his new subjects, who had
come increasingly to detest his brother. He proved an able administrator and
with firmness and efficiency secured for Tuscany stability and prosperity at
home and independence and respect abroad.
He spent as lavishly as Francesco had, but was less resented
for it, perhaps because his projects tended to be of a more public and lasting
nature and many more of them were brought to completion.
In fact, several were based on his brother’s initiatives. He
regularized the haphazard grouping of craft workshops in the Casino de’ Medici
by transferring them, together with painters’ studios, to the newly completed
Uffizi, under the supervision of a single Soprintendente.
In 1588 he founded a workshop, later known as the Opificio di Pietre Dure, for the control and
encouragement of workers in hardstones. He had Bernardo Buontalenti execute the planned Forte di Belvedere above
the Boboli Gardens, and in 1596 he held a second competition for the façade of Florence Cathedral. This was won by his
half-brother Giovanni de’ Medici; work was eventually
begun to the latter’s design, but soon abandoned.
Florence Cathedral, façade
Above all, Ferdinando continued his predecessor’s development of the port of Livorno from
virtually nothing into an international trading center. Even more important was the city’s internal rearrangement:
in 1594 Francesco had begun the rebuilding of the cathedral by Alessandro Pieroni to Buontalenti’s design; but it
was under Ferdinando that the symmetrical Piazza Grande in front of it was laid out, with mixed commercial and
residential properties encased in a consistent architectural configuration. This was soon imitated by Ferdinando’s
nephew-in-law, Henry IV, King of France, in the Place Royale (now Place des Vosges), Paris, and subsequently by
Inigo Jones at Covent Garden, London (1631), both with dramatic effect on European urban planning.
Livorno, Piazza Grande
Livorno also contained another influential feature, an over life-size marble statue of
Ferdinando by Giovanni Bandini in the Piazza Micheli, overlooking the port. Inspired by his love of the Antique and
knowledge of Roman monuments, Ferdinando replaced painting with sculpture as the dynastic image-maker. Two other
large statues of himself, by Pietro Francavilla to Giambologna’s designs, had been set up in Arezzo and Pisa.
The latter accompanied a similar figure of Cosimo I by the same artists, surmounting a
fountain before the Palazzo dei Cavalieri. Cosimo had been even more influentially immortalized by his son in
Giambologna’s superb bronze equestrian statue in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Ferdinando was portrayed in
similar guise, the metal supposedly from Turkish arms captured by his victorious fleet. While Giambologna was
working on the latter (completed by Pietro Tacca), he was commissioned to produce comparable statues of Henry IV
and Philip III. These conquering images were to become a staple of Baroque portraiture.
Ferdinando sat for only one official portrait painting, by Scipione Pulzone, a pair with that of
his wife. He had married Christine of Lorraine (Catherine de’ Medici’s granddaughter) in 1589, with festivities
more lavish than any before, including processions, masques, theatrical intermezzi and a mock sea battle in the
flooded courtyard of Palazzo Pitti. Equally lavish, though more sober, ceremonies marked the obsequies of Philip II
(1598) and the marriage of Marie de’ Medici and Henry IV (1600).
Most splendid of all were those celebrating the wedding (1608) of Ferdinando’s son Cosimo II de’ Medici to Maria Maddalena of
Austria, which culminated in a mock battle on the Arno between numerous fancifully decorated ships. The true
splendor of the Medici, however, was expressed in the Cappella dei Principi at San Lorenzo, a huge octagonal
mausoleum in which the tombs of the Grand Dukes were to be preserved in the gloomy opulence of imperishable